21 April 2012

A Dutch-Spanish wedding

I recently attended a Dutch-Spanish family wedding in Limburg. Both sides are partly in-laws: my hubby's aunt married a Dutch guy back in the 70's. They produced two Dutch-Spanish children and raised them on Dutch soil. Last night, one of those kids - all grown up - married a Dutch woman. As this family has lived in Limburg their whole lives, they are quite Dutch. But the Spanish family is still Spanish, and many of them decided to take the trip up north to attend the wedding.

Confused? It's OK. It was a little bit confusing for everyone. Take the dress code, for example. We all arrived at the church and stood around waiting for the bride and groom. It was easy to figure out national origin, and I'm not talking about language or height differences. I'm talking about choice of attire. In my years of having a Spanish family, I've learned that they dress up for weddings. And when I say dress up, I mean dress up. I'm talking royalty wedding wear: hats, furs, heels and matching clutches. Beautiful fabric flowers in the women's hair. Smart suits for the men. It's breathtaking, and I've always felt a little bit under-dressed.

But once I saw the Dutch contingent, I felt better. Some of the men were wearing suits, and some of the women wore skirts or dresses. But the dresses were paired with everyday leather boots. And then I saw jeans. And more jeans. Then I started noticing sneakers. When we walked into the church and sat down, most of the Dutch opted to leave their coats on (it was cold, I'll give them that). And I'm not talking wool or cashmere. I'm talking multicolored windbreakers and puffy winter jackets. I'm no fashion queen but it was really kind of horrifying.

The ceremony was nice and partly bilingual. The only hitch was when a guest's mobile phone rang. The vocalist was in the middle of a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria, and she fought mightily to stay in tune against the loud and cheerful Nokia ring tone. She managed, and the bride and groom lit the unity candle without further interruptions.

It made sense that hardly anyone could communicate with each other. Dutch people don't usually speak Spanish, and Spanish people hardly ever speak Dutch. So there was just a handful of us that knew both languages and could facilitate some kind of understanding. For the first couple hours at the reception, I thought I was one of those people. Then, at dinner, one of the waiters came up to my entirely Spanish speaking table and started explaining the menu to me in Dutch. I couldn't understand him, so I asked him to switch to English. He began describing the entree: Seared duck liver with poached Anjou pears on the side, and creamed leeks with toasted walnuts over a red wine balsamic reduction. I shrugged my shoulders in defeat. "Es pato," I said weakly, then hubby jumped in with a slightly more complete translation.

Dancing (and alcohol) always lowers barriers. As the night wore on I watched a sizable minority of the Spanish guests enthusiastically join the conga line. But the most stunning example of cross cultural connection came in the form of a message delivered via ballpoint pen. We saw it the next morning at breakfast, when a Spanish cousin sheepishly pulled up her sleeve to reveal a message from a friend of the groom. The Dutch guy had scrawled his phone number on the inside of one of her arms, and on the other he had written "Ik vind je zoooooooo lekker!!"

Charming. Who knows? Maybe, someday soon, we'll have another one of these weddings.


  1. Julie03:42

    I like to dress up :) I don't know if I would meet the standard however, the wedding vows are so important, I give the bride and groom great credit. If everything was easy socially, there would be little that would make things meaningful for this couple. What does the phrase on her arm translate to?

  2. It's kind of like "I think you're hot" but much more obscene, especially since they'd just met.

  3. Hola!
    Marga again, the Sevillian married to an American living in Leiden... If you ever want to have a coffee and meet, let me know. It would be a pleasure!