Prev Next

Zen: Class Aspirations and Wedding Planning


Zen: Class Aspirations and Wedding Planning | A Practical Wedding

So I had this total brainwave about my hen party. I’d read all the wedding literature, heard all the complaints by friends of demanding brides, and I wanted to be helpful.

Me: “You guys, I’ve got the best idea for a hen ever. (Dramatic pause.) Lord of the Rings movie marathon! You guys can come over to my place and we’ll roll out the sofa bed. We’ll bake! And skip the Eowyn soup scene!”

Friends: (blank stare)

Me: “It’s a great idea!”

Friends: “No.”

Bridesmaid S: “You can do a Lord of the Rings marathon any time.”

Me: “You cannot do it any time. You need at least nine uninterrupted hours.”

Friends: “Oh, what about an afternoon tea party?”

S: “That would be nice!”

Me: “You can do an afternoon tea party any time!”

I was bewildered. Admittedly nine hours of Hugo Weaving talking really slowly might not be everyone’s cuppa, but I became friends with S at age seventeen when she remarked on the One Ring replica I was wearing around my neck (yeah, I was totally that kind of loser). So what was the problem?

The answer only came to me when I was complaining about the lukewarm response to my idea and a friend said, “It’s because a movie marathon doesn’t have the connotations of luxury an afternoon tea does.”

Oh. Right. There it is again.

Here are some words people like to use to describe weddings, plucked from a wedding forum:

  • Elegant
  • Glamorous
  • Sophisticated
  • Classy

These are all words that are associated with having lots of money, or being of a high social class (a position usually occupied and defined by people with lots of money). I’m still trying to parse the links between class and weddings—they’re complicated, not least because weddings are the ideal vehicle for the expression of class aspirations. Especially in this age of hyper-personalised, customisable weddings, the event isn’t so much an expression of who the couple and their community are—it’s an expression of who they want to be. And class aspirations will often differ within that community, whether because of generational differences or differences in life circumstances.

I ran headfirst into this when I was discussing the Malaysian wedding venue with my parents. I wanted a house in a jungle. I had lurid visions of waking up on the day of my wedding and batting away mosquitoes to admire the green velvet of the old-growth forest rolling out before my window. It would be beautiful—simple—different.

“Zen, the relatives are not going to want to drive up a mountain so they can visit some ulu (remote) place in the jungle,” said my parents patiently. “They’ll be coming from the kampung (village) already. They’re used to jungle!”

“Here is not like England,” my dad explained. “In Malaysia you cannot have a wedding in a sawmill. People can’t accept it.”

“The English wedding is in a restaurant in the mill, Dad,” I said. “It’s not an operational mill.”

But I saw his point. My parents want to show our extended family a good time. Which means air-conditioning, recessed lighting, tablecloths, a multiple-course meal. You know, fanciness. My parents are fairly unshowy people in ordinary life—my mom never met a mostly-finished jar of peanut butter she couldn’t wring some more peanut butter from—but God forbid we look cheap on an occasion like my wedding.

And it wasn’t just my parents or extended family whose idea of “nice” equalled “grand”. I found myself caught up in arguments with my closest friends, of my age and socioeconomic background, about the benefits of wood panelling in an equatorial climate. It felt as if everybody wanted to be an elf when I just wanted to be a hobbit.

But you know, who’s to say my vision of the day didn’t come from a desire to assert my class status? The house in the jungle might not have been much cheaper than a fancy hotel ballroom. There’s something about wanting to appear not to have spent much money, no matter the cost. It’s like those shabby chic rustic vintage weddings you see in WIC-y wedding literature which are actually terrifically expensive, or like designer jeans sold pre-ripped. Isn’t it an indication that I’m really aspiring to be of a class which is so privileged it considers conspicuous displays of wealth vulgar? What’s “vulgar” if not a word loaded with class-based disapproval?

Of course, it’s possible to go in circles for ages if you start thinking like this. I found it helped to focus on the, well, practical side of things. What we actually needed from a wedding venue, in light of the event we were hosting: a place where hot food could be prepared and served, which would be accessible for our guests, where people would feel comfortable. In other words it helped me to refocus my aims in planning around the kind of experience I wanted my guests to have, rather than on what I wanted it to say about me.

So here are some words I came up with to describe the vibe I hope my weddings will have:

  • Practical (duh)
  • Simple
  • People-focused
  • Quirky
  • Traditional
  • Multicultural

You will not be surprised to discover that Meg provides a list of words to pick from for wedding style inspiration in the book, and that most of these words are not money-related (hooray!). I did my little exercise before I’d read the book, but nearly all my words are on Meg’s list. Great minds, eh?

The helpful thing about this exercise is that it brings you back to first principles. If I’m going to be all people-focused about this, that means I’ll give up my movie marathon if my friends aren’t keen on it. They want to plan something different, so I’ll let them. Unless their plan is to lock me up in a closet while they all go off to eat scones at the Ritz, I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it.

If they change their minds, though, I’ll be waiting with a bag of Doritos. My extended edition DVDs aren’t going anywhere.

Photo by: Gabriel Harber Photography (APW Sponsor)

More in Recent Posts Staff Picks

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Kaiti

    I love this post! Because it is SO DARN TRUE. People don’t always get it, but amen to sticking to what a wedding is REALLY about!

