Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Romanian Wedding

Ok, so now I've been to a funeral, two high school graduations, and this is my second wedding. Looks like I'm getting a good dose of Major Life Events in Romania.

It was truly a cultural experience, because in many ways it was very different from how we do it in America. I should say up front- it was a Protestant wedding, which is actually very different in some ways from an Orthodox wedding. And since 90%+ of Romanians are Orthodox, this isn't necessarily "typical" for Romanian weddings. But it is what it is. 

So, the ceremony. It essentially replaced the Sunday church service. As in, it wasn't a separate service on a different day/time, but Sunday at 10am. So, anyone from the church could come, in addition to those coming into town for the wedding. I thought this was pretty interesting- the wedding is a celebration for the church family, part of the church life, rather than "just" for those invited by the bride and groom. As with many churches here, men and women sit on opposite sides of the central aisle, no jewelry, and women cover their heads (even if only with a tiiiiiny thin headband- which to me seems kind of silly, because if you actually believe the command for women to cover their heads in church still applies, or that it's somehow worshipful, then ACTUALLY do it, don't make some kind of absurd legalistic practice out of it. But I digress.). There wasn't a bridal party, and the bride and groom walked down the aisle together to enter, obviously hugely different from American weddings where the father walks the bride down to her groom. Then they sat at the front of the church for the two hour service that included two half-hour sermons and all kinds of people singing various songs for the couple. Including me. Yes, I sang in English at a Romanian wedding. Good times. 
Alis and Lucian walking down the aisle to enter

During the service

From there everyone made their way to the reception. It was held in a banquet hall in a hotel (a Best Western, at that. they're WAY fancier here than in the states). This part was by invitation only. One thing I realized was how STRUCTURED most American weddings are compared to the relatively unstructured nature of this wedding. For instance, we would have a wedding rehearsal- walk through the whole ceremony, practice the songs, etc. Here- not so much. It was baffling to them that I wanted to practice with the accompanist before I got up and sang in front of 300 people. In fact, it was only after considerable negotiation that I was actually able to get it specially arranged so that I COULD practice with him... for 5 hurried minutes shortly before the ceremony. Now I understand- if you don't have specific music and timing for a bridal party to coordinate walking down the aisle, where you stand and blah blah blah; if the service is 2 hours long; and if you have oodles of people singing, it really would be quite a burden to practice it all. 

Another example is the reception. Every wedding I've ever been to in America had seating assignments for the reception. You take your little name card at the entrance and go find your table. But here, you just went in and sat down wherever you wanted. No big hullabaloo about carefully arranging people in tables and making sure it's all properly figured out. People just went somewhere and sat with their friends/family, pulled an extra chair or two from another table if they had a larger group that wanted to sit together, and everything eventually worked out. A little more chaotic for the guests, but a little less chaotic for the couple I suppose. And even small things like the guest book. We make this big deal about the guest book, and even appoint someone to be the Guest Book Attender. They didn't even have a pen or a set place for it at this wedding (it moves around), and at the beginning of the reception someone asked me if they could "borrow" a pen for the guest book. Yea, didn't get that back. So it goes. 

Then there was the food. A lot of it. I had heard about this. I had heard I should pace myself. I had heard there would be more food than I could possibly consume. Even spread out over the 7 hours of the reception (yes SEVEN), it would be too much. But I was still a little amazed at how much food I was given. I decided to photograph it all so that you would actually understand. I think it was brought the pace of about one course per hour. In between there were games and music, people went for walks, took photos, etc. 
At the table for the entire time- fruit, tarts, bread, and drinks. I ate almost none of that food

Course 1- a variety of meats and cheeses. Check out the various "rolls" of cheesy/meaty concoctions- some more suspect than others. Gosh they love pork products here! I ate about a third of this

Course 2- grilled veggies and some kind of chicken roll wrapped in bacon. I ate all the veggies and half of the chicken

Dessert 1- four scoops of ice cream. I took about four bites

Course 3- Bacon, mamaliga (cornmeal/polenta kind of thing), sarmale (cabbage leaves stuff with rice/pork/geggies), stuffed pepper (fill with the same thing as the sarmale). This is all SUPER traditional Romanian food. I ate about half of it

