Bangkok Phil

Wedding day blues

The invitation card has landed

Oh no, my wife has just come home and plonked an envelope on my work-desk. It's not a bank statement and it's not junk mail (I only wish it was) One glance at the familiar scented, pink envelope tells me all I need to know. It's an invitation to a Thai wedding. And there's no way I'm getting out of it.

I don't want to come across as an old grumpy boots, but words can't express how much I hate Thai weddings. Apart from the fact that it's the union of two people whom I barely know, it's the sheer depressing predictability of it all.

Weddings are always held on a Saturday night, which means I don't get to see the Premier League football. They are always held at some non-descript three or four-star hotel in the most ridiculous and inconvenient locations. The last Thai wedding reception I went to - just four months ago - was at a hotel in the middle of Pratu Naam, quite possibly the most congested area of Bangkok.

I don't know what the bride and groom were thinking, but I couldn't fathom out the logic behind making three hundred wedding guests have to negotiate a maze of small sois and some of Bangkok's worst traffic to be present and correct for the six ‘o' clock start.

So after numerous wrong turns, you eventually locate the hotel in the middle of nowhere, wake up the security guard and he directs you to a neglected and unloved floor of the multi-storey car-park - and all the time you are muttering and moaning because it's far too hot to be ‘dressed up to the nines' and choking in a collar and tie.

You park the car and make your way to the elevator. No, that's the storage bay. Ah, here's the elevator. Press the button for lobby or reception. Well done! You've taken those first steps on the journey to getting hopelessly lost inside the hotel. You approach the reception desk, enquire about the wedding you've been invited to, and after checking reams of computer printout paper, the receptionist announces that the wedding party is on the 16th floor. So it's back to the elevator again.

You emerge from the elevator to find yourself standing on the periphery of the main function room. This is the area that's been decorated and festooned with pastel-pink bows and ribbons and the air hangs heavy with the overpowering scent of some sickly-sweet perfume. Here we go - once more into the breach dear wedding guest.

Thoughts gathered, it's time to approach the wedding reception table - and that carefully-selected group of family members who are there to welcome you, hand you your little wedding souvenir, make sure you write a comment in the wedding book, but most importantly, make sure that you hand over your monetary contribution in the invitation envelope.

Oh, did you think you were invited just so you could eat your fill, down copious amounts of free whisky and then just disappear into the night?

Then of course it's time for a photo. Every guest has to have a photo taken with the bride and groom as the nervous couple stand stiffly under an archway of pink roses or something equally ostentatious. Those are the rules. Aunts in pastel-coloured dresses, uncles in shiny suits and cousins with ridiculously over-gelled hair, all line up to offer the happy couple their best ‘wai' and barely audible congratulations.

It's usually at this moment I cast a quick glance around the room to see if I have a ‘soul-mate' - another foreigner that I can smile at or nod to, simply to acknowledge that we are two kindred spirits suffering the same ordeal. Alas, once again I am the only person lending the occasion an international flavor. I am alone - the only farang in the house.

I put on a brave face, pose for a photograph and offer my best wishes to the B and G. They smile back, there's a blinding camera flash, and I walk off-stage as the couple look at each other and wonder who in God's name that foreigner was?

The rest of the evening's events are formulaic to say the least. You know exactly what's coming. The sit-down meal will be what's referred to in culinary circles as ‘Chinese table' - eight or nine courses of disappointment that I can't be bothered to list - all washed down with watered-down whisky and soft drinks that have long lost their fizz.

Table conversation among strangers is limited to either passing comments or awkward silence.

At some stage in the proceedings, there is usually a large-screen ‘wedding day' video that springs forth from a cluttered computer desktop, with Lionel Ritchie's ‘Three Times a Lady' as the musical accompaniment. And there will be a couple of speeches from gentlemen, each with a distinct lack of personality and charisma, and possessing all the comic timing of the speaking clock.