    The words we chose:
    Joy
    Fun
    Love Love Love

  • http://www.madeinmorningside.blogspot.com Ashleigh

    OMG this is awesome!! Thank you! I am struggling with the venue hunt, and have been noticing a similar thoughts to yours and as a result we are struggling to find somewhere that will please myself, my fiancee and our families!!

    Last night we sat down with Meg’s book (fantastic by the way) and did the same list, we picked words like fun, full of laughter, relaxed, family and friends. And it helped me realise that as long as we can find a venue that seats everyone we want there, we will be able to do the rest. Thank you for emphasising that for me again here.

    xox

  • http://theroadto92912.blogspot.com Molly

    I’m a walking contradiction because the way I describe my wedding is:
    -elegant
    -classy
    -simple
    -traditional

    Also: “It’s like those shabby chic rustic vintage weddings you see in WIC-y wedding literature which are actually terrifically expensive.” YES! Those rustic-chic weddings always seem to have about $5,000 worth of flowers, but they all look hand-picked. This is one of my biggest pet peeves about the wedding industry.

    • Secret Shame

      I’m going to say this anonymously because I am TOTALLY embarrassed about it, but we’re having a terrifyingly expensive* rustic wedding, except less pretty and well-decorated. The expensive part is renting a goddamn piece of property where we can host everyone. My family used to have some land, but sold it years ago (and that helped pay for me to go to college, so I can’t complain); there’s other family land available but it just wouldn’t work for lots of reasons. Also turns out paying for dinner for everyone is expensive. Who knew? And once we decided on the location we were stuck not using taco trucks or whatever for catering.

      Anyway, Zen, totally agree on the part where being embarrassed to spend or look like you’re spending money is a different kind of class performance. I want to demonstrate that I’m not materialistic, that I’m a member of the creative/non-profit class, that I care exactly the right amount (but not too much) about the wedding.

      *For me.

      • http://theroadto92912.blogspot.com Molly

        Don’t be ashamed! I, too, am having an expensive wedding. We’re also paying an arm and a leg for the venue and food/drinks. (Seriously, those 3 things are half our budget.)

        The thing that frustrates me about the kinds of weddings featured on WIC blogs (I only picked on rustic-chic weddings because those blogs feature a ton of them) is that they take super expensive elements, like the venue and flowers, and make them look like they were inexpensive because “oh, it’s a charming farm and those lush peonies in mason jars totally looked like they were hand-picked from the meadow that morning,” when in reality, they probably cost a pretty penny. It’s totally fine to spend a pretty penny (I am), but the problem I have with the “blogworthy wedding” is that no one ever tells the reader that this ish is expensive.

        And I’m sure your wedding is going to be gorgeous because you and your partner will be glowingly happy and no hand-picked-from-the-meadow flowers can rival that kind of beauty.

      • Caely

        Sometimes I worry that this applies to my entire life:

        “I want to demonstrate that I’m not materialistic, that I’m a member of the creative/non-profit class, that I care exactly the right amount (but not too much) about [x].”

        • Secret Shame

          And a wedding is a really public display of that stuff, you know?

      • Rachel

        Ditto to what Molly said. Please don’t be ashamed or embarassed of your expensive wedding, my heart broke for you when I read that. I understand the feeling and often feel embarassed to admit it in certain circles but it is what it is and most importantly it is about you and your fiance and your happiness.

        Best wishes to you and your fiance.

      • Maddie

        Just echoing what others have said: there is no shame in your wedding budget. One of my favorite things about this community is that we don’t shame people for what they’re spending. As long as YOU are comfortable with your budget, then there is nothing to feel bad about.

        • Secret Shame

          I know, and I appreciate that about this place. And the money is all going places I’m happy with, and it’s not damaging anyone’s finances, and everyone is unbelievably relieved that (among other things) I agreed to spend money on catering instead of cooking the food myself. I still feel kind of like, really? That’s how much it’ll cost? And I want that?

      • Lucy

        We did all we could to keep the costs of our wedding down, our venue was free as it was a friends farm, another friend did flowers, mother-in-law made cake etc etc and well over half our budget was food and drink. We recently were asked by friends how much our wedding cost as their son and soon-to-be daughter in law are marrying next year.

        I sent them a spreadsheet and outlined our research into veunes etc and got a reply that finished with “Bit silly to spend a house deposit on a wedding!”

        This might be true for them, but we did chose to do this, and it wasn’t silly to us. We are in a fortunate position to own a house already and have good jobs. I feel embarrassed that i was so open with them about the costs now…

        • Secret Shame

          Ugh. I’m sorry. I got a comment like that from my partner’s dad, who thought he was complimenting us on our thrift but had no idea what things would cost. I think in general his ideas on prices come from 70s rural economies. And, you know, 80% of our budget is food, drink, and location; it feels expensive to me; and it still wouldn’t touch a down payment where we live now. Not to mention the fact that even if we had the down payment we’re not sure how long we’ll be here, so buying a house would be a tremendous waste of money.

          Weddings are just so damn public, for better and worse.

          • Rachel T.

