This East Coast woman has been living in California the last almost-month, predominately in Irvine, with stints to LA, Hemet, Huntington Beach, and Newport Beach. What I did not expect was to experience complete and utter culture shock in my mother’s own home state. So what I plan to do in this post is to give all of you attending an Indian wedding for the first time some tips for getting through the multitude of events you are about to experience.
My current S.O. is Indian, and as part of this trip, I attended the wedding of the fantastic N. & N. (names redacted to protect the spiderphobic subjects of this post). I’ve been to all sorts of weddings, and for crying out loud, I study and teach both religions (Jainism/Islam) covered by this wedding. I’ve heard stories of other weddings and seen my fair share of Bollywood movies. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for these series of days.
Yes, days. We actually missed one of the first events, being held on a Wednesday, or otherwise, it would have been a Wednesday thru Saturday celebration. Traditional American weddings: take notes.
I won’t bore y’all with the details of every single ceremony (by my count, we attended at least 6 separate things spread out from Orange County to the LAX Hilton), but I thought I would share some things I’ve learned about myself and my new partner’s traditions while attending the various portions of this wedding week.
(Thanks to N&N if they’re reading this for inviting me to be a part of their special week. But seriously, y’all, stop getting married. What are you up to, 15 separate sets of vows?)
5 Things I Learned the First Time I Wore a Sari. Or, Bring Aspirin to an Indian Wedding.
1) Let’s start with “bring aspirin.” Unless you’re a dancer used to dancing barefoot, parts of your body you didn’t even know could hurt will hurt for 2-3 days afterward. And yes, part of this may be a “Holly needs to be in better shape” issue, but part of it definitely was a lack of arch support. And with regards to arch support, in the immortal words of Danny Glover’s Murtaugh, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”
2) Aunties are your friend. No seriously, collect them like Pokémon or POGs. Aunties will help you redo your sari when the pleats get screwed up (they will), will reattach your bindi, and will explain to you what the hell is going on with all the ceremonies you’ve never seen before (assuming you’re white or non-Indian like me). They are basically G-d’s gift to first-time wedding-goers. Ask questions. Many people from the community my own age didn’t even know what was going on (Indian traditions are so varied, after all), so chances are you’re not the only one with questions.
3) Prepare to be emotionally and physically wiped. Seriously. You’re going to be active for 15 hours a day. And most of what you experience is going to be brand new and wonderful, from the music, to the food, to the conversations. There will be so much sensory input your brain is honestly just going to get tired. And after your third night of only 5 hours of sleep, you’re going to get cranky. Plan ahead, stay hydrated, and remember, you will have fond memories of your experience (G-d willing) after you get some much-needed sleep. (And you will need sleep. Prepare to take an entire day off after the last event).
4. Don’t be surprised when you start picking up on Hindi/Indian vernacular words in future conversations. You absorbed a lot more than you realized the last few days. This literally just happened to me. Some woman on my plane literally just hollered “Chalo!” (Let’s go!) at her kid. (If you’ve ever travelled to the Middle East, this is gonna be your “yalla.”) My head whipped up like I was being yelled at. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you start acclimating to the new culture and traditions you find yourself surrounded by.
5. Finally, embrace the sari. Or whatever clothing you wear, even if it’s Western. I was terrified of the sari for the first hour I wore it. It wasn’t mine (Thanks, S., for letting me borrow yours!), it is different to wear than any other formal clothing I have ever worn, and I was terrified I was going to trip and munch it horribly. (I did, once. And I didn’t faceplant, so go me.) And know that there are probably at least 5 other people there just as uncomfortable for that first hour as you. At least two Indian women approached me to tell me I was wearing the sari well and asked me how often I’d worn them. They were shocked to find out it was my first time and responded that even they avoided them at all costs. What I’m trying to say is you’re going to be far more comfortable and confident than you thought you would be. Be prepared to kick off your shoes and dance for hours. Feel free to move and have fun in whatever you’re wearing, whether it be a sari, kurta, or suit.
So, hopefully the spirit intended by this list comes across. Of course, everyone’s experience will be different, but this is what has been mulling around in my mind since the wedding was over on Saturday (at 2 a.m.). On my way back to Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) now. Y’all have a pleasant sleep.