On our honeymoon, the other guests were also mostly honeymooners, and young ones at that. It was a little like high school. No one spoke to anyone else.
This suited Andy fine. “If we meet someone new, you’re going to tell them all the same boring stories I’ve heard a million times. How we met. How you thought I was a terrorist because I had a beard, how I stole you from Ethan, and all that.”
Andy had a point. Never mind that my stories are so funny anyone should enjoy sitting through them at least three times. Maybe four. (Depends on how much alcohol you’ve had.)
I wasn’t going to actually admit he had a point, though. Not out loud. “I have lots of new stories,” I told him. “Tons of stories from our wedding week that you’ve never heard me tell.”
“I don’t need to hear those stories. I lived them, thanks,” Andy told me with a shudder.
I’m a little more social than Andy, but mostly I was just needling my husband. After the onslaught of family and friends at our wedding, I was fine with ignoring all other humans for a week or so. We didn’t actually chat with any guests until the Canadians arrived at what Andy and I had begun to consider our exclusive tea time.
After a brief, territorial moment of primordial possessiveness over the fruit tartlets, I gave myself a mental slap and said hello. They said hello back. Turned out the new couple was shocked at the lack of a tea time turnout. We promptly bonded with them over everyone else’s colossal stupidity in missing tea.
Their names were Mark and Yelena. They had just gotten married in Toronto. Yelena and I commiserated over the unexpected pitfalls of the massive bridal gown; apparently she unthinkingly sat in a chair with arms. She was promptly trapped. It took several people to extract her.
Mark and Andy, drinking something a little stronger than tea, commiserated over getting their brides out of the huge gowns.
Mark asked Andy, “What kind of fasteners did your wife’s dress have?”
Andy winced. “Laces. So many of them. With triple knots. You?”
“A thousand tiny buttons.”
“Ouch. Do you ever wonder what kind of throwback designer makes these dresses? I mean, they’ve seen the zipper, right? They know it exists.”
“Exactly!” Mark agreed, before grousing some more. “I had a knife, you know? Could’ve been 1 second instead of 1 hour!”
We learned that Mark’s parents emigrated from Croatia and Yelena’s parents emigrated from Serbia. I expressed surprise, given the historical enmity between the two regions. Yelena expressed surprise that I even knew that the countries existed, let alone their history. (Yay! One couple disabused of the willfully ignorant American stereotype! Only 2 billion more to go.)
Mark and Yelena’s wedding was no Romeo & Juliet story, however. All of the parents were happy with their child’s choice of spouse. The problems at their wedding — aside from the dress-trapping chair — involved Serbian wedding traditions gone awry.
The first tradition was the collection of the bride. Before the wedding, Marc and his groomsmen went to Yelena’s parents’ house. Marc had to “persuade” Yelena’s family to hand over the bride. This was supposed to be purely symbolic, though sometimes a Serbian family thinks it funny to produce a heavily veiled, wrinkled old grandmother.
The second custom involved the wedding reception. There the children try to “steal” the bride’s shoes, and the best man usually has to pay a token amount of money to ensure the shoes’ return.
Well, an enterprising youngster decided to combine both traditions. The boy stole Yelena’s shoe at her house, before Mark arrived to petition for his betrothed. He hid the shoe and refused to give it back.
The best man offered the kid a dollar.
The kid sneered and held out for a hundred.
The best man told the kid to forget it, the bride was fine with one shoe.
Yelena told her future husband and his best man that no, the bride WAS NOT fine with getting married in one shoe.
The best man apparently had no patience for tradition and watched too many episodes of 24. He wanted to torture the shoe’s location out of the kid. As torture was not, in fact, part of the wedding tradition, Mark told the best man to pay up. The best man told Mark that if Mark wanted the shoe, Mark could pay up.
Mark claimed to have no money.
The best man was forced to haggle. He got the kid down to $75.00 (all the money in his wallet).
Yelena got her shoe back. The wedding proceeded on schedule. The best man was bitter, but the groom had no patience for him. And no plans to pay him back.
“That’s the deal,” Mark explained. “If you’re the best man, paying the extortionist is part of your duties.”
I found this tradition hilarious. Since hearing Mark and Yelena’s story, I’ve learned that Indians, Pakistanis, and Armenians have similar bridal shoe blackmail practices. Other wedding shoe traditions abound. Timo, of the website Crazy Chinese Family, played “The Shoe Game” during his Finnish wedding reception (shoe discussion in the comments). There’s also an old Incan tradition where the groom puts a shoe on the bride’s foot.
Sometimes I ponder which culture’s bridal shoe history is the inspiration for Cinderella and her glass slipper. Other times I wonder if these shoe traditions evolved because elders wanted newlyweds to consider “walking in one another’s shoes.”
But mostly I figured it’s a mischievous crime of opportunity. The bride’s feet are going to hurt, she’s going to kick off her shoes, and those shoes are going to be the easiest thing to steal. Especially since she can’t run or even bend in many bridal gowns.
After we finished laughing over the stolen shoe and Mark’s hapless best man, Yelena changed the subject.
“What about you?” she asked. “Did you have any Chinese traditions?”
“Well,” I drawled, “There is one story about Chinese customs I haven’t told anyone yet. It’s a new story, so even my husband won’t be BORED.”
Andy gave me a horrified look.
“Tell me, tell me!” Yelena squealed.
“Well, if you think it would be INTERESTING,” I told her. (But really, of course, I was addressing Andy and his comments on my oh-so boring stories.)
Andy shook his head. Frantically.
I smiled at Yelena. “So there’s this absolutely fascinating Chinese tradition—”
Andy downed his drink. He choked a little.
I decided I had made my point and continued with, “—that the number four is bad luck, while the number eight is good luck. And I wanted four attendants, but my mother-in-law flipped out…”
Andy relaxed, sitting back in his chair, as I told the story of my encounter with Chinese superstition, and NOT the story of how we incorporated “something red” into our wedding day. But he shouldn’t have worried. I mean, we’d only just met Mark and Yelena.
I’d save the wedding lingerie story for tea time tomorrow.