Monday, October 19, 2009

We're Going to the Party, and We're, Going to get Mar-a-a-reed

So you want to organise a wedding in the Gulf?  It's easy, just follow this handy hints guide and you'll be fine:

As a general rule the bride will invite her entire family, their friends, their friends, her work colleages, her school friends and everyone else she and her family have ever known. A small wedding is considered to be about 300 female guests; weddings are a time for celebration and everyone comes for the event.

Two events will take place; one for the male guests (sit, drink tea, chat, eat buffet at about 8pm) and another for the female guests (dance, music, laugh, eat buffet at about 11:30pm, chat, dance some more). Guests are not expected to bring presents.  In Arab hospitality terms, 'he who throws a party pays for everything'.  And in this case, it's the groom.

Strange but true; when a woman is invited to a wedding her name will not be on the wedding invitation.  Wedding invitiations should be written in Arabic, in a manner similar to the following:
"To the Woman who is not Immoral and who is Married to Mr. (insert husband's name)"

What to Wear

Thankfully bling x2 and as much of it as you've got. If you’re invited to an Arabic wedding never worry you’ll be wearing too much jewellery.  I believe the phrase, "too much jewellery" is an oxymoron when talking about Arab weddings. Arab weddings are the time and the place to bring out all your jewellery and wear it all at the same time.  Forget the phrase, 'Less is More'.  Here, 'More is More'.

I used to go to weddings wearing what would be considered polite in European jewellery terms and always felt under-dressed. Arab weddings are about exhuberance and wearing all your diamonds, watches, bracelets and earrings.  Together.

Dresses should be long, to the floor and very smart. Mostly plain colours are worn, very few girls will choose to wear patterns, but the dress will be ornamented with sparkly stuff and plenty of it.

The closest relatives of the bride will usually decide upon a theme and all the girls will buy their dresses to match-in with the theme, often shopping together.  As a result, Saudi Arabia must have the best choice of party frocks in the world; Damman has an entire district turned over to wedding dress shops. ~Fab-a-roony~

The bride usually wears a long, complicated white gown with lots of sparkles and detailing.  Trains are anything upto 20 feet long.  However, red is often worn as this is the traditional colour to get married in.

The Hall
As a general overview you’ll see endless round dining tables, surrounding a central dance floor. At the head of the dance floor you’ll see a stage containing a love seat for the bride and groom. To the side of the stage you’ll see the wedding cake, a place for the Qur'an and another space for the dowry jewellery or Shbaka [shab-ka] {see wgaw future blog archive: shabka}.

Before you reach the hall though you'll need to hand over your wedding invitation, a lady will be seated and checking you've been invited.  Once your invitation has been checked you'll be allowed to enter between the heavy curtains which cover the entrance hall.  From there you can start taking off outside clothes and prepare for the wedding hall and the reception committe.  

Image: having been allowed entrance between the heavy curtains, I'm in a corridor walking towards the wedding hall

The Reception Committee
The first thing you'll see when entering the wedding hall will be a reception committee. The groom’s nearest relatives will be on one side and will form a line and the bride’s nearest relatives will be on the other side forming a similar line. Both sides will face each other and a gap is left in the middle, wide enough to allow guests to greet the relatives on both sides as they arrive.

The first person at the head of one line will be the bride’s mother and on the other, the groom’s mother. You are expected to congratulate and kiss all the reception committee by working your way down one side to the end and then start on the other side. Each person will be kissed and you'll have to work out how many kisses to give and on which side of her face.  It's usually three kisses, but there are no rules for which side to start kissing, or how many kisses to give on each side, or even if it's two, three or four kisses.

Tables for Guests
There are two types of guest tables at Arabic weddings and both are an art form in themselves.

