Monday, 7 February 2011

Of Dutch weddings, herring and (bad) first impressions....

(si prefieres leer esta entrada en español, por favor sigue este enlace)

A few days ago Argentinean blogger Ana O'Reilly, author of A pinch of this, a dash of that came up with the idea of having a "weddings around the world" blog series. When she contacted me with the suggestion of posting simultaneously about this topic, I thought it was a good opportunity for me to write about my first experience with party-making in the Netherlands just a very short time after arriving in the country. 

Please, visit Ana's blog entry to read all about her and her Welsh husband Sean's wedding in Argentina. 
Also taking part in this series is American blogger Katie, author of  "Seashells and Sunflowers" You can read her story about her first Argentinean wedding party in her post: "Party 'Til the Crack of Dawn"

 I was still in expat baby diapers, so to speak, in terms of knowledge of the Dutch culture and way of life, when my husband came home from work one day, with the news that we had been invited to a wedding - his colleague Bas was getting married and the party was to be held in a restaurant just outside Zwolle. This was very exciting news! A party! The chance to dress up, get my hair done, wear a lovely evening dress which I hadn't had much chance to show off back in Argentina, and an opportunity to have nice food and dance...! I couldn't wait.

Our wedding day in Argentina, back in 2003.
A week or so before the wedding, my husband found my long strappy turquoise dress beautifully displayed on our bed and myself standing there admiring it. Was I going to make an impression, or what!With a look of surprise on his face, he turned to me wondering if, by any chance, I was planning on attending the Academy Awards Ceremony in LA? What did he mean, I asked - it was obvious that with the wedding just a few days away, I was just getting everything ready for the party, and this was the dress I was going to wear ... I still had to choose the shoes to go with it though, make an appointment with the hairdresser,  (painful affair back then, painful affair still today) pick my accessoires...
Next, when my husband opened his mouth again, my hopes of a red carpet moment at a Dutch wedding were cruelly crushed: people in Holland, he explained, or at least people in this part of Holland, did not dress up that much for a wedding but rather use normal everyday clothes; still smart, but nothing like that dress I was planning on wearing!

I was shocked! Did these people know what they were missing? What of looking smashing, what of all the excitement of finding the right dress, what of all the glamour and glitter?
In hindsight now, after years of living in the Netherlands and learning how practical Dutch people are, I can say they are indeed missing a lot, but not in a bad way. They certainly do not go through all the fuss and stress of finding the perfect Cindirella dress and shoes to match, and they definetely probably don't  throw away an entire month's salary on a single night for a wedding that is not even their own nor their sister's nor probably even their best friend's.

Guests who are not directly related to the couple, normally wear informal clothes to a wedding.
On the day of the wedding, I still made an effort to look my best, of course, even if I was not going to look as if I had just stepped down from a Milan catwalk. I had a quick lunch and started preparing early, since the wedding reception was to begin at 8 pm - a strange time to start a wedding party, in my clueless, non-Dutch opinion.
In Argentina, even if it is now becoming more and more popular to celebrate weddings in the morning and having parties during the day, the norm still is to have the ceremony at around 9 or even 10pm (like my own wedding); therefore, parties don't generally start until 11pm or midnight and they last until the following morning.

Upon arriving at the party, I left my coat in the cloakroom and walked right into the restaurant, eager to start my first Dutch wedding experience. So eager was I, that I blindly walked past the bride and bridegroom at the entrance where they were lined up, together with their direct family, to welcome guests to the party. Surely ignoring them completely, was not exactly the way to make a good first impression, was it?
My excuse of course, was that this line-up procedure was a total novelty for me. In Argentina the guests arrive  first at the party and are served  amuse-bouches and some kind of bubbly wine or cocktails while they wait for the happy couple to make their grand entrance.After this, the party can begin.

Our friends' wedding ceremony, held in the Burgerzaal of the City Hall in Zwolle.
After this first moment of embarrassment, I relaxed and started enjoying the atmosphere of the party. Nice music: check. People chatting merrily and having a good time: check. Food: .... food? Oh, no need to be alarmed; here was a waiter offering ... coffee! Coffee? That was rather unusual, I thought. Coffee before dinner? I drank my coffee and waited... and then waited some more.

