'Sì', 'Oui', 'I do': when love gets international
(Cover Credit: Ivy & Inks)
Marriage is always a meeting of different cultures. Consciously or subconsciously, we all have notions about life, people and relationships, mostly as a result of our past experiences and the family we grew up in. It's our 'philosophy of life', the way we see the world. When we enter a relationship with someone special, we let those ideas interact with another person's views, and by virtue of this union we start a new culture of our own, or in other words, a new family... But it all begins on your fabulous wedding day, when you celebrate this union and share it with the world. This is even more true if your relationship not only brings together different visions of life but also spans across national borders.
Let me introduce you to Eddy and Emilie, two very dear friends of mine. They got engaged a couple of months ago in the scenic Gran Canaria. But Eddy's proposal on a Spanish island is simply the culmination of this international love. He's from Vicenza, in Italy, and Emilie is from Toulouse, in the south of France. Fate has brought them together in Leeds. The couple are currently planning their move to Eddy's hometown next year, but not before making another, all-important stop in their romantic journey: France, where they will tie the knot. And right when you think you've pinned all these places on the map and you're starting to get an idea of their whereabouts, you then find out that Emilie's family is actually from both Italy and Spain, and she too has a super cool Italian nonna ('grandmother'), nonna Agnese, who will play a central role in organising the wedding. This basically means that Eddy and Emilie's big day will attract special guests from France, Italy, Spain and of course the UK, where they both have made tons of friends.
How can you even begin to cope with that? Planning is key - but also creativity. Emilie, with whom I've recently met to discuss her ideas, luckily possesses both. And she also has her grandma's house and garden at her disposal, so literally plenty of room to let her imagination run wild. After that conversation with her and some research on my own, I've come up with a few tips for those of you who want to organise an exciting international wedding.
Disclaimer: while it's absolutely understandable that you want to impress your guests who have travelled for you, that doesn’t have to turn you into your most obsessive self, constantly striving for 'perfection'. If you feel like you need some soothing advice in this respect, have a look at our post.
Plan a multi-day wedding
You can't ask you guests to travel from abroad and then stay for just one day. Whatever their accommodation arrangements, it'll be nice to just get together both before and after the big day and organise some group activities. It's also a great opportunity for people to get to know each other and learn about different cultures, traditions and languages. You could suggest activities that represent each country. Emilie, for example, is thinking of typical English afternoon teas, accompanied by French-style cheese and wine tasting and some Italian cooking classes run by the legendary nonna Agnese. Clearly there are plenty more options available to you, all depending on how far your imagination (and budget) can stretch, such as trips to the surrounding countryside or famous landmarks.
We always hear that love is a universal language, able to break down national and cultural barriers and bring us all together. While that's all very nice, you might also appreciate not having to rely on hand gestures throughout your ceremony and reception, so thinking ahead about this aspect can really be sensible. In this case too there are several options, but my advice is to go for what makes you and your partner feel most comfortable, something that may at the same time reflect your own culture as a couple and respect those around you who have travelled for you.
Emilie and Eddy, for example, have met in Leeds and therefore English has always been their way of meeting one another halfway and creating their own intimate space. And even though Emilie is currently taking Italian classes in preparation for the couple's final move to Italy, she's confident that 'no matter where they go, whatever the language of the country, their love will always be in English'. Awwwwww!
Overall, their ceremony will be fully bilingual and will be performed in French and English, as a way to both represent the host country and their language as a couple. However, if there's a time to truly let your heart speak and yes, let love break down linguistic barriers, that's the exchange of the vows. After reciting them in English both bride and groom will proceed to repeat them in their respective mother tongues. By doing this, they will be reenacting in front of family and friends the magic of their encounter: finding each other halfway, as mentioned above, but also sharing their roots and letting each other into their worlds.
For the reception, their guests will be assigned to specific 'mixed' tables, making sure there's always someone who knows at least two of the languages spoken on the day and is able to translate for other people. Sounds like you're playing a war board game rather than putting together your seating plan? It may be, but think of all the fun that you will get out of a truly multicultural wedding!
While Emilie and Eddy aren't going to need professional translators as they're relying on their guests' linguistic knowledge, especially in English, that may sometimes turn out to be a necessary addition to your wedding bill. It is however absolutely worthwhile: your guests will love feeling included.
It's not just love that can speak to everyone's heart in spite of cultural and linguistic differences: how could we forget about food? An international wedding may just be the perfect opportunity to play around with some fusion cuisine. This can be done by hiring a task force of caterers and chefs specialising in different cuisines and flavours from all around the world. Depending on how big the group is and how much you intend to spend, you could alternatively involve your guests directly and having them prepare a selection of dishes from their own countries during your pre-wedding group activities. This will add a family, homey feel to the already spicy intercultural mix!
Related to this is also the question of how you choose to serve your guests. Is it going to be a traditional sit-down, a buffet, or a bit of both? It's been a while since the typical sit-down/buffet divide has fallen out of fashion to give you many more alternatives in between and play some mix and match. What works really well is a station-style buffet meal. Think of a train route with many stations between the start and end point, but replace the train with yourself and your hungry guests and the railway stations with 'live' food stalls where chefs can cook local and international dishes before your eyes! You're clearly going to need a big space to allow for all food stations to be spread across, but the good news is that even if you opt for an indoor reception, you won't miss out on any of the fun as you can have you very own indoor international street market!
If, like Emilie, you feel quite attached to the idea of an elegant traditional dinner where everyone is served at the table, you can still combine different styles. What I was suggesting to Emilie, for example, is having a sit-down dinner and then asking all guests to help themselves to a dessert buffet. This way, not only would they encourage the interaction among the guests, but they would also introduce an interesting twist to finish off the meal. It might also give everybody a chance to stretch their legs and help their digestion. I remember attending a wedding in Sicily years ago where dessert was served exactly like that, which was a welcome change after a 9-course meal (no kidding) and a way to delude myself into thinking I was already burning all the calories.
To summarise: be creative, respect everyone's language and culture but don't forget to show your own identity as a couple. And just try to have fun, knowing that if you've brought together two (or more) countries, you should already be proud of yourselves.