Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The Wedding Crasher

Earlier this week I had lunch with work friends, one of whom was complaining about the costs of being invited to two consecutive weddings: having to buy different dresses and shoes which now just end up taking space in the closet.
Makes you feel lucky to be a guy, where Australian regulations mean that while you need to wear a suit for weddings you can wear the same suit to all weddings (and to job interviews and such). Still, I despise suits, and I look back at the Israeli habit of settling with wearing a decent shirt and some decent pants for weddings of a lesser formality level than what I’m wearing for work nowadays. The wonders of culture: here people are still stuck with English traditions way too much, not recognizing that the weather is significantly different to England’s; Israel may be backwards in many aspects, but at least it is hot enough there to remove any notions of formal dressing from common folk’s brains.

The friend then went on to say that one wedding cost $10,000 while the other cost $25,000 and that you can easily tell the difference. Thing is, she also made it very clear that she thought it was worth the difference, which is where we’re in more than a bit of a disagreement. The shakiness of her views was revealed when the next topic of conversation was to do with how obscene people spend obscene amounts of $50,000 or more – even $100,000 – on extravagant weddings with hundreds of guests, and how this is way too much to spend on one day, and how much good they can do if they give away half the amount to charity or just have themselves a hell of a holiday.
In my opinion, it’s a case of “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Who are we to determine how much money people should spend on their weddings?
I find it amazing how familiarity with different cultures can open your eyes. Again, let’s have a look at Israel: There, weddings with many hundreds of guests are common if not the norm. While these weddings cost a bundle and usually lose large amounts of money, the overall amount that is lost is somewhat offset by the fact that guests traditionally give cash presents to the newly weds, whereas in Australia cash is regarded as an inferior and unworthy gift (even if behind the scenes most couples would tell you they would prefer it). Instead, most Australians go for registry lists that mean the newly weds can become fully equipped and furnished following the wedding but they will still need to pay the wedding’s full cost.
Another undeniable observation is that Israeli wedding gifts, or rather the cash given to the couple, tends to be much higher than what the common Australian gives away. I’m not saying that Australians are cheap or anything, I’m just pointing at cultural differences here: the reality of my own wedding was that it was a very profitable affair because of all the cash given to us by my Israeli friends, none of whom were present at the wedding.

I hope that by pointing at a few of the differences between the Australian and the Israeli wedding I managed to enlighten you to one extent or another. Other than the budget issues, secular weddings in both countries tend to be similar (come to think of it, religious weddings are even more similar albeit with slightly different rituals): the Israeli wedding will put much more emphasis on the dancing while alcohol will serve an important part in the Australian one, but no Australian will mistake an Israeli wedding for anything other than a wedding an vice versa.

Now the time has come for me to say what I think of wedding days. I’ll try to be concise because I’ve said it all before, but you know how excited a good keyboard can make me…
Essentially, in my opinion spending money on your wedding day, as in more money than you would normally spend on a family/friends gathering, is rather pointless. What are your objectives with this money spending anyway?
Well, I can think of two: the first is to have a great day which you will remember forever and ever, and the second is to make an impression on your guests so that they will remember the day forever and ever. Now, is that so important that it’s worth spending the income it takes you a year to earn? Is one day’s supposed happiness worth a year of potential dreariness? Not in my book.
To me, my wedding day was nothing special other than the gathering of friends and family. It was just another day, and the particular date was selected because of the venue’s availability rather than some important factor. I can name ten days that were much more critical to my relationship with Jo than my wedding day while changing Dylan’s nappy; there is no escaping the fact that the wedding day is just artificial, yet another manmade artifact. Why, then, should we celebrate that day and not another day? Why shouldn’t we celebrate every day?
I do admit that my views are greatly affected by my general lack of respect towards the institution of marriage, but think of it this way: even if you respect it all and really look forward to it all, on your wedding day you’re much more a slave to the ritual than a couple in a position to truly enjoy themselves.
Next, to the part of making a lasting impression over your guests: as in the case of the friend saying that the 25k wedding was much better than the 10k one, where exactly is the light at the end of the tunnel? One can easily see how this deteriorates into a form of a cold war, where weapons deployed by one couple have to be immediately replicated and superseded by all other couples that do not want their wedding to be remembered as an inferior one. Thing is, who are you trying to impress? It’s your friends and relatives we’re talking about, and if anyone should be fine with settling for seeing you happy that would be them.
Let’s say your family’s a tough crowd and you haven’t managed to impress them. Think of this: what is it that you are achieving by impressing them? All will be forgotten pretty quickly anyway. No one would be interested in your wedding photos or wedding video, believe me; just check the number of hits ours get on my Flickr website, the way our parents lost “touch” the wedding video, and the way no one else was interested in the video in the first place.
I’ll conclude by saying this: because of circumstances that meant we hardly knew anyone in Australia and because Australia is too far for our friends and relatives to bother, my own wedding was the best I’ve ever been to: it was short, concise, and just as effective if not more because of that. And because we only had few guests we were able to afford a good restaurant afterwards, causing the food to be the best wedding food I ever had by a long parsec. And oh yeah, how could I forget: the fact I was mostly my very own wedding photographer meant that I got to have some fun with the camera, too.
I consider myself very lucky to have had a wedding devoid of any arms race elements and any attempts to make a statement. However, I do consider this luck to be the direct result of my choice of a wife; no wedding day extravagance could have competed with her.