“What kind of wedding do you think you’ll have if you ever get married?” my roommate Meg asked me our Sophomore year in college.
“Easy,” I declared. “I’ll have a potluck in a field and wear a rainbow colored dress I make myself.”
Well, it’s a decade after that conversation, I’m getting married in five days, and my rustic wedding prediction was totally wrong.
Instead, Colin and I are going FULL OUT into Wedding World.
For our upcoming nuptials, our venue is venerable, our cake is tiered, and our menu is five-star. My dress is such a luscious white confection that we’re being featured on a TLC reality TV wedding show called “I Found the Gown.” But rather than being upset with all this tradition, I’m actually delighted.
Huh?! How the heck did this anti-establishment hippie gal shift so radically from what she thought her wedding would be?
Simple: I love to travel, and Wedding World is one of the most fascinating foreign lands you can visit. Once you start to drive into it, you are so shocked by what you see that you can’t help but drive a little further.
“Oh, THAT is what they were all talking about,” you murmur, realizing the facts behind what countless former brides have tried to explain to you.
“Oh, REALLY?!” you gasp as you glimpse a historic custom up close. “I’ve always wondered what that feels like!” (And by “that”, you can insert any number of cultural experiences from wearing a 15-pound dress to organizing 100 wedding invitations.)
Here are other elements of Wedding World that are tightly analogous to foreign travel.
Money: As in a distant country, currency in Wedding World differs deeply from our normal world. Cake in everyday life is a few dollars. Cake in Wedding World is hundreds. In Wedding World, flowers (innocent, sweet flowers) break the bank, and a “cheap” dress costs more than a cross-country plane ticket.
The reality TV show I’m being featured on focuses on “The Thrifty Bride” but Wedding World “Thrifty” is normal world “Insane.”
A similar but opposite effect occurred in 2009 during my year of travel. After a few weeks of living in Southeast Asia where gorgeous beach-side hotel rooms cost $10, I got so used to those prices that a $15 a night hotel room seemed like a shocking splurge. Both travel and wedding planning shift your understanding of money!
Customs: When you’re traveling, each country has “the way things are done” which you usually end up doing to be polite, and because everyone else is doing it. The gravitational pull of these traditions means it takes far more energy to resist than to go along with them. For example, in Ghana, I began eating with my hands, because that’s the polite way to ingest your food there.
Well, in Wedding World, there are more “the way things are done”-s than exist in a small continent.
Sure, in college I wanted a rainbow wedding dress, but in the reality of Wedding World, the sluuuurp of tradition towards poofy white goodness was so strong (and also so warm and comforting) that I slid easily down that path.
Sure, in college I dreamed of a Potluck Wedding, but there are actually reasons why “that’s not the way things are done.” In the words of a friend to whom I tried to sell the idea: “You expect me to travel across the country, buy a bridesmaid dress, pay for my hotel room… and then COOK for you? You must be crazy.”
You gotta respect tradition when you travel. It’s welcoming and cosy, and evolved over time for reasons.
Becoming a celebrity. When I traveled to China with a group of Boston teens, the students got a HUGE kick out of how the local folks wanted to take photos with them because they didn’t look traditionally Chinese. One student with blond hair said she never felt so famous as she did in China! Likewise, Wedding World is seductive because you become the center of attention. You get to do elaborate makeup trials and foot massages because all eyes will be on you. Crazy!
If you’re going to do it, you’re going to DO it. When people travel, they are more likely to splurge or do things differently. “Well,” my brother and I said in 2010, “it’s not every day that we’re in Portugal, so it’s worth it to pay for a day tour to the castles of Sintra.” Similarly, I keep hearing, “Hopefully you only get married once, so you might as well pay for this nice thing!”
Culture Clash. Travel is fabulous, and it’s great to see traditions that are different from yours, but there always comes an instance where you refuse to let go of your native way of doing things. In Spain, I finally rebelled against eating dinner so &*$@# late because it made no sense to my soul (aka, stomach). In Wedding World, I refuse to change my last name after marriage.
Unexpected joy and the fulfillment of wants you didn’t know you had. Who knew I had a deep desire to pat a tiger until I had the opportunity during travel through the Tiger Temple in Thailand? And who knew I wanted to have a two-level “Deep Chocolate Framboise” wedding cake decorated with white icing in a lattice covered with fruits and flowers to look like a summer basket? Turns out I do.
Celebration of humanity. When we set aside all the pomp and madness, what is at the core of both travel and Wedding World is love of our human family.
For our wedding, we are crossing borders of biology and in-laws, collaborating to plan a 100-person event, and embracing centuries of tradition about how two people unite. In this undertaking, we are all traveling to a profound new level of human connectedness.
As crazy as this journey through Wedding World has been, I’ve loved every delirious moment!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!