09 October 2006

A Guatemalan Wedding

I've been trying to come up with something to write about for a while, and it is beginning to get more difficult. Mostly it's because I've fallen into a routine here, and much of my formal training has entered into technical aspects that I doubt many other people care about.
I went to a Guatemalan wedding last Saturday, and the differences were minor but interesting.
We received an invitation for the wedding roughly a week before the wedding. It was a simple invitation but not simpler than I have received for some weddings in the states. When I first saw that the wedding was within a week I presumed it was hurried because of a pregnancy or impatient couple. It turns out that it is rare for invitations to be sent out much before or preparation in general to be much longer, either. It's not that couples are hurried here as much as there's no reason to send out invitations 3 months in advance. Nobody has to arrange a flight (or hardly a bus ride) to get to the wedding. I've been told that a cake can be very expensive -- roughly Q1000 (minimum wage is Q35 per day).
The service was a Catholic mass and resembled any Catholic wedding, which mostly resembles every Catholic Mass with a few more decorations and a more obvious theme of readings. Going to Catholic mass here is difficult for me, because I know every single response and prayer, but have no idea how to translate it. And there are no missals. It should also be remembered, that you don't say things in mass the way you normally talk, so translating is out. While I can translate how to say
Our dad that lives in paradise has a holy first name,
I can't for the life of me figure out what on earth everybody is saying. I can't even figure out how to pronounce Hallelujah here. The good news is I still know the routine of stand-sit-kneel. I'm good at that.
The first time I went to Mass here, I severely messed up the "Peace be with you" part, too. In the States, you say it while grasping hands. It's not a handshake exactly, but you grab hands. For people you really like you can hug them. If you don't want to stretch to a really far pew, you just say it and sort of nod your head. Here, instead of shaking opposite hands (right hand to right hand), you grab their left forearm with your right, or vice versa. Though this sounds simple, imagine that you walk into a room and everybody wants to shake with the wrong hand. Every time you try to switch to the correct hand, they switch too. Peace has never been so stressful.
Back to the wedding. After the ceremony at the church, we walked 100 feet through the park to the town social hall. Anything old in Guatemala was built under the influence of Spain, and architecture clearly demonstrates that Spaniard colonists didn't like to walk any farther than they had to. My town's center is a park with a church and a school on one side, the town offices on one side, the open-air market on one side, and a bakery & arcade on one side (I don't think the Spanish were responsible for the accessibility of Street Fighter II).
Inside the town hall there was a DJ set up with stupidly enormous speakers, a smoke machine, about 120 plastic chairs and folding tables for guests. This part confused me because the wedding was only about 40 people. Apparently it's very common to skip the ceremony and show up for the party. In addition, it is also acceptable to show up to the party without being invited. Since there's only one place in town to throw a big party, and the aforementioned speakers, anybody on a Saturday night knows there's a party going on. Since there's no open bar (or any booze save a dixie cup of champagne), it doesn't really change your costs that much. The doors are wide open, which unfortunately means that homeless alcoholics and stray dogs can and do wonder in. They are both seen as similar annoyances to be ignored if harmless and chased out by anyone larger than them if they get into too much unattended food or champagne.
There's this tradition of the couple getting rice in their hair -- a Mayan vestige, I was told, but it seems too familiar to me. They put a bird and rice in a bell-shaped pinata and then stood under it, pulled a string so both fell out. They must use the same bird because it appeared unfazed and sat on the bride's finger right afterward.
Most everyone danced, and not in any Latin-hip-swaying insanity either. They just danced with a hand at the waist and a hand in a hand and appeared to be more or less like North Americans. The party lasted from roughly 5pm to midnight I was told, but most of us cleared out by 10pm. When I got sick of dancing I played with little kids who had ripped down most of the balloons by the fifth hour.
About the lack of bar. While Guatemalans generally maintain a temperance, I sort of expected it to come out at the wedding. If it had been a Protestant wedding, I would have known better, but the only person who had a buzz was the aforementioned alcoholic who showed up that way and two guys who brought in about 5 beers from the convenience store down the street.
One strange thing about marriages here is that it is perfectly acceptable to marry someone with significantly older or younger than you. My host mother is roughly a decade younger than my host father, but I have seen plenty of cases of the opposite. I'm not sure yet what the normal phases of life are here and when you get married. This couple was 30 and 25, which I've been told is pretty old.
So as cross-cultural as you would expect the bonding of two lives would be, it really just demonstrated to me how much white Western culture has influenced Guatemalan ladino culture.


Anonymous said...

Put my comments about this wedding in the wrong place-see "Day 3". What a donuthead. :)


Anonymous said...

I'm totally Guatemalan born,and not to be mean about your comments. but you must went to a very poor people wedding;so you really have very little mind. Guatemalan weddings are alike to americans weddings incluiding the food we all have the same Europeans traditions as well as american traditions,and obviosly you were stock in one little town. sorry.

Danielly said...

My family is half Guatemalan-born and half US-born, so alot of what you explain here makes total sense. Alot of Guatemala, although charming and magical in its own way, is poor or at least elusive of the many other riches the world has. There's a sense of soul and camradery, so I don't know how Anonymous could say sorry. I think you've experienced more than they have. While Anonymous is trying to 'be sorry', really is insulting their own race. Shame on them and hurrah for you. Great blog.

Anonymous said...

This is clearly a very narrow minded viewpoint. Furthermore, these North American traditions you mention do not stem from North America as you suggest. Get a clue before you write on the internet for all to criticize.

Anonymous said...

Not to be mean or offened anyone, but if none of you guys that left comments were there then i dont think you should even put your two cents in it. Apparently she went to a wedding that was alittle differnet.. so what!! get over yourselves..

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