Do you know how many mains the average Greek family cooks to convince the other family that they are hospitable (and not poor)? Four. This does not include salads, sides, entrees and desserts (all in stomach stretching and waistline expanding plural). Welcome, to the wonderful world of the Greek pre-wedding ritual.
Just the other week, we went to Greece to introduce our parents- a necessary pre-wedding thing only because I am a stout traditionalist and a jolly good egg. I consider this a character flaw and following on from that week in Greece, I plan to work hard to become the black sheep even though I suspect I’m too old for that now.
Are you surprised? Did you think that introducing the parents is a simple matter of selecting a date and time, turning up, sipping some tea politely and noiselessly and then going back to your respective semi-detached with parking out front while saying “I say, they were a splendid lot weren’t they”?
Ah, how I envy your (admittedly weird and outdated) Britishness on this one.
Greek pre-wedding stuff may seem simple but they gets more complicated as you actually get into them. There is no “simple meeting” in most Greek parents’ mind. Getting the parents in one place automatically says “official engagement” and that comes with a set of things that absolutely must get done lest we put the upcoming union on some sort of weird footing because of the pudding we served, the gift we gave, or the shirt we wore. Not to mention that there will be plenty of time in the future to hold grudges over things like which set of parents gets to see you more when you are in Greece, who was the first to hold an imaginary but surely under construction grandchild etc.
So in a lot of parents minds the whole affair goes like this:
- Mountains of food should be available
- We all need to dress up
- The groom needs to “ask” for the bride’s hand
- The mother of the groom will give a gift to the prospective bride
- The father of the bride will give a gift to the prospective groom
- Dowries might be discussed
- They all agree and laugh
- The couple serve some liqueur for everyone to toast their happiness
- Photos are taken for posterity
- Everyone dances around in a circle and we kill a goat. (ok, this might be a lie)
Thank the gods of matrimony and family strife, we established early on that this would be just lunch, with none of the asking my hand and related embarrassment. But you see, tradition will always rear its head and in this case it was with the gifts (and not with the goat which might be funnier).
Until relatively recently, the standard gift to a groom would be a bracelet that we call “identity”, with the metal bit having some sort of engraving like his name (hence “identity”), her name and a date.
In recent times these things have gone out of fashion (I can’t imagine why) and the groom can expect a watch which Pelennor will never wear because he doesn’t wear watches, it’s a thing with him, I don’t get it either, don’t ask.
I had to assign my lovely sister to the herculean task of convincing my father that a watch was not required since this was not an official traditional engagement, and anyway Pelennor would not wear it and anyway we were not aristos and this would not be some sort of family heirloom and at the end of the day why not give some money towards the honeymoon which we are too stressed out to arrange?
You would be forgiven for thinking that my father agreeing was the end of this part of the saga but no. We then had to move behind the scenes and make sure that Pelennor’s parents also did not give me anything on the occasion of meeting my parents since, in my father’s exasperated words “since you have forbidden me to buy him something, the only thing we’ll be able to give him in return is the salad bowl”.
This sort of thing can become a continuous strain and drip drip drip of anxiety because, quite simply, things have changed when we were not looking! We are shocked that our parents are set in their ways and they are shocked that we think we know better.
Pelennor and I have lived abroad and alone for over a decade so the opportunities to examine how much we have now diverged from our families’ convictions have been very limited. The last time I had to discuss, analyse, cajole and negotiate this much was when I was 15 and my dad wouldn’t let me go to junior prom (he allowed it in the end after a month of good behaviour and he was outside to pick me up at 22:30 on the dot looking grim and forbidding in case any boys were around).
After a week, we ended up exhausted, stressed out but generally happy because we got to share something important with people we loved. We avoided the dodgy jewellery, we found common ground between our families, we laughed at some good jokes and ate so much that my diet is completely destroyed and I have to start from scratch.
And yet, I’m still thinking that this black sheep thing might be something that I need to look into a lot more seriously. Either that or do what I ended up doing – compromise on food and help my dad prepare four mains along with salads, sides, entrees and desserts.