Wedding Trial #1: The Guest List

Hand HoldExcuse me?  You want to invite who?  His dentist from 3rd grade?  His father’s  dry cleaner?  His 3rd cousin 5 times removed who he’s never met?

I’m not being dismissive to disrespect any of these wonderful people… I’m letting future MIL’s and FIL’s know what it sounds like to an American bride when she’s reviewing the Indian in-laws’ guest list.  For American brides and grooms, the guest list can be the greatest subject of contention.  Mostly, it involves many awkward conversations with people who want to go, but you have no room for.  Luckily, it’s generally understood as the norm and doesn’t hurt too many feelings.  In fact, it’s frowned upon to cause a (public) stink if you’re not invited.  But for Indians… it’s not so simple.  Before I get into why, let me breakdown an American couple’s mindset to make it as understandable as possible.

Why are American Brides & Grooms forgiven if they cut the guest list?  Why is it acceptable for American Brides & Grooms to stick to a number between 50 – 200 guests?*

  1.  The American Wedding is allowed to be “intimate.” This is the Bride and Groom’s day! You’re told that this is the most special day of your life, and you really only want the people you care about most to surround you.  You don’t want a near-stranger messing up your dream day!
  2. It’s EXPENSIVE!  Food, favors, transportation… the cost per guest adds up quickly.  You don’t want to be paying for any-ol’-person, who may or may not be in your life 5 years down the line.
  3. The venue has a limit.  For every bride that lies and says, “The venue doesn’t allow too many people, so we have to keep the guest list down,” there is a bride telling the truth.  The increasingly diverse and unique wedding venues on the market often have a cap at 100, 150, 200, 250, etc, simply because of space, number of bathrooms or the fire code. (They also have a minimum for specific nights, but that’s no help at the moment).

* There are many, many exceptions to this. For example, I know some religious communities have a very large ceremony and a smaller reception.  But this has been my experience and the internet wedding industry seems to support this.

I would like to note that I never thought I’d be writing this.  All of my adult life, I always said, “When I get married, the most important thing to me is people.  I will sacrifice other places in the budget to have everyone I love there.”  However, after the initial month of meeting with vendors, I understood what I was truly up against.  It helped that I didn’t get married until I was 29.  By that age, you realize you’re not as close with your freshman college roommates or you know that your first boss won’t keep in touch 5 years later.  I was able to reduce my list without more than a sleepless night or two.  Seeing how many actually accepted is drama for another post…

CoconutsIndian families follow one saying: the more, the merrier!  Or more accurately: the more, the more blessed!  Indian families feel very strongly that EVERYONE should be invited.  To not be invited is an insult.  Imagine a rural village in India.  When a wedding comes around, you invite the entire village!  It’s not uncommon even today to jump open the doors of the wedding hall and let anyone come in for a meal.  For my husband, parring down the list was heart-wrenching.  For my in-laws it was nearly impossible.  They were positive they would need a hall for at least 350 people.

From what I can tell, this perspective is based on at least three principles:

  1. The more guests, the more blessings!  There’s no cap!  And who doesn’t want good luck and blessings?
  2. The wedding is a merging of two families and two communities, not two people.  This is a day for the families.  The wedding is very much a platform for the parents, much like America many decades ago, I might add.
  3. What goes around comes around.  If everyone invites everyone, you will be repaid for your investment with many, many wedding parties in the future.

There are probably more philosophies behind this, but these are what I’ve devised so far.

So, how do you have an Indian wedding in America without going bankrupt?  Do you have the wedding in India? Is it even cheaper there?  How many relatives would have to travel?  Can they even get visas?

How do you have an American bride’s dream wedding in a small barn or chapel with 300+ guests?  How does an American bride still feel like it’s “her” day, when she sees a sea of unfamiliar faces?

The answers aren’t just about the numbers or even about culture.  They’re about feelings too. My next post will tackle the many combinations of weddings for an American/Indian couple. And I’ll let you know what we chose to do… including the regrets.

Everyone’s an Auntie!

Does it seem odd that your boyfriend/fiance/friend seems to have 2,5,11,20… an ever-expanding number of Aunts?  Either his parents should have had their own reality show (19 Kids And Counting Indian-style) or you’re missing something.

