Saturday, 19 March 2011

Enjoying Fun

Voluntary Smiles

Last night I had the good fortune to attend the wedding party of two friends. It was a modest, yet elegant affair, with choice Manadonese cuisine, and ad lib beer and wine. The groom was a little worried about the quality of the wine, but the fact that I drank it ad lib the entire evening could perhaps be taken as an indicator of potability. Albeit, perhaps not a decisive one. The groom had also taken it upon himself to construct his own mix of songs for the proceedings, and the slightly retro, but largely happy, popular music suited the intimacy of the proceedings well. The music was loud enough to be enjoyed, but not so loud that you couldn't easily enjoy conversation at a normal volume. The bride and groom mingled freely with the guests, who evidently were closely acquainted with at least one of the newly weds. In fact, looking around me, none of the guests were obviously bored or irritated. The couple already being amongst the happiest and most well matched one is likely to encounter, now have the added benefit of having been married under the most agreeable of circumstances, having provided their close friends and relations with a night to remember. 

Reviewing a wedding may seem odd, but to be fair, and to sum up the long-held observations of visitors to this country, most Indonesian weddings are the antithesis of fun.
I've been to a significant number of such ceremonies, although when I do get an invitation, while I have nothing but warm feelings for people I know, getting ready to embark on the next phase of their lives, I don't get out my calendar and reserve the date in question and don't often feel guilty if I ultimately don't attend. One aspect of most local weddings I've been to, is that the guest lists are so extensive, and the bride and groom in such a state of mental anguish, that it seems unlikely the presence of members of the outer limits of their spheres of influence register whatsoever. The reasoning behind inviting enough people to populate a Scottish village to a reception strikes me as being two-fold. Firstly to ensure pomp and grandeur, and secondly to pay for the damned thing. As it is a local tradition (I've been told a fairly recent one) for guests not to bring presents to a wedding, but rather an envelope containing a donation. In fact, it is common for personal gifts to be rejected in favour of monetary ones, in writing, on the invitations. 

On the face of things, it wouldn't seem unusual to assume that any real festivity is denied thanks to the complete absence of alcohol when getting married in the archipelago. I once put this gaping error to a good humoured Manadonese gentleman, at least fifteen years my senior, gearing up for his second holy union. His unabashed reply was to say, 'yes, but we have macaroni schotel!'. It hardly struck me as a suitable substitute.  

But, to paraphrase that popular old adage - you probably don't need drugs to have a good time. My experiences of conventional local wedding receptions have been as follows:

1. Arrive and seek out the bride and bridegroom, they will inevitably be affixed to two thrones at the centre of the room, with smiles affixed to their faces. A queue of well wishers has usually already formed, which must be joined. 

2. After a cursory, congratulatory, handshake is undertaken with the newly married couple and their respective parents, the next course of action is to help yourself to food. To complete these first two steps in reverse order should trigger deeply felt, personal, shame.
3. After procuring (and I don't use that word for show) food and eating it, there might be some dessert available, but depending on how promptly you have arrived, you may have to move fast to partake of this.

4. Then you might engage in some very light banter with any other guests you know. Finding such people can be tricky. 

5. I think after you've taken care of the handshaking part, you're really free to go. Not entirely courteous, but again, it's not entirely likely that anyone will notice.

6. You could choose to stay for photographs with the bride and groom. These can be quite nice mementos, especially given how easy photo sharing is nowadays, although they are invariably photos which are the opposite of candid.

7. I've noticed cake cutting some of the time, but being no stranger to deeply felt shame, I rarely stay long enough for that part.

I'd like to comment on music, but I fear that might get a bit too insulting. Suffice to say, it's rarely music that could possibly comply with the tastes of the bride and groom, nor anybody I know well. 

One of my personal, favourite, truisms to impart during discussions about the moribundity of Indonesian weddings, is that the funerals I've been to have been a lot more fun. Not because they've been routinely blessed with the refreshments of an Irish wake, but rather because people are generally more relaxed, loquacious and showing signs of actually enjoying one another's company. One mighty source of mirth at a funeral I attended was the casket getting dropped as it was being moved out of the living room. No corpse slid out, but I did get the feeling that such an eventuality wouldn't have detracted from the lightness in the air. I suppose the laughter is a mechanism to deal with grief, but why can't it be applied more to what is meant to be one of the happiest days in the lives of two young people? 

Coincidentally, I was speaking to a female friend yesterday. While we've known each other for a very long time, geographical constraints and the busyness of our lives had disallowed us from keeping fully abreast of the other's developments. Recently we've talked a lot, and the odd life anecdote brought forth to the table provides moment for pause. Knowing her now, married to a man who appears to have been a fine catch, with three children, I had taken it for granted that her own marriage had gone forward without  easily avoidable hindrance, according to local custom. Yet it turned out that in a spate of the kind of small-mindedness which I am growing increasingly accustomed to, her fiancee had not been accepted by most of her family. As she put it to me, she was sure that this was the man for her, and they went ahead and got married regardless. Consequently, only seven guests were present to witness their nuptials. Her husband has  since proved himself to be an able breadwinner, and otherwise reliable family man. Given the irrefutably of his distinguishing qualities, with the passage of time, my friend's extended family welcomed him to the fold. However, there appears to be a high probability that the nine people celebrating that life-defining occasion, with reportedly austere surroundings, will have a memory to share with one another not to be found on an assembly line of perfunctory handshakes.  

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