Friday, January 30, 2015

Getting Married in Thailand: A Blending of Cultures

A couple of weekends ago, we attended the wedding reception of a colleague, who is American, and his new wife, who is Thai. This man has been in Thailand for nine years, and works with me as a special education teacher. He and his wife dated for six years. He is 58; she is 35 -- a very common age difference in western-Thai marriages here.

This Thai-western wedding reception was the culmination of many months of wedding traditions and practices here in Thailand. The couple began talking about marriage about a year ago, but the groom had to save money for the dowry first. How much might the dowry be? I guess it depends on the family and the financial status of the man. As an example, when the bride's sister got married last year, the groom (who's also American like my colleague, and makes "a lot" of money by Thai standards) paid one million baht (or a little over $30,000 USD, depending on the exchange rate) for the dowry, but my colleague paid "only" 500,000 baht (he's very open about personal matters!).

Then, a few months prior to the wedding and reception, he and his fiancee went to a shop, rented various outfits, and had "pre-wedding" pictures taken. They dressed in both western and Thai outfits. His fiancee paid a lot of money to have her hair and make-up done professionally (which my colleague disliked; he likes the "natural look," he says). Some of these pictures were a little goofy, but some were beautiful. They also had a "traditional" Thai-style picture taken, with both of them in traditional Thai outfits, her sitting in a throne-like chair, and him standing beside her, holding her hand. According to him, every Thai couple has a blown-up picture of themselves similar to this, hanging over their beds.
A "goofy" pre-wedding picture. The bride is a knockout!
Then came the traditional Thai wedding in early January, held at the bride's hometown in southern rural Thailand. From the pictures I saw and the conversations I had with the groom, it was very casual. There was a wedding ceremony involving blessings from Buddhist monks. Then there was a banquet with hundreds -- if not 1000 -- of people (probably most of the village) invited. Cows were slaughtered, and people spent many days preparing and cooking for the banquet. Similar to Chinese wedding custom, attending guests gave envelops of money instead of material gifts. But again, it was much more casual than we would envision a wedding reception to be. My friend told me that, at his sister-in-law's wedding banquet, there were uninvited guests coming and going. There was even a fight between some villagers at the banquet! Anything goes here!
The wedding ceremony.
The village wedding reception and banquet.
The wedding reception we attended was the more western version that the couple held for their friends and colleagues. It was held at a restaurant that looked like a greenhouse. About half of the guests were Thai and half were expats. It was interesting to see the blending of cultures and its outcome. There was a big billboard of the couple plastered on the wall outside the restaurant, and a stage area set up so the couple could take more pictures with family and friends. The bride's boss gave a toast in Thai, which was translated by an Australian colleague of mine who speaks both Thai and English. Even the groom made a toast, and addressed the issue of children in front of over 100 people! The couple dressed in western wedding garb, and incorporated some western traditions such as bouquet throwing and the first dance. But it was a bit awkward at times -- for example, the couple obviously didn't get married that day, so the bride had a fresh bouquet made just for throwing, and she took it out of its wrapping right before she threw it. Again, it was fairly casual. The dress code was business casual, and only a few men, including my husband, wore a suit. There was a band singing covers of American songs, and the band members were dressed in t-shirts and jeans.
The billboard announcing the couple's reception.
The greenhouse-restaurant where the western reception was held.
The band.
I asked a Thai-American friend of ours about the traditional Thai wedding. She said she (who was born and raised in the U.S.) and her husband (who was born and raised in Thailand) had a traditional Thai wedding. It included the "engagement" in the morning (where the groom asks the bride's parents for her hand in marriage -- in show only for them, of course -- and brings the dowry), then the wedding, and the reception at night (which she acknowledged is also a western tradition).

I really enjoyed the party; I loved how casual and fun it was. It also was a great chance to see another side of my colleagues that I rarely see -- for example, it was funny to see my department chair completely drunk and uncensored. It was endearing to see the Thai people unused to dancing and other western traditions enjoying themselves. My son had a great time meeting and playing with a couple of Thai kids who are nieces and nephews of the bride, even though none of them spoke any English. And of course, the food was delicious and plentiful. I only wish I could've attended the traditional Thai wedding reception to experience an authentic Thai wedding.


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