In Indian culture (and a few others), any woman about 20 years older than you is your “Auntie”.  This applies to neighbors, your parents’ friends, your friends’ parents, etc.  The same goes for “Uncle”.  But BEWARE – notice I said, around 20 years older… like every culture on the planet, no woman wants to be called “old”, so watch out for the neighbor who’s only 10 years older…  One rule of thumb I’ve heard: “If they have grey hair, they’re an Auntie or an Uncle.”  But tread lightly!

There’s a twist though: you never call your actual Aunt – “Auntie.”  There are a particular set of names just for your blood relatives.  As far as I know, all of the Indian subcultures put an emphasis on birth order.  Therefore, there are different names for older brother, than younger brother.  There are also specific names for uncles who are older than your father and for brothers who are younger.  I didn’t get started on learning the long list of titles until way too late, now I am about to go to India to meet them all.  And from the many “Do you know who I am?” challenges I got at the wedding, I have a feeling I will be put to the test.

Let’s learn together!  Feel free to email me at samosasandsunshine@gmail[dot]com with any corrections or variations you encounter!

**Note:  The title can be said solo or comes after the name (i.g. Sunshine Auntie, Matt Uncle, Geeta Auntie etc.)

TAMIL NAMES
Catch-all for Adult Woman – Auntie or Mami
Any older Adult Man – Uncle or Mama
Grandmother – Pati
Grandfather – Thatha
Mother – Amma
Father – Appa
Father’s older sisters – Peri Amma (means Big Amma)  
Father’s older sister’s husband- Athimber
Father’s older brothers – Peri Appa (means Big Appa)
Father’s older brother’s wife – Peri Amma  
Father’s younger brothers – Chitha Appa (means Little Appa)
Father’s younger brother’s wife – Chithi
Father’s younger sisters – Athai 
Father’s younger sister’s husband- Athimber 
Mom’s brothers – Mama
Mom’s brother’s wife – Mami or Peri Appa
Mom’s older sister – Mami or Peri Amma
Mom’s younger sister – Chithi
Mom’s younger sister’s husband – Chitappa
Older Brother/Older Male Cousins- Anna  (This is not Anna from Frozen.  This is a long A. Ahn-na)
Sister/Older Female Cousins – Akka
Younger Brother – ?  Call him by his first name
Husband’s Older Brother – Anna
Husband’s Older Brother’s Wife – Manni
Husband’s Younger Brother – Refer to him as Machiner, but address him by his name because he’s younger
Husband’s Younger Brother’s Wife – Refer to her as Machini, but address her by her name
Mother-in-Law – Mamiar  (But in my case, I’ll be calling her what my husband called her – Mumi)
Father-in-Law – Mamanar  (Same here – I’ll call him Papa because we want to feel closer)
Son-in-Law – Maple
Daughter-in-Law – ?
Brother-in-Law – Athimber
**Check out how female names end in “i” and male names end in “A” – that will throw you for a while.
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HINDI NAMES
You may hear these more often since Hindi is more well known.  For example, my husband uses mostly Tamil terminology, but still calls his father PAPA instead of APPA
Mother – Maa
Father – Papa
Daughter – Beti
Son – Beta
Older Sister – Didi
Older Brother – Bhai
Younger Brother – Bhaiyya
Husband’s Older Brother – Jetji
Husband’s Older Brother’s Wife – Jetanhi
Husband’s Younger Brother – Devar
Husband’s Younger Brother’s Wife – Devarani
Mother-in-Law – Saas
Father-in-Law – Sasur
Daughter-in-Law – Bahu
Son-in-Law – Damaad
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This is all good in theory, but I have a feeling it’s flexible in real life.  For example, my husband has heard his younger brother call him “Anna” a total of 0 times in his life.  Hopefully, I can update this post as I encounter each one of these people in person.
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Check back next week for the beginning of my Wedding-specific advice.  Post 1 will be One Wedding or Two? which will dive into the options on how to create the dream wedding experience that leave you and your husband… and your families satisfied.  I’ll go into our own very difficult decision and a post-mortem on how it turned out.
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Shortly after, we’ll get into – You’re Inviting Who?  A guide on what to expect when working out the guest list for your wedding(s).
As always, please email your own experiences to samosasandsunshine@gmail[dot]com to get in on the action.