            I completely understand this feeling and have the same. I had never thought of it as another version of class performance, but it absolutely is! I wanted the backyard BBQ wedding (rustic, nonchalant, at its finest), but my parents wanted the big wedding with the big venue and flowers and and and and. But the more we plan it, the more I feel like it’s still us, in the details, the readings, the decorations. Fiance and I initially bonded because we shared the same love for Quentin Tarantino, so now Tarantino’s become the theme for our wedding. And while we are doing the big venue, big caterer, big wedding, we’re also doing us. So while I don’t like the budget and often don’t feel comfortable with it (car? house payment? Jeebus.), I do like that we’ve made this our own. I keep repeating Meg’s point that weddings often aren’t just about us and that makes me feel better; that and Zen’s point about class performance. That really put this in perspective for me and helped me understand what our wedding was for my parents. Thanks as always for this wonderful space of reality and honest talks!

        • Liz

          Rude! I wish people would keep their thoughts to themselves sometimes.

          You were generous enough to send them a spreadsheet, for Pete’s sake! The least they can do is say, “thanks for the information, we may go a different direction.”

          Sorry you had to deal with that.

      • Alexis

        Ditto on nearly all accounts! So, I hope you find a little comfort in knowing you’re not alone. I also have a difficult time accepting our wedding spending. My fiance and I are truly not very trendy people, we just happen to really love VT (where my FH is from and where most of his large family still lives) and farms/barns so we just fell into the rustic wedding thing. We actually passed up an opportunity to use a family barn (for free mind you) because it was a little too rustic (i.e. remote location, no bathrooms, and lots of pigeon poop on the unfinished floors) and another couple in the family were already planning on using it for their wedding just a few weeks before we planned on having ours. Dinner and drinks for everyone was shockingly expensive for us too… We still haven’t come around to being totally comfortable with what we’re spending on our wedding, but we weren’t comfortable not spending on things we felt were important either. Most embarassment I feel regarding spending comes from anticipation of regret for spending so much, the rest comes from fear of negative judgement which I think relates directly (if it isn’t the same darn thing) to this class performance issue you and Zen mention. I feel like we’re generally very practical people, yet we’re spending this seemingly impractical amount of money on this one day! Will some of our guests think we our DINK snobs? Will some think we are crunchy hippies? Will some think our wedding is awesome and be really excited for us to get married? Probably.

  • http://txtingmrdarcy.wordpress.com Txtingmrdarcy

    We can have a long-distance bachelorette for you. I am ALWAYS up for watching LOTR. :)

    • http://proofitgood.tumblr.com Rizubunny

      Team Practical: Can we seriously plan to do this for Zen? I would be in in a heartbeat. If we start at 10 AM, we can be done by midnight or so, including time for bathroom breaks.

      • dysgrace

        Are we allowed to do this at the same time but in a different time-zone? (It can be a 24-hour movie marathon, with an APW-er SOMEWHERE watching LOTR for 24 hours.)

        • http://proofitgood.tumblr.com Rizubunny

          I think that totally works!!

          Also…we could do a group Hobbit outing in December when the movie is released…

          • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com EmilyEF

            gah, I know I am late but YES YES YES! Let us do this (both the outing and the extended edition party, and most especially the skipping of the Eowyn soup scene.)

    • suzanna

      Dude. Seriously. I did a little “eeeee!” for Zen when she said that’s what she wanted to do.

  • http://www.abuttercreamwedding.com Sara C.

    “In other words it helped me to refocus my aims in planning around the kind of experience I wanted my guests to have, rather than on what I wanted it to say about me.”

    Yes, yes. One of our big words was “community.” And I think that planning an event that isn’t about an ostentatious display of money, but rather a gift of hospitality to your guests is our approach. Perhaps manners (ala Miss Manners style) could bring some of the class clashes together?

    • Kat

      YES! THIS!

      “a gift of hospitality to your guests….” I feel like this is the part that is forgotten by so many couples/friends/people who are currently angry at me for asking a year ago if the now fiance could come in for a dance when he arrived at the reception to pick me up from my bridesmaiding duties because he wasn’t invited to the wedding.

  • http://weehermione.blogspot.com Hayley

    1. Skipping that dreadful Eowyn soup scene means you are so very, very wise.
    2. I think the nice-to-grand transition is something a lot of people struggle with. Nice is fine. Nice is nice! Not everything has to be *grand*.
    3. I think I mainly commented because the Eowyn-soup-scene-skipping made my inner 15-year-old-wearing-the-One-Ring-replica-necklace self chortle and nod.
    4. But also, yes, to everything else too.

  • Lana

    Zen, I’m so glad you’re doing these planning posts. You speak a language I understand. (Fellow hobbit planner here, caught in the “vulgar” enigma.) Plus I love the cultural juxtaposition we get from your parent’s input. That’s all.

  • Christine

    This brings up such important issues about how much of wedding planning comes down to showing off (consciously or unconsciously, us or our parents)? Not necessarily showing off how much money we have (or are willing to spend) but showing off how creative we are, how quirky we are, showing off how much we care about our guests, showing off how much we love each other…
    it’s something to keep in mind as you make decisions just to ask yourself why you care about something (or why your family cares about something or why guests will care, etc.)
    Recently my fiance was working on the place cards and had a great idea that fit with stuff we love but didn’t match the overall color scheme of the wedding. At first I was bothered, but then I realized it was because I was worried guests would think I didn’t pay attention to the color scheme (god forbid, right?) which is absurd. I don’t win something if everything matches!

