If you ever get invited to a wedding in another culture, you should go. Without hesitation- just go. It will be so worth it! We were honored to be invited to the church wedding of two of the young people that we have been working with the past 3 years. (The civil ceremony which makes the wedding legal happened a few days before.) The first thing we attempted to do was to discover the protocol for gift giving. What kind of gift is appropriate to give? How much money are guests expected to spend? Are gifts brought to the ceremony or sent to the house ahead of time? Is there any such thing as a gift registry? Those are the questions we asked.
The answers were not so easy to come by. After asking many people, both gringos and Ticos we learned that there were some upscale stores that do a gift registry. Our couple had listed a store on their invitations… though often times there is no formal paper invitation to be had since there is no mail service delivered directly to the houses here… because there are no addresses, obviously. Duh. However, we were given a hand delivered invitation with the name of a store on it. My husband proceeded to ask around for the location of the store. He eventually found a website with no wedding registry information on it, but he did find the phone number. After many calls to the store which was in a different city, my husband placed an order for a gift and asked for it to be delivered to the couple… after we got directions to the house where they were going to live.
So we thought that we all set. We were familiar with the city where the wedding would be held and Josh had actually been to the church before, so we were good. The last time we tried to go to a wedding in another town we spent 6 hours wandering lost in the mountains before we decided that we probably missed the wedding and we should just head home. Turns out weddings don’t start on time either. We probably could have made it still.
On our way to the wedding, the store called and asked when Josh wanted to come pick up the gift. He was shocked! He told them, “You were supposed to deliver the gift yesterday! If you deliver it today, no one will be at the house. They are all at the church!” So after some bickering back and forth, they agreed to have someone deliver the gift the following day. Strike one for the wedding guests.
When we arrived at the church, we were sure the ceremony would not be starting on time. The groom was standing out front waiting for us. Josh whispered to me, “Oh I hope they don’t ask me to say anything spur of the moment!” Well he lucked out, all the groom wanted to know was if we would be the “Padrinos” or Godparents of the newly weds. My husband said we would be honored, but what do the Padrinos do? The groom laughed like we were making a joke and said, “Oh, you just pay for the wedding.” (Costa Ricans love teasing and sarcasm.) And we all laughed… nervously. We still had no clue what was expected of us.
As we walked into the sanctuary, I grabbed the sister of the groom and whispered, “Where do we sit and what do the Godparents do?”
She shrugged and pointed to the back of the center aisle. ”Just wait here for instructions.” She said it didn’t matter which side we sat on. We chose seats in the middle of one of the sections since we didn’t want to presume that the Padrinos would walk down the aisle or be seated at the front. We were wrong in our humble assumptions. Strike two for the gringos.
I was actually surprised that we started within an hour of when the invitation said the wedding would start. I had heard that often times the time on the invitation is when the wedding preparations start for the bride. So if the wedding starts at 10:00 am, that means the bride will be getting in the shower at 10:00. The family might sit down to lunch while she gets ready and by 3:00 pm, everyone will be making their way to the church. No one really knows when the service will actually start. And no one is bothered by this except the Americans.
In Costa Rica, there is an M.C. that directs the ceremony calling each person down in their proper order like fashion models walking down the cat walk. ”And now we have the grandmother of the bride being escorted by her grand-nephew. And now we have the Padrinos, please walk to the front Josh and April.” We hastily jumped up from our seats, ran up the side aisle and walked back down the center aisle together. At the head of the aisle I looked to the announcer for directions about which side to sit on or if we were supposed to come up on the stage or stay standing along the front like groomsmen. He was already on to the next fashion models and we were left awkwardly standing at the front. We slid discretely down into the front pew. Strike three for the totally lost Padrinos.
Both sets of parents sat across the aisle from us in the front pew and the sister of the groom sat next to me. It was all totally disorganized and no one seemed to care. When we realized that we were the only ones who were bothered by this, we let the blush cool on our cheeks and relaxed our tense shoulders. ”Pura Vida” we whispered to each other. That is the Costa Rican motto which really means “No worries mon!” Just go with the flow.
After the ceremony we were uncertain what would happen next. The announcer did something totally surprising. He said, “If anyone wants their picture with the bride and groom, just come up on the stage.” So for an hour the guests pushed and cajoled for a spot in line to have their picture taken with the new couple. It was like a mad receiving line with iPhone cameras flashing everywhere. Totally disorganized, and again, no one cared.
We didn’t know if there was a reception somewhere. We didn’t see any gifts on a table anywhere. (For the record, I did see some relatives whisk some packages into a car earlier on.) We loitered around the back of the sanctuary talking with guests and family, waiting for some kind of sign. When the groom finally said he had to get going, we figured that was the end of it. We headed home to San Jose… hungry.
I had heard of weddings where there was indeed a beautiful cake on a table, but it turned out that the cake was cardboard and only one little disk at the top was real for cutting for the photo. It seems that Hollywood has influenced Costa Rican culture in a way where young couples thought they wanted a cake since that’s what they do in the movies, but no one knew what to do with it. And since cakes can be insanely expensive here (Most people don’t bake or even know how to use their ovens. They store their Tupperware in their ovens.) they opt for a fake cake that looks good in the pictures. So I was bracing for no cake. I was quite shocked at no reception at all. Strike four for the hungry Godparents.
The lessons we learned at the wedding made us feel honored that our friends had opened this cultural portal for us. We left feeling proud to have navigated another pot-hole filled mile of culture and for having not embarrassed ourselves too badly by not knowing what was going on. We were able to “roll with the punches” and we survived. Plus we learned that not much flusters a Costa Rican, so we should just relax and enjoy the Pura Vida too.