Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What time does that wedding start?

Well, that depends.  Let’s say you are invited to a wedding at 7:00 p.m.  In America, that means the bride is going to walk down the aisle at 7:00, so you better be in your seat a little before that.  If you are an Iranian, a 7:00 o’clock invitation means you can start arriving after 7:00 but the bride and groom will not arrive until 8:00 or 8:30 p.m.  If you are in Venezuela, don’t expect the bride before 9:00 p.m.  No one is being rude or inconsiderate here.  It is what is understood by time in each culture and as long as we all speak the same language, we are not frustrated or insulted.  It only becomes a problem when Iranians or Venezuelans get married in the United States, or Americans attend a wedding in another cultural setting. Or better yet, when an Iranian marries a Venezuelan in the United States. It helps, however, if you are a cultural anomaly, as my husband and I are.  I am Iranian, but born to a family that was uncharacteristically punctual.  Thank God my mother and father both had the same urgency about being on time.  So we never had any problems begin at places five minutes early.  My husband Ben is descended rom Europeans who immigrated to the United States in the 19th Century and left their sense of time and their inherent respect for the clock somewhere between Minnesota and Texas.  They always act so surprised and little bit indignant when they realize that time has moved on without their permission.   What Ben and I have learned as a bi-cultural couple is to not take anything for granted.  Before we fly off the handle and accuse each other of being either too self-centered or too controlling we check to make sure that the issue is not more about a cultural difference rather than a character flaw. 

This difference in what is meant by time on an invitation, became apparent to me when years ago an Iranian did marry a Venezuelan in America.  The invitation was for 5:00 p.m., so Ben and I and the rest of the American guests were sitting in our seats in the room where the ceremony was to be held at 5:00.  Around 5:30, when the American guests started to get worried about the wedding actually taking place, we reassured them that it wasn’t unusual for the bride and groom to arrive an hour after the indicated time.  The family arrived around 6:30 and I was sure we would begin by 7:00 p.m.  I had not counted on Latin time being even more flexible than Persian time.  At 7:30 p.m. the groom came through and greeted everyone and finally at 8:00 p.m. the lovely bride entered.  A good time was had by all, despite the initial misunderstanding.  I was glad Ben and I had been able to serve as cultural mediators and point out that no insult or lack of consideration was intended on the part of the bride and groom, just a different chrono-vocabulary was being used.

It helps to be married to someone of a different culture to realize that we are more alike than different and when we stop and give each other the benefit of the doubt, we not only notice the similarities, but grow to appreciate the differences.

So what time does that wedding start?  It depends: Who is marrying whom and where.   Susan

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