  • Sam

    A LOTR marathon would be my ideal party too! …I have a full day’s worth of food mapped out based on the hobbit meals (breakfast, second breakfast, elvenzees, luncheon, tea, supper, dinner)

    • http://proofitgood.tumblr.com Rizubunny

      We have done this and it is AWESOME.

    • http://newcomfortfood.tumblr.com/ JenMac

      I have friends I do this with annually (!) and it’s one of the best days of the year. I highly recommend it.

    • http://www.katiehillman.com Katie

      I agree, this is awesome and exactly how several of my friends and I celebrated finishing undergraduate school.

  • amandanoel

    “It felt as if everybody wanted to be an elf when I just wanted to be a hobbit.”
    YES! YES! YES!
    This is exactly how I keep feeling. My fiance and I are paying for the wedding and want it to be people focused and within our means, but my mother feels that the event/ the pictures her friends will see will reflect poorly on her and that she will be embarrassed to show her friends because she is in a wealthier socio-economic situation.
    Luckily, my fiance happens to love being compared to a hobbit and thinks as long as there is something to eat and drink and people to eat and drink it with we will have one heck of a party.
    I’m also blessed enough to have a bridal brigade that reminds me its ok to be neither elf nor hobbit but clumsily, imperfectly, beautifully human.

    • http://pinterest.com/lildutchgrrl/wedding-style/ Remy

      AmandaNoel, your comment made me wonder for the first time whether my parents will be concerned about how my wedding will look to their friends (or our extended family). I mean, we’re doing what we’re doing, and that’s that — and I think my folks are used to that by now (they HAVE known me for 28 years) — so I don’t think it’ll be productive to bring up the subject if it will only be an argument. (I think our style could conceivably be called “shabby-chic”, only it really IS cheap. LOL.) But it’s an interesting thing to turn over in my head.

      • http://meditatingontherain.wordpress.com Aine

        One of the problems with “What will my (MOB) friends think?” is that, no matter what we’re doing these days, most of our mothers are part of a generation where their mothers were in charge of the weddings- the guests aren’t the bride’s, their her parents, etc. So there is a big sense that this is reflection on them rather than on their darling child, even if she and fiance are doing everything. (For example, my mom still refers to people’s mothers inviting her to a wedding, as in “Aunt A invited us to her daughter’s wedding” even though she knows its my cousin and her fiance who invited everyone.)

        • Kat

          YES! This is still happening… independent couples whose weddings don’t reflect them or who they are that end up being a room full of their parents’ friends and the couple expected to slash their friends list.

        • http://twitter.com/whitney923 Whitney

          EXACTLY.

          My mother is not one of those people, but lots of others are. My mother requested that one couple (her friends) be invited to the wedding, and I probably would have invited them anyway. My future in-laws have more friends coming than my fiance does… But that’s the list my fiance came up with, and he seems good with it, so whatevs. It’s an interesting difference in the family dynamics of my side and his side.

        • Kathleen M

          My aunt, who has no children of her own: “Kathleen, this is your marriage, but it’s our wedding.”
          I think we ended up with a good mix of ours and my family’s decisions. But it was tough getting there.

        • Kathleen M

          My aunt, who has no children of her own: “Kathleen, this is your marriage, but it’s our wedding.”
          I think we ended up with a good mix of our and my family’s decisions. But it was tough getting there.

      • Katie Mae

        I didn’t realize until 3 months in and a huge fight with my parents that they TOTALLY saw our wedding as a reflection of them and their tastes (which are different from mine and especially from my husband’s). Now I understand that, and we were able to come to a lot of compromises, but I wish I had realized earlier. We all felt really worried about how people would view us based on how much we spent, how traditional the reception was, and more. It was absolutely, though only partly, about class performance. This post did a great job of spelling that out. People in planning, read it twice!

    • Glen

      My mother is the same way. We had a huge fight because my fiance prefers that his best man where his barong (filipino wedding shirt) instead of a suit. She insisted that I was going to hate my photos, then decided that she only wanted pictures of “our family” (i.e., not my fiance’s family/friends). SIGH. Fortunately, my fiance and friends have reacted similarly to yours and have helped keep me sane.

      • amandanoel

        Thank goodness for friends and fiance, right?
        On the plus side, (and REMY this may encourage you to just not engage in that conversation at all if possible) the closer we get to the wedding and decisions are final/ my family realizes they can’t “talk me out” of our plans or “show me the acceptable way” of doing things, the less they mention the choices they personally feel are embarrassing or disappointing. I have a feeling that when the big day comes my mom will be smiling and crying as if this was the wedding she dreamed too. And if she changes her tune around her friends… I will just take it as a reminder to be grateful that mine accept me the way I am. :)

        • Glen

          Not engaging in unproductive conversations and feeling grateful for supportive fiance and friends has been my approach both to wedding planning and life in general. :-)

    • Hillori

      Oh my goodness, do we have the same mother?

      I’ve solved this dilemma by having an immediate-family-only ceremony/dinner in July and a post-wedding reception in August for my mother. Our July ceremony will be the simple, no frills, self-uniting (yay!) affair that FH and I discussed on our first non-date.

      But, to make Mom happy: SHE gets to pick everything for the August party that HER friends will attend.