Meanwhile, I was introduced to some of my husband's colleagues and I had a chance to talk a bit to most of them. There was a band playing live music which I thought was a brilliant idea and is not so habitual in my own country. Many of the guests were singing along, while in the centre of the room, a group of women were dancing on their own - that is, without partners. My husband doesn't like dancing, so I looked at them with a bit of envy, for I was dancing in my head all the time. I considered walking up to the group myself and joining in, but I wasn't sure what the right thing to do was in these circumstances and after my first blunder with the hosts plus family line-up, I was afraid of making yet another mistake.

Arriving at the place where the wedding ceremony was to be held.
 After eight years living here in the Netherlands and having attended enough weddings by now, I still find it odd that in this part of the Netherlands, it is mostly older couples with an obvious ballroom dancing background or women that dance at weddings or parties in general, while the men stay apart drinking beer and talking.
At a wedding I attended last year, I decided to ask a (Dutch) friend, why this was the case and he replied that indeed, men usually prefer to step outside (weather permitting) to smoke, drink and talk for the duration of the party, while the women inside dance on their own. He also pointed out that he normally only asks someone to dance when he goes to discos or clubs while on holidays abroad, but never in the Netherlands.

Back at the party and some time afterwards, the waiter came back with pretty snacks and my face must have lighted up at the sight of the food. I was so hungry by now, that I could have taken the whole tray that he was carrying and gobble all that food at once. Instead, I picked some sort of crostini that tasted very good, and waited ...

When later (a lot later, actually) the waiter showed up again with the second round of snacks, I said no, for I didn't want to eat too many snacks - I wanted to wait for dinner. My husband instantly saw what I was doing and, in a whisper, he warned me that .... dear Lord, I could not believe what I was hearing, there was not going to be any dinner!

After doing some research aftewards and asking around, I found out that here in the Netherlands, it is customary to invite only family and close friends to a wedding dinner and then have a party with friends and acquaintances. But how was I supposed to know this? In Argentina wedding parties usually include a three-course dinner, a buffet sweet table with different sorts of cakes and desserts and because the merriment lasts until the following morning, it is also usual to offer a "breakfast" of either pizzas or -the most common choice- a flambée whole.... leg of beef! Think "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" to get the picture....

Snacks it was to be, then! And they did look appetising, so even if I was not going to get a full meal as I had expected, I was going to enjoy the party food. More talking and more females-only dancing was done, before the third round of snacks came along. By now I was nearly starving because I hadn't had anything to eat since my quick lunch hours before the party. I quickly scanned the pretty hors d'ouvre on the tray and I picked one without thinking too much of what it was made of.

The minute I bit into it I knew that I was going to regret it. Unlucky choice of snack I had made! The gelatinous, soapy texture of the thing in my mouth told me that I had taken a bite of the one Dutch delicacy I had been avoiding to eat since arriving in the country: hollandse nieuwe, which is actually ... raw herring!

A hollandse nieuwe snack, that is, the first young herring of the season. Photo credit: Jerulobe for Wikipedia.
At that moment, someone addressed me or included me in the conversation with an intonation which meant I was expected to answer. How could I, when I was still trying to figure out what to do with the rubbery piece of fish I had in my mouth? I was not going to swallow it, that was for sure. I managed to give a quick answer trying hard not to gag in the guy's face (that would not have been very red carpet moment!) and  rushed to the Ladies' room with the intention of getting rid of the ... newly discovered delicacy. 

Needless to say, I was forced to spend much of the rest of the evening visiting the same Ladies' room time and time again, because despite drinking gallons of water, cola and other beverages, I did not succeed in washing out the taste of the bit of raw fish from my mouth.

So much for having fun and enjoying my first Dutch wedding...Like Groucho Marx once said, I had "a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."


Anita said...