Mercifully, once the cake has been cut and all the guests have stood up to raise their glasses three times, the younger members of the audience start running around playing kiss-chase (or whatever children play these days) and it's a signal that the event is winding down and one can safely slip away unnoticed and without effusive goodbyes.

Judging by the manner in which you have to squeeze into the elevator at the end of the night, there are clearly plenty of guests with the same idea. Never outstay your welcome - that's what I say.

The most disagreeable aspect of the whole charade - and I'm going to allow myself a little dig at Thai culture here - is that these weddings are seldom planned with the marrying couple in mind. They are organized and paid for by the couple's parents purely to keep relatives and friends of parents happy. It's not unknown at these wedding events for the bride and groom to have not the slightest inkling of who a large percentage of their guests are. And this is supposed to be the happiest day of their lives and all that jazz!

I've probably been to about 20 weddings during my time in Thailand. There isn't a single one of them that stands out. I'll see a photo of my wife's friend on Facebook and my wife will say "don't you remember we went to her wedding at such and such a hotel. She married a doctor with glasses"  The hotel, the doctor, the glasses - to me they're just 20 forgettable nights when I would have rather stayed home. And I'm sure the 21st will offer nothing different.

I got married ten years ago. Or is it eleven? But one thing is for sure - I was the luckiest man on earth to marry a Thai woman who hates all of the above even more than I do. When we sat down to plan our wedding day, we had clear objectives in mind right from the start. We wanted an informal wedding day that would be attended only by people we cared about - and an occasion that everyone would remember.

I'll admit that my wife's mother wasn't too happy with our decision - she's a traditional Thai to the marrow - but when it became clear it was either our way or no way, she quickly came around to our way of thinking.

To cut a long story short, we drove down the coastline between Petchburi and Cha'am and looked at several possible venues before choosing the Dusit Polo Club. And for 120,000 baht (probably a tenth of what a decent wedding costs now) the Polo Club laid on a room for the wedding ceremony, gave us a dozen guest rooms at the hotel and organized a magnificent afternoon buffet right next to the beach. By 5pm it was all over and everyone was in their cars heading back to Bangkok.

We didn't ask people for money or donations to help pay for the event. Our wedding album was a large framed cartoon picture of my wife and I (which people signed and now hangs in our house) Hell, we didn't even have a wedding photographer. Ask me to show you a photo album and I'll reach into a drawer and pull out a biscuit-tin full of unsorted photos. But it was a brilliant day and all the guests agreed that it was the best Thai wedding they'd been to. It was quirky and fun, we knew everyone there (my family flew over from England as well) - and yes, we'll also treasure those memories forever.



"Philip “taught academic writing”
but writes “I thought you WAS an American…”
Pity his students, if that’s his level of ability."

Can you go back and read the comment string again Geoffrey? A bit more carefully this time. The actual comment "I thought you was an American" was made by Shaun Fennell on the 28th January - not by me.

By philip, (4th February 2014)

Philip "taught academic writing"
but writes "I thought you WAS an American..."
Pity his students, if that's his level of ability.

By Geoffrey MG, Roi Et, Thailand (4th February 2014)

Hmm!! interesting. Reina wrote " I thought you was an American…” Hmm, your English makes me nervous". I will be even more nervous if "Reina is my English teacher.


By NP, US (31st January 2014)

I agree with Tyler, all weddings are boring for guests who are not closely related, and nothing is more boring than a formal hotel wedding reception.

I am fortunate enough to live in a rural area. I have attended two wedding receptions, and the guests dressed in shorts, sandals and short sleeve shirts (no ties of course). The emphasis was more on drink other than food, so most people went home happy, including me.

I don't speak fluent Thai, but the little I do speak helps to make me feel a lot less isolated at these events.

By Trev, CM (29th January 2014)

"I thought you was an American..." Hmm, your English makes me nervous.