      This is not a solution for everyone, certainly. Perhaps is it not a solution, at all– just avoidance. However, it is allowing me to hold my Wedding Zen and her to be involved by fretting over and having AllTheThings she so loves.

  • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

    I suppose that is what we attempt to get at when we say we want our wedding to be “Us.”

    We are:
    – Classic
    – Traditional and non-traditional at the same time
    – Focused on experience over things

    Which brings us to our wedding! BUT what does that say about us? Forrest and I are both from lower-middle class (if not lower than that) families. My family has a penchant for spending money on “stuff” at weddings so they strive to look like more than they are. He and I have gotten ourselves to a place (by careful prioritization and hard work) where we can travel.

    Having a destination wedding of itself speaks to a certain amount of privilege. Asking your guests to travel is no small thing and we wish to make things as comfortable for them as we can. Choosing to pare down our wedding to the essentials is another marker of our class. We make decent money but are able to stretch it further because of those things that we choose to eliminate from our lives.

    Weddings and class. Phew. What a real thing. Very real.

  • http://www.designflourishes.com Sarah

    I am “aspiring to be of a class which is so privileged it considers conspicuous displays of wealth vulgar,” and I kind of hate that about myself. But if I am being honest, it’s true.
    That has always been the indicator of true wealth to me, that everyone *knows* you have the money and could spend it however you wanted, and you choose simple (dare I say tasteful) instead.
    “Taste” has the same kind of class connotations as “vulgar”. I do so wish I was immune, but I am not.

    • http://theroadto92912.blogspot.com Molly

      “That has always been the indicator of true wealth to me, that everyone *knows* you have the money and could spend it however you wanted, and you choose simple (dare I say tasteful) instead.”

      THIS. Simplicity is the great equalizer. Why alienate people based on what they can or can’t afford?

  • low talker

    YES. I’m from a middle class family, and I married someone from a very similar background. We planned to have a small wedding – with our closest friends and relatives. The problem was, I quickly found my MIL had a very different vision of what a “nice” wedding was and it seemed to involve showing off as much as possible (I married her only child). But who (among our guests) was she trying to impress? That’s what I couldn’t get.

    In the end, it worked out, but to this day (two years later) I think she’s disappointed in the pictures (she didn’t like how the ones of her and her family turned out! what? they are actually lovely and very authentic) I blame TLC’s A Wedding Story, but that’s a rant for another day.

  • http://www.actsofbeauty.co.uk/wordpress ActsofBeauty

    Such wisdom:

    Isn’t it an indication that I’m really aspiring to be of a class which is so privileged it considers conspicuous displays of wealth vulgar? What’s “vulgar” if not a word loaded with class-based disapproval?

    I was nodding my head vigorously while reading this post. And laughing :)

  • http://smittenimmigrant.wordpress.com Pluis

    Interesting point you make, Zen. I guess it’s why people like to insult other people’s wedding ideas by saying things are ” tacky” or ” trashy”, words which are also used to denote a lack of class.

    The word that I have personally developed the an unsurmountable hatred for with regards to weddings is the word “whimsical”. Because it is used for things that are anything but that. It’s like being inconspiciously wealthy, but then dropping your golden pocketwatch and monocle on the table and they say “Oops, sorry” while you planned to do it all along.

    Oh well. To me, an LotR marathon sounds like a great hen party. You would have my bow!

    • Ambi

      Ah, “tacky” . . . my boyfriend’s mother’s favorite word of all time. Everything. is. tacky. Seriously, the other day she told us the ceiling fans in our house are tacky. Having a casual pizza-and-beer birthday party is tacky. The list of clothing, shoe, make-up, and hairstyle options that she has called tacky could go on for days. Her neighbor’s new landscaping is tacky. Anything and everything related to money (from who picks up the bill at dinner to how a family deals with an inheritance) is rife with tackiness. Holiday newsletters are tacky. Serving certain food and drink items is tacky, unless you are being ironic. Placing your handbag on the ground or on the table is tacky. I could go on and on.

      She aims these darts at her own family, friends, and strangers. But she has never outright told me that my own choices, clothing, etc. are tacky – yet – (unless you count those ceiling fans we installed). This is a HUGE part of why I want a very small, very casual, very non-traditional courthouse wedding. I know that there is no way that my family’s modest budget could put on a traditional wedding that met her standards – everything would be so tacky! I plan on just rejecting the entire premise and doing something so different that she doesn’t have preconceived ideas about what it should look like (although she’s never at a loss for an opinion, so I am probably kidding myself).

  • http://medeamaterial.com Jules

    “Zen, the relatives are not going to want to drive up a mountain so they can visit some ulu (remote) place in the jungle,” said my parents patiently. “They’ll be coming from the kampung (village) already. They’re used to jungle!”

    This! is the summary of the cultural expectations regarding “showing visitors a good time” and how that is so difficult to define depending on who’s talking.

    I’ve seen this contrast so many times in my family! When people came from out of the country or from far away, my parents would like to treat them to the nice places they know. Cue in world traveler arriving to the Costa Rican rural Caribbean, and my famiily driving out to this “fancy” international restaurant.