Hilarious post. I will never forget it.
My wedding in the NL... We decided to pose for the photograph in the morning in the Zaanse Schaans and marry at 5pm. in Westzaan. Just across the stree there would be the reception, greeting the guests, receiving more presents and taking more pics, with some snacks first. The guests found it strange that at 6pm there was alcoholic beverages and hearty snacks... What would they expect ? Well, cake and coffee ! Ha ! Not at MY wedding, never, nunca, jamais ! Immediatly after the cocktail we started dining. At the end of the dinner, together with the dessert I introduced the wedding cake: chocolate and with fresh (real) red roses. Everyone got very still and serious, I don't know why ! Some said to me: "It was the first time in my life I do not eat pie BEFORE the dinner. Strange. But ok, it served like a kick of sugar after ALL that hearty meal and dancing."
(note: in Brazil if you serve pie and champagne or spumanti after the cerimony it means that will be no dinner after that - and the guests know that in advance, of course)
Oh, yes. Many guests had jeans on (and cotton t-shirts, plastic coats/sandals, no make up or jewelry. Enfin.... just the "everyday look" ! Only my family was dressed for the Oscar night !

Aledys Ver said...

What?! Cake AFTER dinner? haha I guess they had the same shock I had when they served me coffee before .... the dinner that was not to come! And the cake! They don't normally cut the cake here, do they? THere is no cake!!

Ana O'Reilly said...

I can only imagine your disappointment. A wedding without long dresses and a three-course dinner is most definitely not a wedding!

I walked past the bride and groom in an English wedding
too :) It is mind boggling to understand foreign customs when you're thrown into the middle of it all without warning!

Aledys Ver said...

I just felt a bit sorry for the couple, standing there like soldiers when everybody else was already enjoying the party.... a bit tedious, if you ask me!
And yes, I could've done much worse, really ...

Japra said...

Yaz Cowan For some reason I can't leave a comment on your blog, so here it is here:

Haaaaaaaaaaa!!! You had me in tears! This is such a great and funny account of your first Dutch wedding.

And (not surprising) what a beautiful bride you were. glowing and glamorous :-)

Great post!

Aledys Ver said...

:D You did copy&paste! I'm glad you did. Thanks, JaPRA!

Presepio No Canal said...

Agora sim, ja consegui :-)

Lovely bride!!! "De arrasar" como se diz no meu pais! ;-)
Ri muito com o teu post! ;-)) Muito bom!
Gostei da parte do "line- up" para os cumprimentos, do cafe logo ao inicio, das senhoras a dancarem sozinhas, e do "raw herring",...OMG!!!

Nao sabia que na Argentina era habitual casar a noite. Em Portugal, costumam casar ao meio-dia (nao gosto desta hora), pois almocamos tardissimo (15.30), apos a cerimonia e as fotos.

Prefiro casamentos as 10.30 ou, entao, depois das 16.30. Sempre se come a horas mais decentes...

Costumam abrir o baile do casamento com um tango ou uma valsa?


BLOGitse said...

LOL! LOL! This is hilarious!
Same in Finland with clothing.
Same with dinner - only with family and close friends because it's so expensive nowadays!
Even if I love herring I never ever seen herring served like that in wedding - LOL! Really funny!

We were in wedding in Egypt. Totally different from Scandinavian parties.
I've visited weddings in several other countries like Turkey (in a country side, men and women separately), in India (huge party) etc.

Dressing up is difficult - too modest or over dress. I try to dress between modest and over and always comfortable. I too practical? :)

Aledys Ver said...

Yes, I guess you are practical! It'd be great to do this in Argentina, but we are too .. Italian probably: image comes first, comfort last. It's not uncommon to, for example, have suntanning sessions before going to a party, or an important dinner, and getting ready takes.. .hours!!
It'd be nice to read about your anecdotes or experiences with weddings in Casa, or Egypt. And I think I'd lovvvvvvvvvve to attend an Indian wedding. Lots of food there as well, I bet! :D

BLOGitse said...

In Casa we've been to engagement party - I posted about that on my photo blog...
I have posted about the Egyptian wedding too...on my main blog...a long time ago. :)
In India they have a lot of people, food and colorful clothing and loud music. (No photos, just memories)
I'm quite busy right now but let's see if I re-post Eg. wedding and Casa engagement posts......
Yes, I am practical! :)

Aledys Ver said...

Reposting those blog entries sounds great. I'll post the link to them here, if you don't mind?
Good for you being practical. I was not so practical, regarding dress, image, hair, etc., when I came to NL, but I have had to change , I think that I changed a bit, but probably if you ask anybody back home, they'll say I've changed a lot in that respect. I don'know how long it's been since I've donned a skirt and high heels, for example... my make-up now lasts for months and months.... and that kind of thing. What's the use of dressing up when you go out and ruin your dress, shoes, hair, make-up with the rain, wind and cold? :D

Aledys Ver said...

