Drink till Death; Differences between Northern and Southern Chinese Weddings


China baijiu official banquetChina is such a vast and diverse country, where one province could be seen as its own nation. Therefore, rather unsurprisingly, wedding ceremonies are just as diverse, especially considering the 55 minorities that inhabit China, all with their very own traditions. From a more simplistic point of view, China is often divided by its own people into North and South. In my case that is rather convenient as I was a bridesmaid for my friend in the South and will be wed in the North.

While the list is certainly more exhaustive than the few examples below (I strive to expand it when THE DAY comes), find herein a few differences that I am currently aware of after conversation with Mr. Li.

1. The Time
The most major difference, and for me personally the most terrible news, is the time. The main ceremony is held in the evening in the Southern parts of the country; while the Northerners have the grand ceremony at lunch time. This means that all the preparations, the groom picking up the bride, visiting the couple’s house and the public ceremony need to take place in half a day, as opposed to a whole one. It also means that it is not uncommon for the bride and her consortium to have to get up at 4.30am. I can’t even imagine waking up at such an ungodly hour, I am considering instead just staying up all night and to stay awake by drinking unreasonable amounts of alcohol; either way my brain capacity is going to be about the same in each case. Also, my eyes are going to be puffy. I will be a bridezilla in terms of looks, that’s for sure, let’s hope My mood won’t match my looks. I am already wondering whether me and bridesmaids can go on strike until we are allowed a reasonable time to wake up.

2. The Tea
One part of the ceremony which seems to be specific to the South is the tea drinking. When I mentioned that both sides’ parents were served tea, upon which the couple said “Mum, Dad, please drink tea” to Mr.Li, he had never heard of this custom. One could think this represents the fact that the Southerners are civilized tea drinkers, whereas Inner Mongolians…well, let’s not jump to conclusions.

3. The Pick-Up
Yet, this was exactly the conclusion I arrived at after hearing Mr.Li’s description of his cousin picking up the bride at his wedding. As best man, Mr.Li had to force his way into the brides quarters and later make sure his cousin could bring the bride to the car. However, there seemed to have been a lot of pushing and shoving involved, culminating in Mr.Li picking up one of the bridesmaids, who had sat in the wedding car in an attempt to obstruct the groom, and dragging the young woman out of the vehicle. With this expectation I went into my friend’s wedding ready for battle, but there was no tugging, no pulling and not even shouting, just a rather calm exchange of red envelopes. Maybe this means we didn’t do our jobs well enough, or it means that the jokes and rumors about rough Northerners are true. I leave it up to your judgment.

Also, as you already might have deducted, in the Northern wedding it was the cousin who carried his own bride to the car, while in the Southern wedding it was the bride’s uncle. While I am not exactly sure why this is the case, it is probably more reasonable to do it the Inner Mongolian way, after all we don’t want to strain uncle’s back. More importantly, if you want a bride, you should have to work for it.

4. The Alcohol
The final difference is probably the one with the most severe consequences; the social drinking. The standing phrase 劝酒, which literally means to urge somebody to drink, is a custom especially at weddings in which particularly Chinese males encourage (or force, depending on your point of view) each other to drink alcohol as a sign of showing respect and giving face. In traditional Chinese culture it is considered rude not to drink if someone toasts you (which usually happens every time they take a sip, so every few minutes). In fact, people who want to drink alcohol will often toast you just to have an excuse to drink; a dangerous game for all involved. If one does not want to drink, it is common to offer up some excuses, therefore it is not unusual to hear a Chinese person say that they are allergic to alcohol, or if they are a girl, it might be “that time of the month” during which of course alcohol intake, aside from cold foods and drinks, is strictly prohibited.

However, a major difference between North and South is that the former are infamous for their 劝酒 habits, I.e. they won’t take no for an answer and might drink you into a coma if you are not careful. Now, while it is of course not PC at all to generalize on such a scale, the Inner Mongolians are particularly infamous for their drinking habits and from what I have seen so far, I am afraid they are not so far-fetched. Mr. Li’s uncle “forced” him to drink until the poor boy threw up during Chinese New Year and his own son developed a severe case of pancreatitis after a particularly heavy drinking session. This is one of the reasons I am already a little worried, not only for my own sake, but for me Mr. Li’s due to the 喜酒 practice, the drinking of happy alcohol which I described in an earlier post. I personally am going to see to it that my glass is filled with Martini instead of Baijiu. After all, as long as I am on my own toxic turf, I can take on those Inner Mongolians without any problem (well, that’s what I tell myself before I sleep at night).

Those are, for now, all the differences I have spotted, yet I am convinced there will be many more and hopefully I will manage to spot them when the time comes.

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