Thursday, May 27, 2010

Have You the Rental?

Very often when we come face to face with a new experience while we are abroad, we ask one of two questions. The first is, “What were they thinking?” Stinky tofu is a prime example of something eliciting such a response. The second question is, “Why didn’t we think of that?” When one of our Taiwanese coworkers got married this weekend, her wedding left us wondering this question for various reasons.

We had the opportunity to attend another Taiwanese wedding earlier this year so we were excited to attend this one so that we could compare notes about which parts of the event were individual touches and which were more ubiquitous in Taiwanese nuptials. The first “why didn’t we think of that?” moment came when we were notified about the engagement and the wedding date. We didn’t have to look at a calendar to realize that Taiwanese engagements are significantly shorter than American ones. Our friend made her engagement official about two months ago leaving her only about eight weeks to plan. This is actually very normal. Most Taiwanese weddings follow a formula. You have the ceremony followed by a reception dinner at one of many locations that specialize in wedding banquets. Essentially, you pick option A, B, or C for the dinner and decorations and you are done. The dinners consist of a twelve-course extravaganza almost always including shark fin soup (which, in my humble opinion, is quite overrated). How the beginning of dinner is announced varies with the extravagance of the reception site. At our first wedding, we happily wondered if we had mistakenly boarded a cruise ship as the servers pranced about the room in a laser light show carrying various trays in precarious positions before they eventually landed on our table.

(Sorry for the poor quality video; hopefully you get the idea)

The next moment of appreciation came when I found out this little gem. The bride rents her dress. That’s right. No spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a dress that is worn once and then packed away for your granddaughter to play dress-up some day. This cost-effective method frees brides up to not only don their white gown but also an array of other dresses in various colors. Throughout the evening, the bride will leave, make a costume change, and be welcomed back into the banquet hall with cheers and applause as she parades around in her new ensemble.

Speaking of cheers and applause, that brings me to perhaps my favorite part about Taiwanese weddings. Now, I must mention that we have only been to Christian Taiwanese weddings so I’m not sure if Buddhist weddings have something similar, but the bride making her way down the aisle is quite exciting. In the States, we all stand and appreciate the beauty of the blushing bride as she approaches the altar. The Taiwanese add a little extra flair. As the bride marches down the aisle, the audience spontaneously erupts into applause. At this time, she pauses to appreciate the cheering, and friends and family take the opportunity to take pictures. As the clapping dies down, she moves forward until she is stopped by another outburst of applause. In all, it takes the bride a good ten minutes to get all the way from the doors to her awaiting fiancé. The same phenomenon takes place during the vows. As the couple makes promises about better or worse, richer or poorer, etc., we celebrate each commitment with a round of applause. It is quite an ordeal.

(This is actually during the reception. Chris is sticking a "blessing" on the groom)

The jury is still out on the last difference I will mention here. In some ways, I think that this is a great idea. In other ways, it seems a bit calloused. I’m referring to the gifts that are given at the wedding. In Taiwan, people don’t often give gifts but instead offer others “red envelopes”. The term “red envelope” is synonymous with money. Rather than go out and purchase a gift, the Taiwanese instead stuff a bunch of cash into a red envelope and offer it to the recipient. The upside of this is that it removes the need to register, to figure out how many towels the bride and groom have already received, and trying to figure out how many place mats you can buy and still be within your predesignated budget. It also alleviates the need to write a thank you note to your great aunt for the lovely purple ceramic “piece” that will collect dust in your attic until you actually figure out what it is. The downside is that it takes away any personal touch that you might want to offer the bride and groom. And, let’s be honest, how many of us would have actually bought the entire set of twelve matching place settings when we were first married? There are certain things that other people just have to buy for you. A major downside is something that we have heard about but, thankfully, not experienced (as far as I know…). Evidently, at some point during the reception at many weddings, the emcee picks up a microphone and grudgingly announces each guest who has attended the wedding and the amount that was placed in their red envelope. I don’t think I’m culturally ready for that amount of disclosure just yet.

So, if any of you is feeling entrepreneurial, my recommendation is to open a wedding dress rental shop. I think it’ll be a gold mine. I promise I’ll only take a small cut of the profits.

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