Thursday, 18 September 2008

H & M's Wedding Party

I never did tell you about Helen & Martin’s post-wedding party, did I? It was a little over a month after we all got back from the US. They chose a jazz band and provided gambling facilities for guests, which fitted in with the fact that they got married in Vegas.

British wedding traditions are in what I think of as the Catholic direction as opposed to the Protestant mode, which makes sense, the Church of England being pretty much what we in the US call the Episcopal Church and it being very similar to Catholicism. I’m sure many would argue with me about these rough generalizations, but this isn’t meant to be about religion but about customs.

In my experience Protestant wedding ceremonies are followed by a reception where the newlyweds’ families line up to greet guests as they assemble in another room at the church. There the bride and groom force feed each other with wedding cake and punch while pictures are snapped. The guests are then fed cake and punch. Gifts may or may not be opened on the day. The guests go home for their dinner.

Catholics on the other hand seem to be more inclined to have a huge evening meal with plenty of alcoholic beverages involved. There are speeches and toasts and thoroughly embarrassing the couple is part of the tradition. Funny enough, here in Britain only the closest family and friends are invited to the wedding ceremony whilst a wider network of friends is invited to the evening party; being a tightwad I would have thought it would be the other way around.

Anyhow, as they didn't choose to have anyone but Aunt Jane and Uncle Chris at their actual wedding ceremony (and only because they happened to still be in Vegas on the day), they decided to have this party when they got back.

I hadn’t realized how hidebound I am about wedding traditions until now. I hadn’t realized how much tradition and formalities ease the way, socially. If you think about it, traditions tell you more or less know who people are, where to sit, what to wear, what to say and what is going to happen next. Without the usual customs, it is all rather free-form and figure-it-out-for-yourself, which is a bit uncomfortable. Having such fixed ideas about how things should be done did help me a little, as I found myself pushing for things like having a table at which to sit to eat and being introduced to people. It was the first time I’d ever met Bill’s ex-wife and her partner.

I love a book called Watching the English, written by sociologist Katie Fox, because it explains so much about behaviour that completely mystified me when I first came across. Imagine in the US going to a business meeting then everyone having a friendly social chat about family and holidays over tea and cookies for half an hour before getting down to the actual business of the meeting. Imagine saying good-bye to your guests and then finding that you inevitably continue the conversation with further protracted good-byes in the hallway for another half an hour until you practically push them out the front door so you can go to the loo.

Imagine standing at the bar at a wedding party, ‘them’ and ‘us’ separated only occasionally by ‘children’, talking to the kids but trying to ignore ‘them’ – for nearly an hour. This is all very normal and acceptable behaviour amongst Brits, but I couldn't cope with it very well. I thought for a while I was back in high school or something. Thankfully I needed to leave a couple of times and go back to our hotel room next door. I’d forgotten to bring my camera and then I had to go back to get fresh batteries. When I got back the second time I told Bill if he didn’t introduce me to Katie I would just introduce myself. I wouldn’t say it exactly broke the ice, but I felt better anyhow. I probably came across as the stereotypical brash American. I can live with it.

Martin’s mom, Ann, came over and introduced herself to Bill and me quite early on. We met Martin's Dad, Norman, later in the evening but I never did get a decent picture of him. I think Simon did manage to get a few.

I enjoyed trying to take pictures. It gave me something constructive to do. The couple wanted the traditional cake cutting and speeches. I was pleased Bill got to enjoy some part of being the father of the bride. (Note the very smart bolo tie purchased at an 'antique shop' in Blackwell, Oklahoma).

They didn't pose much for pictures. This, with the darkened room, made getting good photos a bit of a challenge. I just did it for fun, but Simon had the ‘official’ job and took over 350 pictures.

I was especially pleased with these I took of Simon and Sarah with their respective partners, Rhiannon and Alan. They clean up good, don’t they? Rhiannon even had on very pretty, (very) high heeled silver sandals. I'm beginning to have more appreciation for the camera (with 198-pages of instructions) Bill bought me for my birthday.

Martin hates having his picture taken and ducked my best efforts all evening. This, of course, makes it hard to get a good picture of him, so I'm not responsible for it if there aren't many. He cleans up good too, but you'll have to take my word for it. I can appreciate how he feels, as I'm not fond of having my picture taken either. In my experience, however, twenty or thirty years on you think you looked pretty darn good back then, so it's best to just smile and go with it.

Helen looked really lovely, of course. She told me the next morning it had been a long month, trying to make sure she could still fit into her dress, along with arranging all the details for the party. She was glad now it was over and I think several of us understood the feeling of being held in suspense about the impending event.

I thought it turned out pretty well. The tables were beautifully decorated by Martin’s sister. Though jazz music isn’t to my taste for dancing, but the singer had a lovely voice and they were pleasant to listen to. Everyone seemed to enjoy the roulette and whatever game the other table had on offer (I gave my play money to Bill, as I don’t really know how to gamble other than play 21 on the slot machines). The food was delicious and ample, though I was on my best behaviour and ate one plate of carefully chosen items.

And now that she doesn’t have to fit into her wedding dress anymore she can take her brother Simon’s advice and 'just let herself go’. Isn't that just what brothers are for?

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