Cultural norms / Turkey

English weddings, Turkish weddings: a cultural comparison (part 1)

Over the last couple of months, I have been to more weddings and wedding-related celebrations (hen parties, henna parties, wedding receptions and actual-full-on weddings) in both the UK and Turkey than I would care to count.

Combine this with the fact that I am also in the final 3 weeks of planning a 200-guest multi-cultural wedding celebration of my own, and I have developed a previously unimaginably anal level of attention to wedding-detail. So much so that I could write a scholarly essay on the differences between the Turkish and English approaches to nuptial celebrations. However, sadly for you, I am armpit deep in spreadsheets and fairy lights so that will have to wait for a rainy day after 20th September. In the meantime, here is just a flavour of some of the many and varied ways in which the English and the Turks approach weddings differently (see here for part two, on invitations, food and drink):

  1. Ceremony (or lack thereof): in England, we’re all about the ceremony. You’d never dream of being late to a wedding, or talking during the ceremony (let alone answering a phone call!). Even small children are tutted at if they don’t sit docilely and silently for the twenty to thirty minutes required for the ceremony to be completed. Whether it’s a civil ceremony or a religious marriage, tones are hushed. There is lots of reverence. In Turkey, however, no-one bats an eyelid if you scoot in just as the bride is arriving (no, seriously. I’ve done that. I was not kicked out). The ceremony lasts maybe five minutes. You say the words and sign, and that’s it. Now, I’m all for straightforwardness and directness, and I really don’t see why children need to be silenced. But five minutes for a marriage ceremony feels a little, well, unceremonious. I’m not asking for hours (I went to a wedding just this weekend that lasted for upwards of 45 minutes, and it became slightly painful). But I do expect a little gravity and a little time for everyone to digest said gravity. I’m also a sucker for Deep and Meaningful words, even if they are from the Bible, and love the idea of everyone present at the marriage bearing witness to it.

Winner: English weddings

  1. Dress: the sartorial norms for bride and groom are remarkably similar in both Turkey and England, despite the wildest imaginings of my English friends (think Princess Jasmine at her most Oriental). White dress for the bride, dark suit for the groom. Yes, dresses in Turkey tend to be on the larger side, but that is just a question of personal preference. The more interesting difference is, perhaps surprisingly, in guest attire. In Turkey, the range of acceptable modes of dress is much wider. On one hand, guests often go to the fanciest extreme, with evening gowns, tiaras and mandatory salon trips. On the other, some people show up to some weddings in their jeans. The fact that it really doesn’t seem to matter appeals to me. I like dressing up as much as the next person, but I don’t like the idea that I have to conform to a standard set by someone else. I’ve actively encouraged people coming to our wedding to just wear what they feel most comfortable in. Although you can usually get away with a nice dress and some nice sandals in the UK, I always feel that there’s some unwritten dress code I’m not party to and don’t fully understand.

Winner: it’s pretty much a draw, but I think Turkey has the edge…

  1. Gifts: this is a biggie when it comes to cultural difference. In the UK, the giving of gifts is generally quite discreet (although the rise of wedding lists is putting paid to this). The couple generally tell you what they want, and you discreetly deposit it on a specially arranged table, with little to no fanfare. The couple will then usually write you a politely worded thank you note later, and the gift is never mentioned again. The contrast with Turkey could not be starker. Discretion has no place here. Instead, gifts – which are confined to gold or just plain old cash – are formally presented to the newly-married couple in a whole ceremony of their own. Everyone sees what everyone else gives, as the couple end up literally wearing their gifts, either in the form of jewellery or directly pinned to their clothes. Needless to say, when I explained this to my English friends and relatives, a look of quiet horror fills their eyes. Having said all that, I really bloody hate wedding lists so it’s a tough one to call.

Winner: both countries have cringe-worthy elements, so it has to be a draw

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10 thoughts on “English weddings, Turkish weddings: a cultural comparison (part 1)

  1. What interesting differences between the two weddings! I’ll be really excited to read about which ones you’ve chosen for your big day and how you’ve decided to use both the cultures! Gosh I can’t believe it’s only two weeks and you’re still having time to blog!
    Hope that it’s not all been too stressful planning everything. I’m so excited to read about the final day that we’ve all been waiting for!
    Bless you both!

    • Thank you! For some reason, as the day draws nearer I’m getting calmer and calmer. I’m waiting for the panic to set in 😉

      We’re still figuring out how to blend the cultures – it’s actually loads of fun, cherry picking which bits of wedding culture we like and just kind of throwing them together. Once we’ve got it figured, I’ll try to write a post about it… but that might have to wait until after 20th September…

  2. The lack of ceremony at Turkish weddings really surprised me as well as the fact that showing up late is apparently fine. I remember trying hard not to freak out as everyone else calmly ate supper with about an hour left to get ready and find the venue.

    • Tell me about it! When our wedding was a far off event that felt more hypothetical than anything else, it was much easier to feel more philosophical about potential disruptions etc. Now I’m not so sure…!

  3. We’re going to the chapellllllll and we’re gunna get marrrrriiiiieeeed!

    Haha, our Indian ceremony was like 3 hours argh and our civil ceremony in India involved being packed in a small court room like sardines with 100 strangers being pushed from all angles as other people tried to speak to the judge and we struggled through our wedding vows.

    I am hoping to have a wedding in UK as well because I had ZERO Englishness in any of my weddings…. the only thing I had was something new, old, borrowed, blue hehe xxx

    • Argh! 10 days to go!!!

      Wow, that sounds fascinating – but also maybe not what you want on your wedding day! I sometimes struggle to find the balance with being academically quite interested in the different approaches and where all these crazy traditions come from, and asserting my wishes for my own wedding (which are surprisingly particular in some areas!).

      I think it’s definitely a good idea to have a UK party too (just to spread it out): we’re having one just before Christmas for people like my granny, who can’t make it. But I love you did the new/old/borrowed/blue thing – that’s really sweet.

      Hope all’s good with you lady xxx

  4. Pingback: English weddings, Turkish weddings: a cultural comparison (part 2) | Love in Istanbul

  5. Pingback: How we tried to reach cross-cultural wedding nirvana | Love in Istanbul

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