Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Wedding Plans as Cultural Experience

People who go to other countries are supposed to try new things and be open to new experiences. Not only is this helpful for your personal development, but I believe it’s in the guidelines that the US Department of State gives us when we apply for a passport.

“Try new things and be open to new experiences while you’re staying abroad,” the application states (or maybe it doesn’t, it’s been a few years since I filled it out). “Every time you eye foreign food suspiciously the dollar loses more ground to the Euro.”

Another thing that’s supposed to happen is that men are supposed to be involved and participative while they are in the planning stages of their wedding. The Guidelines of Acceptable Male Behavior (which is also published by the US government; I believe by the Department of Homeland Security) says: “You must invest all your energy into your Special Day. It is Special because you will be king for an afternoon and she will be queen. It is only a Day, however, and starting the next morning you have a family to feed and she is already wondering why you aren’t as ‘passionate’ about the relationship as you used to be.”

So, your “involvement” is required in order to make that special day as wonderful as possible. (I’m stressing the difference between the words “involved” and not “supportive” here for many reasons, such as: I used “supportive” extensively in my column two weeks ago and need to vary things now and then).

Experiencing things in foreign countries and getting “involved” in the wedding planning procedure are such trying and time-consuming events that it might be best to multi-task. You could do what I have chosen to do, which is to both experience life outside America and plan my wedding while in Korea.

I have found that the best way to knock out both of these tasks simultaneously is to have the Korean traditional wedding, in which today’s modern bride and groom can actually be king and queen for an afternoon, as the traditional wedding simulates the country’s royal ceremony from the middle ages.

Having witnessed one of these ceremonies first-hand, I can say that its “royal” aspect is plain to see. Both bride and groom sit in large chairs, which are carried by a detail of no less than six men, and wear red and/or blue outfits so ornately designed that they require onlookers to wear sunglasses, even if they are, technically, colorblind.

I attended one of these ceremonies with my fiancée and her mother. They enjoyed the ceremony and looked forward to our participation in it because they are, 1) women and 2) Korean, thus programmed to enjoy beauty and tradition in way that I, a male whose heritage is rooted in various sources of Caucasia, lack the genetic predisposition to do.

I did, however, enjoy it on an intellectual level, because it’s different from any wedding I could ever have in America. I like the idea of having pictures of myself taken in such a ceremony, pictures which I would reserve the right to show during advantageous times in America.

“I had a Korean traditional wedding,” I picture myself saying while pointing at the glossy photo book. “I’m not an uncultured Philistine like you guys.”

Having observed the wedding from start to finish, I thought I’d had all the foreign-culture-experience and wedding-planning-involvement I needed for one day. I thought I could say to the women who hold so much of my future in their hands, “Yeah, let’s do that. Now, who wants Chinese for lunch?”

Women, as usual, have other ideas. If women had the same ideas as men, I’m certain that there’d be more harmony between the genders in today’s society. Then again, if they had the same ideas as us, weddings (and many other things) would rarely make it past the planning stages.

“Mom wants to try on hanboks this afternoon,” my fiancée said to me, since her mother doesn’t speak English. A hanbok is the Korean version of a kimono, and is worn throughout the day of the wedding by the bride, groom, and all the immediate family members that can be convinced or coerced into attending the ceremony.

I did not object to my fiancée’s words, because trying on hanboks is not a particularly troublesome proposition. They are exotic yet comfortable outfits and being photographed while wearing one goes a long way in establishing your not-Philistine credentials.

She didn’t tell me that we would be trying them on for three-and-a-half hours while my future mother-in-law yelled at me regularly to photograph her and her daughter wearing dozens of different outfits, all of which differed from one another only in color scheme.

Even if I or my fiancée were wearing outfits that satisfied us, her mother would, within minutes, arrive with another color for us to look at and/or try on, while saying what I sense was the Korean equivalent of “What do you think of this?”

What I generally thought was that each of her suggestions represented a collection threads assembled in such a way as to construct an aesthetic pattern incrementally different from the last. I did not say this out loud because I wasn’t sure my fiancée could translate it and I was sure that I would be no better off if she could.

It’s good to be culturally experienced and involved in wedding plans. But, according guideline published by the Department of State (or maybe FEMA), the most important thing a man can remember is this:

“Mother-in-law gets what she wants.”

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