    In their context, eating meals that reminded them of their own international travels, having A/C, tablecloths, waiters and muzak was certainly something different from their daily experience, and it was a great destination for them when they wanted to go out and eat at a fancy place, and well, having visitors is a good chance as any to splurge. But for the visitor? They found themselves at a restaurant similar to any other international restaurant in the world. At the end things worked out, those meals we had at the side of the road in typical restaurants where we sat in tree trunk benches and ate coconut rice and fish while sipping freshly made tropical fruit juices, while commonplace for us and not fancy at all, seemed to be the best for the traveler, just because they were something they was authentic to the location.

    So reading about how you are planning a wedding with local guests and overseas visitors, and wanting to give both groups a nice experience seemed to bring this memory to mind. I wish the best for your decisions, and I hope you manage to get a good balance of “fancy” for the relatives and “simple and traditional” for you!

  • Kamille

    I had never heard the term “hen party” before reading this post today, and had to go look it up. =)

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      British-isms make everything sound classier!

  • Meagan

    I love your post for many reasons, but one of them is that my ideal wedding/party/family event is modeled after Bilbo’s birthday party.

  • Abby J.

    In general, I think this is a great reminder that when planning a wedding, you should think of your guests and your practical concerns before you get bogged down in the style and details of the event.

    But regarding your hen night, please PLEASE speak up to your ladies if you really want a movie marathon or something else. What I really wanted out of my bachelorette night was a simple dinner at someone’s house, and then a night full of dancing with my ladies. A houseparty would have been perfect. I didn’t want to be a bride that was “too demanding” so I expressed my preferences but left the planning entirely up to my maid of honor. I ended up with a disappointingly stilted evening at a wine bistro where few people showed up and no one was up for dancing afterwards because a house party wouldn’t have been “fancy enough.” And I was really bummed. Still am really bummed.

    Seriously, they are probably your friends because they like many of the things you do. Go for the movie marathon if you really want to. They’ll have fun too, I promise.

  • http://safarimama.blog.com Manya

    “My mom never met a mostly-finished jar of peanut butter she couldn’t wring some more peanut butter from.”

    I know it’s completely beside the point, but this is one of my favorite lines ever written on APW. I’m still chuckling!

  • Sharon L

    I can definitely relate with facing the class aspirations of my parents during wedding planning. For them, it was about not being perceived as “cheap” to their wedding guests and subsequently “losing face.” We had a traditional 10 course Chinese banquet and my husband did not want sharks’ fin soup for ethical and practical reasons. My mom was horrified and worried that the guests would think less of us. She also campaigned heavily for flower centerpieces that I thought were unnecessary.

    I just thought it was interesting that my parents, who are very frugal, were very willing to pay a lot more for wedding things just so they could satisfy expectations. Very similar to Zen’s experiences…and nice to know others have gone through it too.

    • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

      Heh, I think you and I have the same mom. Anything less than a 10 course reception dinner would’ve been “cheap,” and we had LOTS of fights about why I was refusing to invite everyone we’ve ever known to the wedding. Very strange given that my mom is also uber-frugal in just about every other aspect of life!

      • Chi

        I had similar issues with my Japanese American family. We initially wanted to have our wedding at a Japanese garden up north where the rental fee was only $500 and the reception would be held at a senior center next to the garden. When my dad found out that we wanted a cheaper venue where the guest list was capped at 90 persons, he vetoed the suggestion right off and said “Find another venue.” End of. So we are paying 10x as much for 2 different venues now.

        However, I don’t feel that bad about it. I wouldn’t want to invite my Japanese relatives to a reception at a senior center dining hall. 60k is normal for weddings in Japan and I would feel uncomfortable asking my family to travel internationally for a wedding where they would feel equally uncomfortable. And I would not want to put myself in a position where I would have to weigh one family member against another or have to decide between inviting family members or friends.

        The cultural differences are huge in both of our families. My fiance comes from a traditional Mormon farming family. All of the weddings their family attends have been small with a budget of around 2k). Receptions are held at the church cultural hall or at home, no vendors are hired, and all of the work is done by family or church members. My fiance had a very difficult time wrapping his head around a wedding with a plated multiple-course meal for everyone.

        We finally decided to hold an additional “Open House” reception on his family farm to make his family comfortable and allow them to invite his whole community in addition to our other wedding. We also realized that the wedding we are having doesn’t deviate far from our normal routine. A visit to a garden and a nice dinner out is the way we would spend a regular date. We are hoping that our wedding will have the spirit of a free Saturday that we would normally spend together.

        I don’t believe in trying to be something that you are not at a wedding or devoting time or money to a theme that is not exactly “you”, but I don’t see anything wrong with making your wedding into a dressed up version of yourselves as a couple and the values you live by.

        Family expectations (particularly cultural ones) run very deep and have for generations. I don’t believe that weddings are just about you and what you want. They are as much about your families and your culture as they are about the two of you. Balancing these expectations is difficult, but finding a compromise and owning your decision is priceless.

    • suzanna

      I’ve had people tell me we’ll look cheap if we don’t serve shark’s fin soup. So sorry, folks, not gonna bend on that one.

      Being a white gal whose family has been in America for several generations, marrying a Chinese American dude whose parents came over as young adults, has given me a whole new perspective on this “show off your wealth” phenomenon.