Course 4- cabbage salad, potato wedges with dill, pork. I managed to eat a few bites, but I was incredibly full in a very uncomfortable way by this point, so I left most of it

Cake. Well, there's always a liiiitlte room for cake

So yea, a lot of food. But here's the thing- guests pay for the food. As in, I paid 150 lei at the end of the evening, in addition to the monetary gift I gave the couple. And that's a pretty average price. I understand the guest-paying phenomenon is the case for most (if not all) weddings in Romania. In a country where a loaf of bread costs 1 lei, and in a city where your bill at a nice restaurant maaaaaybe could get to 70 lei per person, 150 lei is a LOT of money. And imagine if you have three weddings to go to in one summer!? It would literally be as painful as paying $150 to eat at a wedding in America, in addition to your gift. Yea. 

It's actually pretty fascinating to me because most Romanians will tell you that a) it's way too much food, it's gluttonous, wasteful, extravagant; b) it's an absurd amount of money to pay, really hard for most people to pay, really makes going to weddings not so pleasant since you're obligated to do so. So ok, it's way too much food, and way too much money, sooooo does anyone see the connection here? Could we not just have a simpler meal and charge people less? Oh nonono people will say, then it looks like you're not valuing the couple, looks like it's not a good enough celebration. I could buy that argument if the FAMILIES of the couple were paying, if the FAMILIES were lavishing this big party on them and footing the bill, if it were the FAMILIES throwing this great event for people and somehow culturally had to do this to live up to some expectation. But it's not. The guests pay. For food they don't want. And can't possibly eat. And goes to waste. And really, no one is happy. But still the cultural expectation is there and if you did it differently it would create a big uproar. I just. don't. understand.

Anyhow, like I said, in between courses there were little games, none of which were familiar to me, but I'm sure are just as traditional as our bouquet toss and whatnot. No dancing. No alcohol. Both of which would be present in abundance at an Orthodox wedding, but this church has pretty set feelings about those kinds of activities, decidedly to the unfavorable side. Unfortunately. I wasn't sure how it would be possible to fill seven hours of time without any dancing, but it turns out that it's possible. There was a main singer dude who had a fancy electric piano that essentially made him into a one-man band, and then various friends and people from their church sang, performed a skit, or read a poem. I even sang another song! Good times. 

The cake 'ceremony' was similar to what we would do- the couple cut it together and fed each other a bite. Except they had FIRE on their cake, which is way cool.

All in all, a long, but very fun and festive day. I got to spend time with my dear friend Simona before she left Romania for 8 months, experience another Big Life Event with her family, and get a solid dose of Romanian culture. Good good times. 


Lucianna said...

tht's very funny:)) but i think the weddings are very different all along Romania, because of teh church involved in the ceremony. or eg my sister's wedding had a lot of an American wedding and a different sermon in church:) buut, now it is time for you to get the real OVERDOSE OF ROMANIAN CULTURE when we KILL TEH PIG in december:)) that will complete your knowledge:))love u liz

beny said...

i stumbled upon ur post because im romanian, raised in america and getting married to an american in August. i was looking for ideas of how i can incorporate my culture into the wedding and could not help but laugh while reading this. I'll be honest and say that i can not agree with you more. i grew up in that culture and could not stand most of it. I do love the food part tho. The lack of dancing and all that tho...not so much.

by the way, the paying for the food isnt the actual tradition. what they do is not bring a gift and just bring cash or a check for the couple instead. sucks that you did both.

Liz Spangler said...

Thanks for the comment Beny, glad you enjoyed the post! I have two good friends, one romanian, one american, who were married a little over a year ago, and that was a great blend, at least what they did here in Romania. I wrote about it here.
Best wishes for your special day!

Jenny C. said...

Hi Liz! Thanks for sharing this post! I am currently working on my own post regarding traditional Romanian Pentecostal weddings. If I decide to make it public on my blog, do you mind if I include this link? I agree with much of what you have written as well - born in the States to two Romanian immigrants. :)

Liz Spangler said...

Thanks Jenny! Feel free to share!