Knot-Tying, A La Turka

Ferry to the wedding on the Asian side

This weekend started out with a bang with a Turkish wedding on Friday night. The wedding was an interesting cultural experience, mostly in how it compared and contrasted to American weddings I've been to (granted, a small sample size), reflecting some of the cultural differences between the two countries. The first striking difference was that it was held in a reception hall that was pre-decorated- no American-style laboring over the decision of wedding colors and their representation of you as a couple. The wedding hall was decorated in light pink and white and that was just fine for everyone. Everything seemed to be 'ready-made' in a one-size-fits-all sort of way, which was refreshing when coming from a country in which every minutia of wedding detail are pored over from the name cards holders to the types of glasses cocktails will be served in.... all those details adding up to a pretty hefty price tag.

We arrived punctually, found some empty seats at one of the tableclothed tables, and were joined soon after by some friendly guests, who made an effort to chat with us in Turkish and English. After the civil ceremony- a quick affair under ten minutes- a classic white layered cake as tall as a person was wheeled in on a serving cart. The couple, surrounded by a camera crew, grabbed the humongous knife given to them and the groom started running it along the side of the cake, the knife bouncing off of the cake's edges. We soon realized that the cake was fake, and just a prop for wedding memories to be made- a necessary component in the standard wedding reception.

The real cake was distributed to each table in slices a short while later. This was another major difference I noticed between Turkish and American weddings- a snack is served, but not an entire meal. This is nice in that it allows for far more people to be invited (although maybe not everyone would see that as a positive) and extends the celebration to more of the community. I'm sure there are no sessions where Turkish brides and grooms are forced to hack great aunts from their guest lists, as even very distant connections are welcomed to the party. Alcohol was ubiquitous, but carefully hidden and served under tables to be mixed with the soda and juice innocently perched on tabletops. A boisterous group of young men drank and smoked in a loft area above a non-smoking sign. The piercing whine of the clarinet and drum filled the room and children ran around the dance floor.

The couple was beaming. They stood at the front of the ceremonial stage as family and friends lined up to wish them well, pin a gold coin or paper money on long sashes around their necks, and snap a picture with them to commemorate the evening. As the congratulatory line dwindled, the floor cleared to make way for the dancing portion of the celebration. A low-voiced, soulful singer took the stage, accompanied by keyboard and bodies swung to the syncopated rhythms that come so naturally to Turkish hips, accentuated by shaking shoulders and twirling hands, and the occasional Black Sea line dance.

After a few hours, the build up of a long week got the better of me and we headed for home, happy that I'd been able to attend a more traditional Turkish wedding after all my years of living in Istanbul. The differences between American and Turkish weddings swam in my mind, along with the realization that the crucial components for a happy life overlapped in both: family, friends, music, merriment, and the fibers of a supportive community.

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