So, ever since my own wedding last year, I have been so lucky to attend a constantly growing number of international weddings in China. It didn’t take long until I realized certain similarities and themes emerging at these events. So in case you are getting ready for your own cross-cultural wedding in China or with a Chinese groom/bride, here are a few things I’ve learned:
1. Be Prepared for A Culture Clash
I find that we tend to not take the effect of two cultures meeting seriously enough. After observing both myself and Mr Li when we are together, when we are with his family and friends and when we are with my family and friends, I have come to realize one thing. Both of us have very different personas depending on which people we are with and which cultural environment that creates. I behave a lot more brash around foreign friends and Mr Li worries much more about what people think as soon as he is around his Chinese entourage. For a cross-cultural wedding this means there is bound to be conflict as you not only struggle to communicate with and keep both sides entertained; you are also trying to be two people at the same time, while your partner might not be happy about you exhibiting certain behaviour in front of their own culture. It is a stressful time, and it is good to be aware of this fact, as it will creep up on you quite unexpectedly.
In the case of China and a Western culture, I have found that there are two aspects in play that make it even more difficult: culture shock and communication style (peppered of course with a nice dose of jet lag).
No matter which country you are holding your wedding in, inevitably the “other side”, if they chose to come, will experience culture shock. A wedding, an event loaded with new people and full of local traditions, is just extra stress. So chances are some of those relatives and friends might get upset or grumpy at things they usually wouldn’t, and often they don’t even know why. It’s just the stress of being thrown into the deep end of the pool in a new country and a bunch of strangers who do things you might find offensive.
In relation to Western-Chinese weddings in particular, I find another challenge are different communication styles. The Western side will simply express their displeasure at certain things, and while it’s not necessarily pleasant to have to deal with complaints and grumpy-faced Westerners, it isn’t a big deal in itself. However, on the Chinese side, where it is common to swallow your complaints and hide you displeasure in front of strangers in particular, such displays of discontent are incredibly upsetting and serious. And so, I found at the wedding, when Mr Li went into China mode and I went into Western mode, there were all of a sudden plenty of things that he felt offended about where I couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about.
2. Try to be informed and keep informed
I have found in particular the Western side, but also the Chinese if they come to a Western wedding, really struggle with not knowing what’s going on. Very few of us are able to just “go with the flow”, especially the parents of the Western partner. Therefore, it’s a good idea to try and make the whole wedding process as clear to your Western family as possible by doing two things:
1. Get a good interpreter, not just for the wedding ceremony but also to take care of the “foreign” side throughout the day.
You should make sure that the person conducting the wedding (an MC in China and a priest or officiate in the West) has met the interpreter and maybe even practiced the ceremony with them. Since few officiates are used to bilingual ceremonies, they don’t know when to pause so the interpreter can catch up. We didn’t have an interpreter for either of our weddings, and luckily both of our families were fairly relaxed about it, but I do know that to some parents this is a very big deal and not being able to understand can drive them crazy.
2. Try to discuss in advance with your family what exactly is going to happen and when; in the case of Chinese weddings that is next to impossible, but still it is good to give them a run down of the day. In the morning, the groom will pick the bride up, there will be door blocking, and shouting and red envelopes and games, once she is taken to his house, her parents can rest until the ceremony and so on and so forth. Try and get as many details from the family members as possible and let your family know, as it can be really stressful and upsetting for them to not know what’s going on.
3. Accept that it will be chaos anyway
Despite all your best planning and efforts, the fact of the matter is weddings, and especially Chinese ones, are utter chaos. There isn’t one person who knows what’s going exactly but rather each family member knows one or two customs that need to be upheld and rather than telling you before hand you will often get a message on the day saying a group of Chinese people will show up in twenty minutes to hang stuff up in your room. So prepare your family members from abroad for the fact that it will inevitably descend into chaos and pray that they will be able to cope.
4. If you have two weddings, make them local
A small regret I have, though I loved my Chinese wedding, which was terribly grand, is that I kept it in a Western style. We recently visited a traditional Chinese wedding with some Western elements and I really, really enjoyed it and felt that this is a really good idea, especially if you have another wedding in your home country. This way you get to experience two very different ceremonies, so thumbs up!
5. If you have one, make it cross-cultural
If you are having one wedding, then make sure to incorporate elements of both cultures. For example, the same traditional Chinese wedding featured a Scottish dance class for the guests and the bride and groom drinking a mix of Baijiu and Scottish whisky from a Scottish chalice. It’s not only fun to be creative and innovative with your wedding it also ensures that you feel like its yours; and it certainly gives the guests something to talk about.
Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself on your exciting, tiring and crazy day of cross-cultural union!
What have your experiences been? Do you have any tips for future cross-cultural brides and grooms?