My first Turkish wedding
Last night I went to my very first Turkish wedding. As I posted on Facebook, it was crazy! In some ways, it was like the weddings I had been to: a couple gets married, family and friends come to celebrate, kids run all over the place. For me it was similar to so many other of my experiences in Turkey: order through chaos, crowded, and full of surprises.
The bride is one of my Turkish teachers, Seda, a modern Turkish lady with lots of spunk. She had told us about the contentious exchanges with her future mother-in-law about her dress. In order to show off the Chucks she personally decorated for the big night, she insisted on a short dress. At every fitting the MIL insisted the hemline be longer by adding a new kind of trim, Seda agreed, then with the help of a willing tailor just raised the skirt at the waist. Each time the MIL saw all the trim and thought it was the right length, and in the end the bride got to rock her crafty footwear. A win-win, if you’re rooting for the bride.
At the wedding I met up with some other students, and as a group of Americans, Russians, and Uzbeks we comprised the entire international guest list and got lots of friendly and welcoming attention from the families and other guests. I felt so lucky to be invited to the wedding, and Seda and her groom, Hakan, kept telling us how honored they were that we came. It was a mutual lovefest.
There was no desire to conceal the bridge from the groom before the ceremony. As we entered the site, Seda and Hakan were standing together in a tiny room on the side receiving guests, so we stopped by and said hello/good luck and received the first of many thanks and air kisses from the happy couple.
The official wedding opened with the bride and groom dancing through the room then finishing their first dance in the center of the crowd. We were confused. Did they already get married, and we had only been invited to reception? Or was this just a different take on the normal wedding sequence? We kept asking other Turks around us, but judging by their head shaking, either our Turkish sucked or they were just as confused.
After the couple’s first dance, we joined them for some Turkish-style dancing, which is your standard body-shaking, but with your arms held slightly bent at shoulder height and cycling through different hand motions, like snapping or gypsy circles. Dancing to slow songs was the same as everywhere else. Even though the wedding was super-crowded, out of maybe 400 people there was a core group of about 30 that actually danced at all. Everyone else sat at their tables and watched this small group’s merrymaking with seriously dour faces – I’m not sure what that was all about.
Unlike American weddings, there wasn’t much focus on food and drink and the night was alcohol-free. To drink, water, Coke and orange soda bottles were placed on all the tables. Occasionally waiters would come around with some basic finger food, but it was such a mob scene that I only barely managed to grab a bottle of water.
Panning the room, I saw wedding guests wearing everything from blue jeans and sneakers to full glitz prom get-ups. I’d say the majority of the women were covered in turbans. But some of the covered women were dancing; wearing a turban doesn’t prohibit one from public fun. I’m still trying to figure out if the various styles of female dress really influence behavior at all. I guess, like in everything, you really can’t generalize.
Twenty minutes or so into the dancing, Seda and Hakan sat down at the head table. A hush fell through the crowd as if something was going to happen, but it took about twenty minutes for the officiant and the witnesses to get to the main table, and then a few more for the crowd in the front to get out of the cameramen’s shots. The formal ceremony took about two minutes, and instead of saying “I do” they each had their own, comical versions of “Yes.” Then they were married, we all cheered, and the whole dancing thing was repeated.
Next was the lengthy presentation of the gifts. All of the wedding guests line up in front of the head table with their offering then one by one they present it to the new couple, and an M.C. announces the giver, their relationship to the couple, and then how much they’re giving. Occasionally he announces a tally, both in money and gold, and we all applaud. The traditional gifts are cash and gold, either in the form of coins or jewelry. The bride puts on all the jewelry she receives – her wrists get jingly-jangly fast. The gift amount ranged from 20 TL (about $11) to gold jewelry sets that had to be worth thousands of dollars. After a couple of hours, the couple was very, very rich.
And then, of course, we danced again. I tried to join in when the style progressed to village dances, but I was clueless and have always been a pretty clumsy dancer anyway, so that was it for me. We left after a few hours – I’ve heard these things go well into the morning, and then everybody goes to work on Monday morning as usual.