      It was really easy for me to dismiss it before as a silly ego trip–who cares what other people think? It’s none of their business how much we spend (or how much it looks like we spend) on anything. I’m secure in my working-class background and have nothing to prove to anyone (oh the luxury of being a well-established American WASP).

      I’ve changed my mind. His parents (and aunts and uncles) worked their butts off to build businesses here in the States, so that my sweetie could go to college and become middle class. Crack yeah they want to show that off! My fiance feels like he owes it to them, the people who raised him and sacrificed everything for him, to show them and my family and whoever else is watching that THEY MADE IT.

      We still do not plan on spending much (less than your average wedding), but now I’m happy to do what his family wants to make sure they feel respected and recognized. That might include a little showing off.

      • Julia

        Oh my goodness yes. This is exactly what I spent three hours fighting with my mother about this morning. There’s this huge gulf between what Asian parents want from a wedding (mine are Chinese) and what we, the modern Americanized kids, want.

        My fiancé and I want to have a destination wedding because we wanted to keep things small and frugal. We’re limiting the guest list, not having any flowers because flowers are hideously expensive in Mexico, putting me in a $399 wedding dress, etc. etc. And we’re fortunate enough that we could afford a much fancier party than if we wanted to, but the point is that we don’t want to. We just want to host an intimate, simple celebration for close family and friends.

        Our parents, on the other hand, believe that a wedding is a social obligation. You have to invite all your business associates and extended family to your wedding, because they invited you to theirs, and you have to serve them multiple courses and give them fancy chairs to sit in and fancy napkins to wipe their fingers on, because you have “made it” in America and so everyone expects this of you.

        The compromise we originally came to with our families was that we’d have our small, frugal, destination wedding, and then they would host a party back home for all the people that wouldn’t be invited to Mexico. But this “party” has grown and grown in proportion, and is now looking very much like the kind of WIC-wedding that I didn’t want in the first place. So now I’m having TWO wedding events that combined will cost a truly nauseating sum of money.

        I know I shouldn’t complain, because I am very fortunate that our families love us and have the resources to throw a party like this. And I also have to understand and respect the way my parents and my fiancé’s parents feel about weddings. But but but — there is a very large part of me that just wants to scream: “STOP!”

  • Emily

    What if her friends just didn’t think that a 9 hr. marathon of movies they enjoyed in highschool would be a fun hen.For one thing, you can’t talk during a movie, and isn’t bonding with your friends an important part of enjoying a bachelorette party? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
    This principle extends to weddings as well. A lot of people use their weddings to signal their wealth. But I am still mad at my cousin for dragging our ailing grandmother through a national park on a sumer day, just to have a practical and inexpensive outdoor ceremony. Looking out for your guest’s comfort sometimes means springing for the air conditioned banquet hall. And that’s okay because weddings are about community.

    • Maddie

      I think the point she was making with that analogy is that often times ideas relating to a wedding are thrown away because they are not “special” enough, which seemed to be the case with Zen’s hen party.

      Also, I’m pretty sure if you’ve seen LOTR to the extent that I imagine Zen has, not only do you talk during the movie, but you probably quote it as you’re watching. :)

      I think where waters get murky, and what Zen is dealing with, is when being considerate and demonstrating class status get confused. For example, when I was getting married, we were originally going to go with a ceremony site that wasn’t wheel-chair accessible, making it extremely difficult for my grandmother and aunt to attend. That was a choice that actually inconvenienced people. On the other hand, when my dad found out our menu wouldn’t have a steak option, he was appalled and responded in the *exact* manner as he had when he heard about the ceremony site. Is a lack of steak an inconvenience? No. But often the latter is treated with the same importance as the former and it can make planning a practical and authentic wedding seem like an impossible task.

      • Denzi

        OMG Maddie can I “exactly” this ten thousand times? Everything is treated with equal (extreme) importance–hard to figure out what’s *actually* important!

  • http://www.aboveurban.com AboveUrban

    I agree completely with Abby J. – speak up if afternoon tea isn’t your cup of tea. Your hen-do should be about spending quality time with your best friends and you can’t do that if it’s an environment where you don’t feel comfortable to be your wonderful selves.

    And sign me up for a LoTR marathon any day!

  • MDBethann

    I second the comments about emphasizing to your bridal brigade what you do and don’t want for a hen party. I’m lucky in that my MOH is my sis, who knows me better than anyone and my 3 bridesmaids are a mix of college roommates & high school bf who also know me really well. They were smart and asked me what I did and didn’t want and planned two awesomely wonderful showers for me. The plan for the bridal party party (instead of bachelor and bachelorette parties) got rather soggy this weekend when our baseball plans were rained out, but cez la vie. I had two awesome showers themed around things I enjoy – one a tea party at a friend’s house and one a wine-themed shower in the church hall. But definitely be clear what you DON’T want – like strippers or lingerie at a party your mom & future MIL might be attending.

    Good luck!

