Trials and tribulations of an intercultural wedding

Trials and tribulations of an intercultural wedding

By Thibaut Mollard, translated by Saveen Uthappa-Eck

Organizing a wedding is generally a mammoth undertaking that calls for both nerves of steel and the patience of a saint. In spite of the abundance of information available on wedding customs and traditions, young couples are often worried that they might forget something, or that their big day might fail to live up to their expectations. And what happens when the couple set to tie the knot come from different countries? Does a familiarity of both cultures help simplify matters?

I gave a lot of thought to these pertinent questions over the past two years. An immediate concern is the language barrier, which does little to help communication, followed by cultural differences that potentially lead to misunderstandings. And this holds true even when the wedding in question is only a Franco-German union – two countries generally considered to have similar cultures.

The first point to clarify is where the wedding should take place. This is not merely a question of geography, but also whether the nuptials are to be celebrated in a restaurant, as is customary in Germany, or in a banquet hall, as per French tradition. This decision is a cakewalk, given the latter offers more possibilities to keep guests from both countries equally happy. Germany wins on location, so that everything can be organized locally.

Now that the “Where?” has been clarified, it’s time to set a date. For a change, the bride and groom are in agreement and decide that the civil and church wedding should take place on a Saturday – a preferred day for weddings in France – as this avoids putting a dent in the holiday and travel budget of their French guests. This plan would have worked perfectly, had the German authorities not thrown a spanner in the works. Registry offices in Germany are normally closed on Saturdays! So, unlike France, where couples sit before the registrar and kneel before the altar on the same day, German couples tend to celebrate their civil wedding during the week among a smaller circle of family and friends, followed by their church wedding and reception on another day. Our Franco-German couple are, however, in luck and find a town hall that solemnizes weddings on Saturdays.

So, the venue and time are confirmed – Fantastic! Now on to the wedding invitations; should they be in German or in French? There’s no way around it! The invites have to be written in both languages. This involves adapting the content slightly so that its message appeals to all recipients, across both cultures. The same goes for the speeches by the bridal party and the menus. If the idea of adapting content seems foreign to you, click here to learn more about what editing and translating really involves.

Let’s skip the civil and church ceremonies, which were relatively straightforward to organize, despite differences in the respective religious confession of the couple and the delicate decision about the right pecking order for the procession out of the church. We can move on to what most guests – especially the French – look forward to at such festivities: the food.

This is when things slowly start to get complicated. Here’s a slightly exaggerated account of an “exchange of ideas” between Jean and Lisa – two aliases that bear no resemblance whatsoever to actual persons, notwithstanding unintentional or purely coincidental similarities. Diehard romantics and idealists might want to skip this section.

Lisa: “Okay, so far, so good. Now, what about the food?”

Jean: “Good question. I suggest champagne as an aperitif, followed perhaps by goose-liver pâté or escargot and then lobster tail? For the main course, beef fillet and a palate cleanser, say, pear schnapps sorbet, between courses? And of course, cheese and the wedding cake for dessert…”

Lisa: “Hang on a minute! We don’t want to only be eating all day long; that’s not what this is all about! To begin with, we certainly don’t need an aperitif. And we can’t possibly serve the Germans fish and meat as a main course like the French do. We have to choose one or the other. They’ll be completely overwhelmed by the schnapps sorbet between courses. They’ll think it’s dessert! I was instead thinking of a tasty soup, pork roast, and a dessert buffet. We’ll start at 6 p.m. so that we’re done no later than 7:30 p.m., giving us enough time to celebrate. No one wants to spend two hours or more just eating.”

Jean: “In that case, why don’t we just serve snacks, that’ll go way quicker! But seriously, do you really want the French guests to dine at 6 p.m.? We never serve dinner before 8 p.m. And then soup as a starter? Is this supposed to be a wedding or a wake?”

Lisa: “I was only kidding, let’s not argue. I only meant that we’ve been together long enough to know that we’re going to have to compromise. Let’s try to come up instead with a menu that combines our favorite food from both cultures: take ham and salami, they’re equally popular in Germany and France. As for the main course, I’d pick duck.”

Jean: “That’s a great idea! D’accord! I agree. Let’s just choose food we both like and marry the best of both cuisines.”

The couple set aside their squabbles and settle on a menu for their big day. This leaves only one last question to be answered.

Jean: “So, what are we doing the day after the wedding?”

Lisa: “What do you mean? I’m hoping everyone will have left so that we can catch up on some sleep.”

But the French guests couldn’t possibly head back home on an empty stomach (!), and more had to be done to make their visit worth their while. So it was decided to wrap up the festivities with the French tradition of a “morning after” get-together, to which German friends and family would also be invited. A brunch was ultimately deemed the best option to avoid any further clashes in culinary traditions.

After months of planning, and in keeping with the reputation Germans have for doing things in an orderly fashion, the big day took its course as scheduled. Perhaps, that’s why the French guests were baffled that dinner was being served at 6 p.m. while the Germans wondered why dinner was being served at a banquet hall rather than at a restaurant. But since the peculiarities of both nationalities were taken on board, and turning a blind eye to a few unavoidable hitches, the guests enjoyed the couple’s once-in-a-lifetime event and had a terrific weekend. The newlyweds, too, lived the dream they hoped their wedding would be – a day to remember.

Here’s to the happy couple!

Trials and tribulations of an intercultural wedding

Although cultural dissimilarities are often obvious, some customs or habits can still take you by surprise. This is a light-hearted account of how in real life, and not only in translation, you can avoid blunders from differing viewpoints across cultures.

Made in Germany

The English language is so widespread nowadays that you are constantly confronted in Germany with its use in everyday life – from the “coffee-to-go” in the morning to “happy hour” in the evening. What is less well acknowledged is language infiltration in the other direction.

Communication abhors a vacuum

The devil is in the details. But it’s precisely the nuances of languages that make them so fascinating and fun. Wearing a costume can be a custom, but not always. And a fancy dress is not fancy dress. If you are a bit of a language geek and love concepts such as sprachgefühl, please do read on!

Online channels: an effective way to grow your business?

Have you ever wondered whether your online presence is doing you more harm than good? Been disillusioned with your results? Even questioned whether it is worth the effort? In a marketplace saturated with digital gurus, we go back to basics, asking if online is an effective way to grow your business.

I don’t like your translation

As part of the digitalization process, new quality criteria and customer wishes are transforming translators into language experts who must also keep editorial aspects and search engine optimization in mind. What makes a good translation in the age of the internet, intranet and social media?