I got married in China recently and had a typical Chinese wedding banquet. Prior to the wedding I didn’t really know what to expect and I’m ashamed to admit, I was kind of dreading it because big weddings are just not my thing, especially in a country where as a foreigner you get stared at a lot. Not a fan of being the center of attention, I imagined that my day would be hell thanks to the non-stop photo-taking and staring. But alas, I was wrong. I actually ended up having a great time and to my utter surprise, didn’t even mind the endless photo-taking. Everyone was friendly, everyone had a great time, my family and friends were there, my parents-in-law were pleased, the food was half-decent – success! Having gone through, and survived, the craziness of a Chinese wedding, I know feel qualified enough to pass on the things I learned from the big day.
1. Get to bed early the night before as you’re going to have to get up really early, especially if you’re the bride. I had my hair and make-up done at 5am. Also, it’s tradition for the groom side to eat noodles in the morning but the bride can’t join him. So unless you have thoughtful relatives bringing you food, make sure to stock up on snacks. Cereal bars are a good option.
2. Prep your foreign relatives for the basic steps of Chinese weddings so they at least have an inkling of what’s going on. We had a rehearsal the day before and I brought along my family and foreign friends. This was actually crucial otherwise no-one would have had a clue what to do, myself included. Also, if you can ask a bilingual friend to translate key moments of the ceremony to your relatives; they’ll really appreciate it.
3. Make sure you communicate with the wedding company well in advance and make sure they know you’re requirements and wishes. Do you want fresh flowers or are you okay with fake ones? Do you want strobe lights and fog machines (I’m serious!) or just the basic no-frills lighting? It turns out that MCs have quite a mind of their own and they have their own style which they’re not willing to compromise. My only request was that besides answering the mandatory “I do” and addressing his parents, I wasn’t going to speak. Also, make sure you listen to his wedding playlist. Each stage of the wedding has its own song. If you’re okay with Whitney Houston and Celine Dion being the soundtrack of your wedding, then you don’t have to worry too much. If on the other hand, you have the tiniest sense of taste in music, make sure to talk to the MC about the playlist and give him your own one if his is too awful. My MC was quite open about this and allowed me to change all the major songs. Obviously you want to respect your Chinese audience and not choose anything too daring, but I felt so much better about myself knowing that I was walking down the aisle to Bach rather than to the theme song of Titanic.
4. Choose whether you want to have a “Western-style” wedding or “Chinese traditional style” wedding. These are very different, so be clear what both entail. As I chose the more simple Western-style, I’m in no position to tell you about the traditional one. I just wanted the wedding to be as simple and quick as possible, and I really wanted to wear a white gown. If you choose the traditional-style, you’ll be wearing red ropes and funny head-gear all day. But even the “Western” one was very Chinese. I felt like they just copied bits and pieces of the Western wedding (exchanging rings, saying I do, walking down the aisle, throwing bouquet etc.) and pasted into a Chinese ceremony. Oh, and don’t be shocked when your Chinese parents in law smear face paint all over themselves. It tradition apparently.
5. You’re not going to have time to eat with your family after the ceremony. For me, this was a big shocker. It was my wedding, so of course I wanted to join my relatives who had come thousands of miles to be there, for the feast. But then I realized that it was truly impossible. After the ceremony ended, I had to immediately change into a red dress, and together with the groom and best men, went from table to table to toast the guests. This took over an hour so by the time we were done, everyone had already finished eating. But the good news is that usually they prepare an “after table” for all those who didn’t get to eat. This will include you, the groom, the toasting entourage, the people collecting hongbaos and anyone else who was helping out and was too busy to eat.
6. Don’t expect to keep the money made from the wedding. This was something I wondered about before the wedding: would we get to keep the money collected from the hongbaos or would his parents keep it? I learned that every family does things different but we decided in advance to give them back all the money they had spent on the wedding and decided to leave it up to them whether to give us the profit. It turns out they decided to keep it all themselves. To be honest, I was kind of expecting it. And besides, the point of getting married is not to make money but to declare to family and friends (and the law) that you’ll be together for the rest of your lives. Having said that though, his parents did give me a nice, fat hongbao personally so I did actually end up making more money than I spent. Some friends who couldn’t attend the ceremony gave us hongbaos later as well which we pocketed ourselves.
7. Finally, make sure to prepare all your documents for getting the marriage certificate well in advance. Every country’s rules are different but it took me over 2 months to get all the required documents in order. You also have to calculate glitches on the Chinese side too: one of our foreign documents was translated incorrectly but we only discovered this during the legalization stage after we had already paid the translation company and notary office. This delayed things by over a week as we had to get the documents translated and notarized all over again in his home city. The translation company didn’t offer us a refund or apology for the mistake which was quite infuriating but so it goes…
8. And finally, the day flies by like a bolt of lightning! Despite getting up at 5am and not being done with the banquet by 3pm, I barely knew where the time went. I was on auto-pilot, running on adrenalin and didn’t feel the exhaustion until it was all over. And by all over, I don’t mean the banquet part but the entire day. After the banquet you usually go home and rest for a bit but then there are usually dinner or KTV plans in the evening with family and friends. It’s only over when you’re finally lying in bed late at night with your phone switched off and door locked.
Tags:Relationships Expat Rants & Advice
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That's an incredibly rude thing to say and you are wrong on all accounts. I'm obviously not going to go into details here on this public blog but I can say it was actually more beautiful and upscale (at a 5 star hotel in a major city so screw you!) than I could have hoped for. I presume you haven't got married or were so detached from the planning/logisitics of the wedding that all the general things - and yes, this blog is JUST about the very general aspects of the wedding for the purpose of giving tips - that everything just flew right over your head. Jerk!
Jun 28, 2013 08:55 Report Abuse