Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Wedding cake tiers or pyramids?

I moved to Budapest in the summer, and we put getting married as top priority. We had decided diplomatically that a traditional ‘English’ or ‘French’ wedding would not suit us. We felt since we were both the first child marrying in both families one family would hijack the wedding and possibly exclude the other family. I wanted it to be the same for both families not one family feeling out of place in the other’s country. Budapest was our temporary home and had a romantic connection so it was the perfect choice.

Weddings are very culturally specific I realized as I began to plan. English weddings are fussy, all the ladies wearing hats, the chaps in morning-suits and top hats and cute bridemaids and pageboys dressed to match the bride. Often the main aim for guests is getting as drunk as you can at the free bar. The church service is usually traditional – the well-known lines about promising to have and to hold until you die or for better or worse.

Everyone sits where they are told by the church ushers – bride’s family on one side, groom on the other. Then the couple and family pose for hours for photos by the church or in a nearby beauty spot. There is a lunch or a dinner, which is usually pretty awful, with dodgy prawns and under-cooked chicken or solid slabs of beef with silver service soggy vegetables and fussy sauces. Everyone is seated properly with a top table for the couple, close family and bridesmaids and best man. The cake is white and in tiers with rather tacky models of bride and groom or lots of sugar flowers. Early on in the night the bride throws her bouquet to a lucky girl who will marry next, and the couple disappears for their honeymoon, leaving everyone with a disco for amusement or Scottish dancing till they drop drunk or with food poisoning.

In France it starts formally, before the ceremony the couple signs a pre-nuptual legal document in front of their guests to agree on the split of assets. French weddings are usually Catholic and have long masses which I never understand except the Halleluiah and Amen bits. Hats are frowned on, and I was once asked to take mine off in church as it was blocking the view. You can sit wherever you like in church and photos are done as a group shot and over quickly.

After the service there are long dinners with ten courses (if you include all those amuse bouches or glasses of sorbet in between). The food is very good and well cooked and beautifully presented on the plate. Even in a tent it looks good. Seating is less formal and the bride and groom often sit at a table like everyone else. For a cake they usually have a pyramid of stuffed profiteroles called a piece montee literally glued in place by rock-hard caramel. You are served two or three profiteroles per person. The party lasts until 3am or 5am and includes lots of dancing and waltzing with the bride and groom taking centre stage. Sometimes friends will perform a sketch or sing a song for the couple or play games to amuse or embarrass the couple. The couple stays all night and even hangs around on the Sunday too to offer more food and another day of eating and drinking with friends and family.

We decided to invite our families and a few friends to come to Budapest and put up both families in hotels for the weekend. We were just 25 in all, which was good for me as I hated big weddings. We decided to have some parts of each wedding culture. Religion – none as he is Catholic and I am Church of England and neither of us wanted to go to the other’s ones church. Food – Posh and French-inspired food and wine in a good restaurant. Lots of wine and music from Hungarian musicians. Hats were welcomed as was an English-style tiered cake and an English afternoon tea in between wedding service and dinner. And most importantly we would stay and look after our families the whole weekend and not run off and abandon them. Once the plans were made our first action was to register with both embassies for our bans....

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