While I was talking with my friend Emily, who is an exchange student from Taiwan, she mentioned that she was excited to go to her first American wedding. This casual comment made me realize that I often forget that weddings in other countries are quite different from our own. I had never really thought about what weddings in other countries might be like, because I have not been to more than a couple American weddings myself. Emily and I emailed back and forth as she told me about one of the Taiwanese weddings that she attended back home. All weddings have the same essential goal: to unite two people. But from how invitations and gifts are done to what types of foods get served at dinner, there are many differences that make every wedding special.

Sherry: Hey Emily! Remember when you mentioned going to an American wedding? What’s a wedding in Taiwan like? We can start at the beginning, how are the invitations done?

Emily: Invitations are pretty casual. It’s pretty typical to issue a general invitation to your work colleagues, for example, and to send a formal invitation to those who respond. It’s also fine to bring a SO [significant other] or date, or even a friend who is visiting from out of town (along with their red envelopes, of course). Wedding gifts in Taiwan are cash only. The invitations are sent along with a traditional red envelope (aka the ‘red bomb’), in which you put the gift. A typical amount is about $60, but this can vary. The gifts generally pay for the wedding dinner with a little left over.

Sherry: What about the parties? I’m assuming bachelor and bachelorette parties are pretty American in culture…

Emily: There are two official parties. The first is the engagement party, held a few weeks before the wedding, in the Bride’s home town. Traditional engagement cookies are given out to the guests (people often bring these in to tea time at work). The second is the wedding party, in the groom’s home town. The ceremony is done privately, with mainly the family – in this case, a standard civil service at the courthouse. The Taiwanese civil service involves a lot more bowing than the Western one, and this is where the paperwork is done. Legal signatures are done with formal name stamps (known as chops) rather than a pen.

Sherry: That’s really cool. I guess they really stick to their traditions in Taiwan. Could you go through how the wedding itself works?

Emily: Professional pictures of the bride and groom are taken before the ceremony, in various poses, and often outside. There are small, wallet sized photos available at the table for guests to take.

The seating was not specified by place cards, but the tables were arranged by where the people knew the bride and groom from – for example, several tables were set up for work colleagues of the groom, which is where I sat. There were about 300 people at the dinner.

Once people are seated, the bride and groom and their (two) attendant enter, to music. The food starts to be served, and the introductions and speeches take place. In this case we had speeches not only by family, but also by high ranking guests (the groom’s former employer, for example), and were heavy on stories about the bride and groom, and praising their worthy qualities. In this case, most of the speeches were in Chinese, one in English, and a few in Japanese, with the English and Japanese ones translated to Chinese.

The bride re-enters at two later points, in progressively less fancy dresses. She starts with a BWW dress, then later a fancy party dress, then later her going away clothes. The wedding dress is rented, not bought.

Sherry: And now I want to ask about my favorite part: the food. What’s traditionally served?

Emily: The food is extensive, and alcohol is provided, as well as tea. A traditional Taiwanese festival meal is served in multiple shared dishes, which arrive at the table at varying times. You start with cold dishes and pickled (no raw vegetables though), then to various meat, vegetable and seafood dishes, and finishing with a clear soup as the last savoury dish, before finishing with fruit. Rice is *not* served at fancy banquets (basically, you’ve got enough fancy food that you don’t need to fill up on rice). Typical exotic/expensive dishes can include sea cucumber and shark’s fin soup.

During the meal, the bride and groom must, stop and drink a toast with the guests at each table (this is true for the hosts of any formal dinner). Substituting juice or tea instead of the wine or kaoliang liquor is acceptable, to prevent excessive drunkenness on the part of the couple.

Sherry: Then what happens, after dinner?

Emily: After the dinner is done, the bride appears in her third outfit, and the bride and groom leave. The guest trickle away afterwards. Small favours (candies in this case) were given out as we left. There was no dancing, and the whole dinner took about 3-4 hours.

Sherry: Wow. I could see some similarities and a lot of differences between your traditions versus American’s traditions. Thanks so much Emily! You were a lot of help!