My big fat Indonesian wedding
Sanne van Oosten and Davey Meelker
And we’re off! Off to Asia to search for new bloggers. First stop: Jakarta. After only three days of being in Jakarta we were invited to a wedding of relatives of Indonesian friends we met in Amsterdam. The wedding was of a far cousin and we were allowed to come as well. This proved to be an unforgettable experience. Such hospitality would have never taken place in the Netherlands. Apart from that, there were many more differences between this wedding and a typical Dutch wedding. Where to begin? Well, at the beginning seems to be a good idea.
A day before the wedding our hosts gave us some traditional clothing, with beautiful batik motifs (which we could keep by the way, speaking of Indonesian hospitality). When asking if I (Sanne) could wear my sandals under it or if I (Davey) could wear my jeans under it, our friends replied: “they’ll understand” (speaking of Indonesian friendliness). So, we bought new shoes and pants in the first mall we could find. We were glad we did, otherwise we would have stood out even more than we did anyway. Most attendees of the wedding were dressed in traditional clothing. The families who were from Java were wearing sarongs with Javanese motifs. But, as one of the guests quietly told us, “I don’t wear these clothes very often, actually I rented this outfit for today”. The most dazzling appearance, of course, belonged to the happy couple. Jogjakartian dresses with snake accessories and traditional makeup for both the woman and the man.
When walking in the reception hall we were amazed by the sheer size of the group. Over 800 guests were packed together in an extraordinarily decorated hall. We asked our friends if this was normal to invite many people to a wedding. They replied that it depended on the wealth of the family, sometimes people “only” invite 200 people, and some people invite at least 2000. But their wedding was about the same size as this one. We couldn’t believe it. Also, this reception included the largest buffet we had ever seen. Not just one long table, but islands of food throughout the room. Including traditional Indonesian cuisine, Japanese dishes, Chinese dishes, a chocolate fountain and a whole island of a buffet table dedicated to “Western” food, e.g. American food. In the Netherlands a 200 person wedding in which all 200 of these guests can participate in a meal would be considered to be quite excessive, it would even be somewhat looked down upon. We could picture the gossip already: “Did you hear about [insert names]? They invited 200 people to their wedding. I would never do that! What a waste of money”. Dutch stinginess particularly rears its ugly head when it comes to the practice of marriage. Even though, last we checked, the Netherlands has a higher GDP per capita than Indonesia. I (Sanne) used to work as a caterer at a wedding when I was in freshman year at an American university, and even there, I never encountered a wedding so immense. Even though Americans are generally not as worried to be considered excessive.
In the Netherlands, the married couple usually mingles with their guests. Here, the couple stood on a stage and posed for a picture with various groupings of their friends, family and co-workers. Each new group of people was announced by the MC. Mostly family, but also, friends from university, friends from high school, colleagues and bosses. The special guests, the bosses of the groom, bride or parents, were assigned to sit in the extra luxurious (V)VIP-section. Which, to the two of us, seemed like the least desirable place to be seated. Away from the bustling atmosphere of the rest of the wedding, behind a divide of flowers and pastries. This would have never happened in the Netherlands, a country which prides itself for its horizontal relationships, irrespective if these relationships are really so horizontal as they are claimed to be.
A feature of Indonesian culture that could explain this tradition of large weddings could be the strong family ties. Our friends were distant relatives and they weren’t even the most distant relatives attending. The entire family was invited. That definitely makes for a rapidly growing invitation list. But, nevertheless, we weren’t family and were allowed to come as well. This can definitely be explained by the great hospitality of the Indonesian people. Another aspect that could have some explanatory power lies a comment our liberal, open-minded friends made “in Indonesia it is impossible not to get married”. Also, the expected duration of marriage is quite a bit higher in Indonesia. Even though, in both cases, it is promised that the marriage will last “till death do us part”, this promise is kept more often in Indonesia than in the Netherlands, which could be explained by ongoing secularization. Then again, the differences in marriage traditions might all just be a mere feature of Dutch stinginess. Who knows?