Poland, The Polish wedding by an american author - Karen Westen

Thanks to some shameless self-inviting, i managed to secure myself a place at my friend Filip's cousin's polish wedding over the weekend, in a village outside Gdansk on the Baltic sea. I dug out my only party frock, borrowed shoes, jewelry, sweater, and bag from Filip's mum, and joined the parade of family and friends (read honking-swearing-getting-lost drag race over country roads) to the church. This, my second catholic-wedding church experience, varied from the first mainly in that i couldn't understand a word, and we had to actually kneel on those hard wooden kneelers (no soft padding for these Poles).

From the church, we got on to the business end of the wedding: eating, drinking, and dancing. And here the distinctive features of a polish wedding began to emerge. The wedding party and guests assembled outside the hotel where the reception was to be held, and the happy couple did a ceremonial shot of vodka and then happily cast their shotglasses down on the ground, shattering glass merrily. We proceeded to the hotel, where everyone checked in (i'm pretty sure this hotel is exclusively for weddings) to avoid any drunk driving later, and arrived at our assigned seats at the table. i noticed there were shots of vodka already waiting at each place. we were then served poland's answer to chicken noodle soup, which is officially to help ward off hangover, followed by plates of meat, potatoes, and cabbage. I was thinking to myself that 5:00 was a pretty good time for an early dinner, and that i was pleasantly stuffed, when the second course arrived. this was followed by platters of vegetables, meat, and side dishes, pickles, meat/chicken/fish gelatin molds, salads and cakes in profusion to be served family style. to my amazement, food continued to be served, including an entire second sit-down dinner, almost non-stop until i went to bed at 2:30am (along with two bottles of wine and a bottle of vodka for every four people, and beer or more liquor available on demand). Filip ensured that i sampled each dish, as it was all excellent quality traditional polish fare, and when i finally surrendered to sleep, he commented that the only traditional dish we hadn't had was borscht (beetroot soup). as it turned out, i just hadn't lasted long enough - the borscht was served at 3am.

But eating was only part of the evening. This was the polish countryside, and as such they don't subscribe to the uppity modern tastes of city dwellers when it comes to music. country folk are leading the movement to bring back Disco Polo - cheesy 80's/90's pop music played on keyboards by men who definitely had mullets back in the day. I was told to be happy i couldn't understand the words, which included such (translated) gems as "I'm gonna have you whether you like it or not" and "If you need some lessons in crying, just ask me." The dancing was perhaps most closely related to lindy hop, though a bit more free-form, and mixed in with lots of dancing-for-people-who-don't-know-how-to-dance and the inevitable rocking back and forth that we call the Mickey Mouse back home, executed (as per tradition) by awkward, acne-ridden teenage boys and their reluctant partners. The evening was also punctuated by frequent calls of "gorzko, gorzko!" for the newlyweds to kiss (for some reason, the initial call translates to something like "bitter, bitter"), followed by calls of "more! more!" followed by calls of "that wasn't long enough!" followed by "and now on the chairs!" (the bride and groom stand on their chairs and continue kissing), all accompanied by much embarrassed blushing by the newlyweds and laughing by everyone else.

Similar to the traditions with the bouquet and garter, the bride and groom give away the veil and tie. however, rather than a free-for-all throw-and-catch, the unmarried men/women dance in a circle around the bride/groom, who are blindfolded and pick someone at random by walking into them (cleverly removing athletic prowess and personal determination from the process). The winning bachelor and bachelorette then dance together, to the amusement of all (filip's brother maciek won, and hammed it up appropriately).

There are also a few traditional games: the bride, blindfolded, is led by her maid of honour along a row of seated men. She feels the nose of each one and tries to pick out her husband. the groom then does the same, except feeling the knees of a set of lovely ladies (a great excuse to get everyone to hitch their skirts up, and the cause for much giggling as the groom cops his last feel). everyone will be happy to hear that both bride and groom correctly identified their betrothed, though i found out later that the system is rampant with corruption - the maid of nour/best man signals by hand squeezes when the correct extremity has been groped. i am sure that any american, australian, or brit counting on their best man could count only on being led astray, but the pollocks apparently have a hearty sense of a woman's potential wrath.

Late in the evening, there was a 5-tier wedding cake and fireworks, followed by more merriment. But the most civilised part of the whole tradition is that the next morning, around 10am, everyone drags themselves out of bed and back to the dining room, where there is an enormous buffet breakfast and oodles of leftover cake, accompanied (duh) by more vodka, wine, and beer. Everyone resumed drinking (if they had ever quit) until about 6pm the next day. Filip and his brother did a moustache-inspired photo shoot, people were thrown in the pool, and irritable discussions about who was sober enough to drive home ensued. The disco polo band even came back for an encore....


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