I felt a bit sorry for the line-up - the poor souls had to be standing there until all the guests had arrived (impossible to do this in Arg., everyone arrives late!) instead of enjoying their party!
The opening dance is normally a waltz - maybe the old people would eventually ask for a tango or milonga to dance, but it's not common dance music over there.

BLOGitse said...

When I was young, I mean really young :), high heels, a lot of make-up etc. was my daily life.
Now I know so much more, I don't need to express myself with bling bling. I want to feel warm when it's freezing cold, have good shoes (whatever the price) to feel comfortable on ice or rain.
Skirt and high heels....can't remember what they are! :)

Elizabeth Parker said...

I love this post! It captures the funniest things about Dutch weddings perfectly. I've had all of those experiences, minus the fish, thank God!

Katie said...

Aledys, your post cracked me up! I think I would have been an unhappy camper if I'd shown up expecting a big shindig and all I got was some raw herring. Eek! And I agree that it's fun to get dressed up for weddings and such, but I guess it's best to go with the flow of the culture. Thanks for this insight into Dutch weddings!

By the way, what did your husband think about your wedding here in Argentina? He must have been blown away!

Aledys Ver said...

Sure, better to go with the flow - once you know what to expect and what is expected of you.
My husband went with the flow :D and he could believe his eyes really! He is still telling the story to whoever wants to listen: the number of guests we had, all the food, the hours....! :D and the religious ceremony - because he'd never set foot in a church before that moment! :D

Aledys Ver said...

Oh I can imagine that for you it would've been truly disgusting to eat that fish, being a vegetarian! :D

Alison said...

Admittedly, I haven't been to many weddings -- and of the few that I've been to, I was a bridesmaid in two -- but getting really dressed up (full-length dress) is rare, although you do wear a nice dress and men wear suits and ties. But unless it's specifically mentioned, there's a dinner or lunch, depending on the time of day! And definitely cake! It's fascinating to find out that something like a wedding -- so universal -- can be so very very different!

Aledys Ver said...

Yes, I think one of the characteristics of American weddings is the role of bridesmaids and bestmen, right? That's something that has not taken in Arg. and, as far as I've seen, neither has it here in the NL.

welshcakeslimoncello said...

Hi. You have a lovely, interesting blog.

Aledys Ver said...

Hey, thanks!!!

Melissal said...

Well I can't say I've ever been to a Dutch wedding but I will say I second the not like it either! And I love all fish..sushi, anchovies..etc. But Herring, no thanks!! Waayy to "fishy".

Aledys Ver said...

Lol! Way too fishy! :D I think I might go for sushi but I don't think I'll ever get to like the raw herring and I am sorry to say this, I swear!

Katie said...

I was rather surprised at the lack of bridesmaids/groomsmen at Argentine weddings. It's really not such a bad thing though - less drama for the bride! ;)

Katie said...

I think this guy must really love you! haha ;)

Aledys Ver said...

No, we generally stand with the parents or the "padrinos" during the ceremony and even if friends or sisters or mums can equally help with the preparations, there is not a specific person appointed for the role of bridesmaid or bestman... Definitely not a bad thing, no - just hasn't "pegado" among us...

Aledys Ver said...

You'd say so, yes. I think that the fact that our uncle was performing the ceremony, and he's a very special guy, besides being a priest, might have done the trick too.

A Vagamundos said...

Truly jaw-dropping!
We couldn't believe it as we were reading... casual but smart?!?!? It's a wedding for God's sake! You should dress up! What are they afraid of? That the guest dress up better than the newly weds?!

Aledys Ver said...

I guess they prefer less fuss and be practical about it!
Cheers, guys!

Leticia said...

Oh, Eber! Cómo me hacés acordar de las fiestas en Argentina! El clima es otro, sin duda! Por suerte no tuve que ir a ningún casamiento todavía. Aún así, tuve ocasión de usar mi vestido largo de noche 2 veces. No creo que pueda usarlo en un casamiento ni ahí.
Me super divertí con tu post! :-)

Gloechave said...