  • HollyMargaret

    I am so down with this post!!!
    So many friends have gotten married over the past few years and since I live in New Jersey, many of them have gone to Atlantic City. The pictures speak to a super expensive, luxe weekend that my friends and I could never afford – limos, high-end sushi dinners, bottle service at nightclubs, glow-in-the-dark genitalia shot glasses, the works. I thought, “What do I really want?”
    My requests were: fried foods, sleepover in a hotel, no obscene jewelry or props!
    I got exactly what I wanted – first, a Friday sleepover at my own place with my best lady friend (and FH – seriously, I wasn’t going to kick him out of our apartment!), a Saturday sleepover in AC in a super nice hotel room with best friend + two other close friends. I was made to wear a super glittery tiara that said “bachelorette”, but other than that, we were probably the most boring-looking bachelorette party on the casino floor (jeans, flats, cardigans – holla!). We were tired by 9pm, went back to our room, and ordered room service grilled cheese and watched a Lifetime movie. And then we got plenty of sleep. In the morning, we hit a serious brunch buffet.
    So, our pictures might be hella boring to most people, but I had the best weekend EVER.
    I do want to admit that this thought totally crossed my mind: “What if I’m not DOING it right?” – it can be totally fun to imagine a glammed-up crazy time, but I imagined myself in that kind of situation and knew I’d feel uncomfortable.
    In short: Keep it real – whatever your ‘real’ may be!

  • Newtie

    Zen, this post made me so happy! For my bachelorette party, I really want my bridal brigade to come sleep at my house and we could all order take-out for dinner. I LOVE take-out! I never get to order take-out because I am too POOR! I haven’t had take-out in at least two years! But my friends really struggle with the idea that this isn’t “special” enough. But now I can send them this and they will see that special doesn’t have to look like something that came out of a wedding-how-to book.

  • Amanda

    Sneaking in and posting in support of the LotR geekettes everywhere. Thankfully, I married a geek, most of our families were well aware of our geekiness, and the fact that my ring had Sindarian on the inside while his ring was a replica of The One Ring made absolutely no one blink (and made quite a few of the guests cheer). ;)

    Also, thankfully, my Best Chick (she’s soooo not a Matron), while also a geek, also asked me what I wanted for a hen party. I said nothing, just her and I, plus her husband and my husband-to-be having a nice lunch together, and that’s just what we had. By all means, saying “Um, guys? I get that you’re down down with the LotR marathon, but remember who -I- am.” is not out of line. They’re throwing this to celebrate you, and need to remember who you are, especially if doing something like High Tea makes you break out into hives. ;)

    And I did have my dad ask me several times if I was SURE that I wanted a nice small wedding at my Mom’s house, which had been in our family since the early 1930’s. It took him a while, but by the time the wedding happened, I think he (and quite a few of the guests) got a new appreciation for that sometimes bigger isn’t always better. We did the same thing: sat down, thought about what we wanted in a wedding, and it turned out that Mom’s house was THE perfect setting – calm, peaceful, meaningful, and able to hold 50 people plus a buffet in comfort. ;)

    /cheers and makes a note to keep track of this to see if we DO do an online hen party LotR marathon so I can join in

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    It just dawned on me … this is why everyone told us to go on a cruise for our honeymoon instead of going to Disneyland like we wanted to. They said you could go to Disneyland any time. Well, you can go on a cruise any time too. It got so I stopped telling people we were going to Disneyland because I got tired of them expressing the opinion that it wasn’t glamorous enough or good enough for a honeymoon.

    We went to Disneyland. If it’s glamorous enough to do after winning the Super Bowl, it’s definitely good enough to do after getting married. And we had a blast!

    • http://pinterest.com/lildutchgrrl/wedding-style/ Remy

      We’re going to Knott’s Berry Farm. :) And a road trip with hostels in 2014, unrelated to the honeymoon. And then when we’re both done with school and have some spare cash, we might go on a cruise.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    The first thing to understand about my bachelorette plans is that my father will attend. In fact, he’s a key participant. I’m going camping with my immediate family. Though unusual, it’s actually a really good way to mark the transition from my “family of origin” to my “baby family.” My “family of origin” has been on lots of camping trips. My future husband refuses. He’s fine with girls’ nights out, but this is the last time I can go camping without – how to say it? – his feelings being a serious consideration.

  • amigacara

    Oh man I wish we were friends because I would totally be down for that hen party! ha ha.

  • Pingback: Zen: Defending Joy | Bride Handbook

  • Caroline

    This post really resonates with me — my fiance and I are considering having our reception in a big beautiful barn in my hometown in the south (we live in a big midwestern city), catered by my favorite hometown BBQ restaurant. The barn is frequently used and advertised as a wedding space, and has tons of positive local publicity, but still… it’s a giant red barn in a pasture, no getting around it!

    I have the task of convincing my mother that a BBQ barn reception can still be “classy,” because she very concerned that my choices (including bridesmaids selecting their own dresses) will be not “classy.” She informs me that “classy and BBQ are two words that will never go together.” (What about rustic-chic? Shabby-chic? Who decided those words go together and we should all bow down to them?)

    I’m not sure if my mother is afraid of appearing too hillbilly to our flock of urban guests, or heck, to my own of-average-means southern family, but clearly we have different ideas of “class” and how we each represent ourselves as “classy.” My fiance and I could afford to budget for a “classy” party by my mother’s definition, but that’s not what we want; that is not what represents “classy” to us. To us, BBQ will be more delicious than non-descript banquet food and more reflective of my home state (a majority of our guests will be traveling there for the first, and likely only, time), and budget-wise will allow us to invite more people (like my mother’s friends!). Having a lot of people who love you celebrate your marriage, with happy and full bellies? Now that’s “classy.”