Nibbles will be put on the tables for guests

and a three course buffet will be served at around 11pm

Chocolates are a must and each table will have several plates of chocolates (designer preferably)

In addition, when the bridge and groom appear, boxes of chocolates will be handed out to each guest

Centre Stage
When the bride and groom arrive at the reception at around 10:30 in the evening they will walk through the hall towards a centre stage at the head of room.  On either side of the centre stage the closest relatives will sit on large, winged armchairs.  The stage will look something like this:

or this,

or this,

or this,

The Cake
Cakes need to be big to allow each guest to eat a piece.  There's no real fashion or style rules, it's up to the bride to choose what she wants, although most cakes are similar in style and highlight aspects of the centre stage (see above)

All Arabic weddings have music and it's got to be loud, very loud {see wgaw blog archive: rachid al majid and amer diab }

Twenty years ago or so a traditional band would sit in two rows along the edge of the dance floor, in front of the bridal stage and play music all night long. They would bring women dancers with them and these women would lead the guests dancing.  Not so any longer.

Now the band or DJ is hidden away behind a set of curtains (men were playing the musical instruments or CDs) and played anonymously. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. I asked for the reason why they were hidden - I thought there might be some plausible explanation and I missing the point somewhere.  It turned out the reason for hiding the men is so they can't see the girls at the wedding party and make eye contact with them, I guess also so the women can remove their hijabs and relax. Female DJs make so much more sense in this situation.

At the last wedding I attended the guests had got the idea of dealing with an invisible DJ and would cheer, clap and generally whistle when they liked the music he played.  There was also the opportunity to go behind the screen and request specific records.

Photography & Videos
As in the west the bride and groom will hire a photographer and a video camera operator. In the GCC the camera operators will always be female and usually Phillipino.

Again, as in the west, the photographers will take enormous quantities of photos and then present the couple with an album of their wedding photos. The photos taken will be similar to the ones taken in the west for weddings; bride and groom, bride with her family, groom with his family, etc., etc.

In addition to the bride and grooms photos, a recent trend has started to happen at weddings; digital photo studios are now appearing in one corner of the wedding hall and guests can have thier photos taken whilst in their finery.

Various local ladies I know won’t have their photographs taken at weddings any longer and cover up or put on a hijab {see wgaw blog archive: hijab} whenever a photographer or video camerawoman comes near. 

They don’t want any possibility of their hair being seen by a man who might look at the wedding photographs once they are being handed around to the relatives. This also applies to the recent phenominom of not dancing at a wedding party – the women don't wish to be seen by men who might look at the wedding videos at a later date.  ~I usually feel a bit of a 'chump' at this point, having had the most clothes on all night, I suddenly have the least clothes on and with a man present, too boot~

Personal Recollections
I took an English girlfriend to a family wedding and she was taking photos of the women dancing on the stage (she’s a belly dancer). One of the women dancing came over to her, turned into a ball of anger and spat out at us that she shouldn't be taking photographs of the women on stage. Later that same evening when my friend was belly dancing for the bride and groom, this lady was at the front video taping her.

A friend was telling me she was really happy to be going to India to visit her grandmother. One of the reasons she was so happy was because she would now be able to show her grandmother her sister’s wedding photos.

I asked why she hadn’t sent them to her grandmother through the post.  She answered,
“Because my sister’s husband says if the envelope is opened whilst it’s being transported to my grandmother’s, the person who looks at the photographs might be a man and will see my wife’s face.  And he doesn’t want that to happen.”

What's Next?
On Wednesday I'll post on the jewellery worn at weddings


♥ Arab Mania ♥ said...

I gree with all the "hiddind forms" as we r muslims!
In our society none has the right to see the beauty ( hair,face,body...etc) except her mahram.
And abt the pictures, of course that woman she was angry coz this is an insult. None has the right to take pictures of women without any permission.Ur friend she asked the permisssion in taking the picture?!

wgaw said...

Arab Mania, thanks for posting. Good to hear your opinions on the rights of who can and can't see women. Thank you.

cmiranda said...

I really enjoyed reading your post because I plan on getting married to a Saudi and we're always comparing wedding traditions and custom differences between the Middle East and the West.

Shirley Dockerill said...

cmiranda: good to see you here and thanks for visiting. 'Good Luck' with your wedding