Me encantó!. Con tu permiso lo voy a usar como reading material con mis alumnos del profesorado. Congrats on your blog !

Aledys Ver said...

Gracias, Glo! Sí, podés usarlo si querés - no problem!! Beso grande.

Aledys Ver said...

Vos estás en el Randstad y la gente es diferente allí, trust me. Por empezar, me decís que ya usaste vestido de gala dos veces... Acá en las fiestas de empresa, la gente ni se cambia, así como estaba en la oficina, sigue de largo a la fiesta. Ya me pasó un par de veces, que por un lado no lo podía creer y por el otro, me sentía desubicada tan arreeglada! :D

Agnès said...

I've never attended a Dutch wedding although I've been invited to one 1 year 1/2 ago but couldn't make it so B. went on his own and told me about it as it was his friend Karolien getting married a 2nd time. Apparently I didn't miss much at all. I had looked forward to it for the food as well, but boy I was shocked when he told me there was no buffet, no dinner but just 'croketjes' and loempias types of snacks! I really thought he was joking! Already the venue they chose wouldn't be my 1st one, but that's a different story but if it was my own wedding, Netherlands or not, although I'm not big on big events and such, even with a limited amounts of guests, something I would provide would be great venue, some music and EXCELLENT food. One thing though, if I had gone to that wedding, I would have be happy if they had some herrings (I'm not sure if they had some though), for it is one of my favourite Dutch 'delicacy' (if I may say so) :)
Oh before I go, I was told a couple of months ago that the couple has separated since.

Aledys Ver said...

I think that the cost issue is a big one here, when planning a wedding. I can imagine how much it would cost to provide a full three course meal for, say, 50 people... and of course, the choice of snacks and things they do serve, also depends on the kind of catering service you can afford, besides personal taste, of course.
In this wedding the music was good, they had a band playing live - so I am asuming that they were willing to rather spend more there than in food probably :D My father in law always comments how we DIDN'T have a band in our wedding, but he always chooses not to mention dinner and all the extra desserts, breakfast, etc. I guess that cultural differences also mark what your priorities are :D
I know that lots of (non Dutch) people like herring and that my not liking it is rather, the problem here! :D

Mayfromlohr said...

Hello Aledys,
Been wanting to comment here since long!! The more I read about your country, the more I feel we Indians have something in common with you people. Indian weddings are full of fun,color, noise, eat, drink, dance and make merry kind!!! An event every Indian looks forward too.
I am told by Germans that weddings here are rather low key, about 30 to 40 people. And one lady told me they would rather not spend on feeding people. They would use that money on material possessions...huh????
Our guests number from anywhere between 500 to 1500!! Yes!! And everybody is fed a lavish meal...:D
I have not attended a German wedding and don't think I will, cause we do not have so many contacts as yet..:)

Aledys Ver said...

Oh you are most certainly right - I think that people from India and people from Argentina have many things in common! :D
Feeding people, as you say, is important for us too. THere's hardly any important moment in our lives that is not related to food. Awards are handed in over dinner, festivals always involve food, etc.
500 to 1500 guests? Oh my God!! But just imagine feeding all those people at Europe's prices!! :D

buday said...

Heh, Aledys, that sounded like a (secretly) disastrous evening for you but thank god you seem to have managed to keep your composure despite the herring.
I too find it unusual to go to a wedding in what seems to be smart street clothes. In my country, weddings are huge productions and going to one means trying to look as appropriately chic as possible. And of course there's a dinner buffet at least. When we got married, we had a couple hundred guests, some of whom I'd never met before but who are relatives of my husband's relatives! We tried to make it as fun as possible but the number of guests (and the awareness of how much it was costing us, haha) did make it a bit stressful. So, come to think of it, the Dutch seem to have the better idea after all.

Aledys Ver said...

Well, I don't know if I would call it "disastrous" but it was rather unpleasant when it came to the raw fish! :D The rest was rather interesting.
I came to the same conclusion as you did: the Dutch way is definitely more practical and still fun!

philippines catering said...

Loved the idea of the bridesmaids in sugared almond coloured outfits, all different. This couple look like they are going to have a lifetime of happy times together and will spread a few smiles around on their way.