our big fat bicultural wedding

in the great scheme of asian families, mine is pretty acculturated. we speak english at home, we have lots of friends that aren’t asian, we usually eat out at non-asian restaurants, etc. etc. etc. but this wedding, more than anything else, is showing me that deep down, at the core of our beings, we are still very much chinese.

nowhere is this more evident than in our guest list. everyone says that this is the most stressful part of the wedding planning process, but i posit that this is especially so when you are part of a half-asian, half-not wedding.

allow me to illustrate.

for chinese people: a wedding is a communal celebration. we’re a collectivist people, and everything tends to be centered around the community. this is all the more true for large life events like weddings; the entire community gathers to celebrate. (think my big fat greek wedding, only with asian people.)

for white people: this is not the case. (or at least it is much less so.)

consequently, the “badizzo” side of the guest list is significantly longer than the “fantasticmrfox” side, and this is exacerbated by the fact that my family is exceptionally social. by my estimation, my parents are the 3rd most popular taiwanese couple in the metro detroit area. at the very least, they’re in the top 5. and i’ve gone through many different phases — high school, church, college, grad school — and i make friends fairly easily and tend to keep in touch with the ones i make. so our family’s social-butterfly-tendencies greatly magnify this issue.

as a corollary:

for chinese people: people in your community often assume that they’re invited to large events like weddings, when perhaps they in fact are not. however, you can’t tell them that they aren’t invited, b/c this is a serious offense. so if someone says something along the lines of “i’ll be there!”, you cannot tell them that they will not be. you just nod and email your daughter telling her that they’re coming.

for white people: this is not the case.

i was reminded of this today, when my mother informed me that one of her friends — self-invited — is now being accompanied to the wedding by her daughter, who i haven’t seen in 20 years. more on this in a moment.

for chinese people: you tend to know exactly who’s coming long before the invitations are even sent. for example, my mother knew months ago exactly which of her friends and relatives were coming, save for the few who recently invited themselves. i’m not sure why this is — maybe it’s so the hosts don’t get offended if a guest says no; the guest has time to explain him- or herself. but as a result, you have a very good gauge of how you’re doing on your head count early on in the process.

for white people: this is not the case.

ergo, we have no idea who among robert’s relatives and family friends are coming. which means that i have to sit in a very uncomfortable place of… uncertainty. this is not a place i like to begin with, and my anxiety is greatly heightened by the fact that i had to pause sending out invitations to my friends, people i love dearly, because we don’t know who from his family is coming yet, and we cannot proceed without a head count lest we go over. and this is further exacerbated by sporadic emails and phone calls from my mother telling me that more people are coming who were not on the list she and my dad sent me months ago, people who i generally don’t know and who i do not want to bump my own friends in favor of.

all that to say that i am highly anxious at the moment. i want robert’s family and friends to tell us if they’re coming or not, and i want my mother to stop telling me that more people have invited themselves, so i can stop worrying about our head count and resume the business of inviting friends.

in sum, guest lists are hairy for everyone, but when you have two cultures and two sets of social mores to balance… things get infinitely trickier.

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5 thoughts on “our big fat bicultural wedding

  1. i JUST mentioned to tony in passing that i think you may be the most well-connected person i know. 🙂 haha random.TOTALLY feel ya on this one. i remember our guest list headaches. 🙂 but it always works out in the end. i kept running metrics of the guest list stats, and we did A/B/C/D waves of invites, and interestingly enough, it worked out exactly as the wedding etiquette dictated — 33.36% didn't come (whether they said they would or not… don't forget to account for ppl who say they're coming and don't show, and ppl who aren't invited but crash).

  2. You thought about having a separate event for your parents friends that you don't know as well? That's what Kathy and I did, both for her parents friends in NJ and my parents friends who were living in MD at the time… worked out pretty well. It wasn't too super-fun for Kathy and me, but it saved much shame on our (and our parents') end.-DS

  3. thanks for the sympathy and the kind words, friends.ds, since you do not have a blog to which i can post a response: we are, thankfully, having receptions in MI and MO for our parents' friends. this has alleviated a lot of the burden on our guest list. however, that raises the tricky question of who exactly from MI gets invited to the actual wedding… and the most recent self-invitation is someone who's flying in from asia, so we couldn't put her in the MI reception pile. SO. COMPLICATED. but you're right — the separate event for the parental friends definitely helps things.

  4. Wow… you know you're popular when there are 3 events and still not enough invitations to go around. =)I'm thinking back to Kathy and me… I believe the metric we used for who was invited to the "real" wedding/reception was closeness to Kathy and/or me personally. We laid out that criteria and both parents were understanding early on… they kept the separate events for their friends that weren't as involved in our childhoods. That said, I'm sure there were a lot of awkward conversations, behind the scenes posturing, apologizing, and soothing by our parents that I was clueless to- especially Kathy's since the real wedding was on her parents' home-turf. Best wishes with all of this!

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