Pakistani Weddings: A Survival Guide
If you spend any amount of time in Pakistan you will be invited to a wedding. In fact this goes for most Muslim countries.
I remember arriving in Jordan to spend a fascinating couple of weeks visiting Petra, the desert at Wadi Rum, and Roman ruins in Amman and Jerash; on our first day we were invited to a wedding by friends of the people with whom we were staying. They put us on a bus to a town two hours away with the memorable instruction to “Get off when the bus stops and look for a guy called Mohammed. He has a beard”. As you can imagine, that really didn’t narrow it down very much. We turned up at the wedding, we were warmly welcomed, we were fed roast lamb with rice and yoghurt, and halfway through an elderly relative pulled out a pistol and started firing it into the air before his family wrestled him to the ground.
Anyway, I digress. Getting invited to a wedding in Pakistan probably sounds like a wonderful way to learn more about the culture of the country, but in reality they are monumentally tedious and an almost complete waste of time. Here’s what will happen:
- You will arrive early. Doesn’t matter what time you leave or however late you think you are, you will still be early. Probably very early. You will therefore sit around in a near-deserted wedding hall or marquee while waiters walk around wondering who the heck you are, and what you’re doing. If the wedding invitation says 8pm and you arrive at any time before midnight, you will be too early. Trust me on this.
- Nothing will happen. In Western weddings there is usually a basic pattern: arrival, church service, food, dancing, etc. Over here you arrive, sit at a table, and…do nothing. People mill around a bit. People chat a bit. People drink Pepsi a bit. But that’s about it.
- Eventually, after several hours of pointless awkwardness, food will come out. This will be a highlight, because it’s Pakistan, and Pakistani food is sensational. Everyone will rush for the buffet and start stuffing biryani down like it’s going out of fashion. If you politely stand aside to let the more senior people go first, you will not eat anything, as I have learned to my cost.
- After stuffing yourself with rice and chicken, desserts may be brought out. People here get inordinately excited about this, but Pakistani desserts are basically variations on a theme of Sweet Liquid In A Glass Bowl. Everyone goes crazy for them, for reasons I have never been able to ascertain.
- Following the dessert course you return to stage 2 for as long a period of time as you think you can handle. Feel free to find the bride and groom and give them some money, but otherwise, just drift away. You’ll easily be able to locate the bride and groom because they will be the ones looking utterly ludicrous. The bride will probably look wonderful, but the groom won’t. He’ll be the one wearing a jewelled coat, a completely idiotic turban with a crest, and a look of sheepish embarrassment stemming from the fact that he knows full well that he looks ridiculous, but his mother insisted.
I don’t know why South Asian weddings have come to be regarded as such vibrant explosions of colour and dancing and jollity. For all I know that’s true in India or Sri Lanka, but around here weddings are just an exercise in tedium. Of course you can’t ignore the invitation, though, as that would be disrespectful. My advice? Bring a Kindle.
But what about all the chances to chat to lots of different people? What about how much your host appreciates your being there? How about how much this grows your friendship with the folk who invited you? There’s also the chance to join in with everyone else for 30 seconds of prayer for the bride and groom immediately after the nikah (the brief legal/religious bit that happens somewhere behind the scenes).
(BTW I think you’re being a bit unfair. The food rarely runs out (though you may find that the lumps of meat (botian) in the rice have become a bit sparse).
I thought I’d learnt this principle very well, until one Pakistani Christian wedding when we arrived at the church just as the bride and groom were leaving! Taubah, taubah! (I repent of this sin!)
Indian (or North Indian weddings are different in that they can be incredibly noisy; and the dancing can be great too. Meaningful tallking above the noise is difficult though.
Alcohol is part of the explanation! and music of course.A Kindle would be rather rude, I fear. There could be sufficient intellectual exercise in meeting the various relatives, and working out the relationships, perhaps.
To be honest the only reason we go is to show our respect for the families involved, which we do enjoy doing. But surely there has to be a better way of organising such an important event and showing guests that you value their presence, and not just their presents! I have had some interesting conversations with people at weddings, to be fair, but far more of the time I’m just sitting around in a starchy kameez feeling awkward…
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