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.