A Dutch man meets an American woman. They fall in love. Four years later, they embark on a great adventure: planning two weddings! One is set on the pristine Noordwijk Beach, the other in the woody suburbs of New York. In an exclusive for the ACCESS e-zine, these newlyweds share their experiences planning - and surviving - the cross-cultural events.
Part I: The American Bride
Watch your tongue
Despite my husband's exceedingly excellent English, when it came to the wedding planning, he and I weren't speaking the same language. In Dutch, the word “reception” means the act of receiving. Therefore, a typical “reception” is the hour after your ceremony where the bride and groom receive guests. The guests wait politely in a line so everyone can say "Gefeliciteerd," or congratulations, to the couple. In (American) English, however, the 'reception' has evolved into something more… expensive. It's decorations, dinner, dancing and dessert. It's four hours of great fun.
Then there's the term “wedding party”. This refers to the group, or “party”, of family and friends who are asked by the couple to participate in the ceremony. They wear fancy, matching clothes, just like you've seen in those American romantic-comedy films.
Now, try to imagine our conversation using these terms:
M: We're not having a wedding party, just witnesses.
J: What do you mean we're not having a party? We have to have cake and drinks… and bitterballen!
M: Well, of course we're having a reception, you know, like, four hours long.
J: Wait – four hours long? How many people are you inviting?!
The order of things
Bitterballen, a staple Dutch party snack, were an obvious choice to serve our guests at the Dutch wedding. But why was my husband-to-be was suggesting to have them after the wedding cake? Again, imagine this dialogue (but add a Bridezilla-like tone):
M: Bitterballen after cake? Why would we serve snacks after cake?
J: But we have to offer warme hapjes.
M: Yeah, but that comes first, after the ceremony. Right?
J: But first we eat cake.
M: Cake first?! Cake is the last thing we serve, after all the other food. Appetisers, main dish, dessert. No?
J: But if you don't give them cake at the beginning, they'll think there's no cake!
M: So we’re having cake… for lunch?
I should have remembered the Dutch birthday parties I'd been to. Cake is always served first. However, if we served cake immediately after the ceremony in New York, our guests would think it was time to leave already! Our negotiation: Cake first in Noordwijk. Cake last in New York. The sweetest of both worlds.
Part II: The Dutch Groom
How to say “I love you”
Some differences in customs turned out to be fun. In the Netherlands the bride and groom are required to say ja, and only ja, during the ceremony. If you jokingly say “Ja, prima,” or “OK,” then the marriage will be deemed void. In the US, however, it is customary to say your own personal vows to one another. The adventurous Dutchman in me liked this idea and so we added saying our vows to the formalities. I said my vows in English and Mandie said hers in Dutch. The Dutch family and friends loved it too.
In the Netherlands it is customary for friends or family to perform some kind of act at your wedding. These can be comedy skits, songs (A from big Apple, that’s where she’s from, the B from Beach town, that’s where he’s from…), or, in our case, a video. My university friends, called De Vettige Herders (The Greasy Shepherds), spent days collecting pictures of my life since university and assembling them to the song “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” by The Offspring. These performances always try to humble the bride or groom in some fashion, and so I was not surprised to find myself staring, together with all our wedding guests, at a picture of my friends and I mooning the camera, a view of seven white guys’ butts that my wife will never forget.
Do not assume any component, at any step of the process. Strive for transparency, even if it means explaining what you expect to happen at every hour or half-hour of the day. Explain your traditions and listen to the other's impartially and patiently. Pass no judgement at first, respecting and embracing your differences which will contribute to a memorable wedding, or weddings, if you're lucky. Or crazy.