By reina, (28th January 2014)

1. Yes Thai weddings are formulaic (but come on really? All weddings are!)
2. You pretty much described the awkwardness of all weddings in general everywhere. You don't know everyone at a large wedding. Even at my own sister's wedding I didn't even know half of the 400 people...
3. I have been to Thai weddings and have had more fun that I have had at weddings in the USA. (Sometimes there is a free bottle of whiskey on the Chinese table! Sometimes there is an open bar. Sometimes there are post dinner events.)
4. Just because you go to crap weddings at crap hotels please don't generalise that this experience is what a "Thai" wedding is.
5. I am happy that you had a "non-traditional" wedding, but quite frankly that is not what most people want...sorry
6. Why do you need another Farrang? (I think you live in Thailand...learn some Thai and make some new friends.)

By Tyler Hallett, Bangkok (28th January 2014)

"I thought you was an American by your spelling of English words"

For six years, I taught academic writing to Thai students going to study in America, so I used American English all day, every day. I guess it's a hard habit to break.

I also tweet a lot and American spellings are often shorter than their English equivalent

By philip, (28th January 2014)

I thought you was an American by your spelling of English words....We English people who love our language and spelling write favour (favor)US....Organised(organized)US...lift(elevator)US and i bet you call it soccer

By shaun fennell, Thailand (28th January 2014)

"Did you stop to think that many young Thai couples are happy for their parent to arrange the wedding their way"

Yes I did. In many cases, the couple don't have a choice mate. They would love to organise it themselves and 'do their own thing' - but they don't have a choice.

By philip, (27th January 2014)

"Wow! I’ve never heard anybody so selfishly complain so much about being invited to something that’s important to somebody else"

Selfish? Then you completely missed the point. Even for my own wedding, I was mindful of 'forcing' people to give up their valuable time on a weekend. So that's why I did my best to arrange something that I hoped people would enjoy. So 'selfish' is actually the last adjective (or adverb) I would use.

Sorry, but to make someone you barely know or don't know, give up their precious weekend time to attend your wedding in order to more or less help fund the occasion is just wrong.

By philip, (27th January 2014)

Wow! I've never heard anybody so selfishly complain so much about being invited to something that's important to somebody else.

Are the weddings here organized much differently to weddings in the west? Well cultural differences yes but on the whole no not really.

Your choice of wedding is your own and other peoples are their own choice.

Did you stop to think that many young Thai couples are happy for their parent to arrange the wedding their way.

Just as we have our ways Thai people have theirs.

If you don't like the way it is here . you know where the airport is presume.

By steve, Bangkok (27th January 2014)

The country perspective.....I had a student 22 years old working on business English. She was from Nakon Pathom and the groom from Suphan About 100km. So the grooms friends and family loaded into a bus with beer open at 6 am. First everyone ate noodles while the bus filled. We got to the site of the wedding, a rice field with a giant tent a stage and tables for 300 guests, each with whiskey.

The ceremony was at noon but it was only 9am so we opened whiskey, a band showed up, a parade commenced with dancers and military escorts, there was more food, coffee, etc then back forthe ceremony.

It was done in about 10 minutes and it was onto picture taking. The nride and groom carried the wedding favors to deliver personally in exchange for a photograph. They gave away beer openers that were heart shaped.

The offering came around, I paid for my date and his son, 600 baht in our envelope. Country all the way.

By 2:00 pm we were loading back on the bus to return home, drunk, gull, and danced out.

By Rhiannon Caldwell, Suphan Burim Thailand (27th January 2014)

Weddings are always held on a Saturday night, which means I don't get to see the Premier League football.

could have stoped there mate, i'm with you...

By taylor, United Kingdom (27th January 2014)

You are going to the wrong weddings or maybe the right ones depending on your view of your place in society.I have attended many weddings like you with the difference being they were all family affairs.Held at someones home full of family and friends and to cut a long reply short they have all been great.
Warm, loving and crazy fun especially when the sun has gone down.

By Dave, Bangkok (27th January 2014)

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