WE’RE... EN­GAGED?

Meet colum­nist Chaman­thie Sin­halage: a self-de­scribed Kiwi-Sri Lankan bride-to-be. Newly en­gaged, she’s nav­i­gat­ing the murky wa­ters of plan­ning a cul­tur­ally blended wed­ding to be held 11,000km away. It’s ex­actly as com­pli­cated as it sounds.

New Zealand Weddings - - PLANNING -

Wed­dings are a se­ri­ous busi­ness for Sri Lankan fam­i­lies. From the day a girl is born, as­trologers are con­sulted, dowries col­lected, first moons cel­e­brated, fair skins cul­ti­vated and virtues pro­tected – all of this is to make sure she is suf­fi­ciently pre­pared for when she even­tu­ally mar­ries.

When I turned 21, my par­ents did that thing all Kiwi par­ents seem to do and be­came weirdly ob­sessed with my sin­gle­dom.

But while my Pakeha friends’ par­ents sub­tly nudged, hinted, or, at worst, set their kids up on em­bar­rass­ing blind dates, my Sri Lankan par­ents took it to a whole other level: they ad­ver­tised in the news­pa­per.

“Par­ents seek hus­band for 21-year- old daugh­ter, New Zealand cit­i­zen, study­ing law…” be­gan the ad­ver­tise­ment my par­ents placed in Sri Lanka’s big­gest English news­pa­per in the sum­mer of 2009. I was mor­ti­fied.

Forty men re­sponded with mar­riage pro­pos­als and the fact that none of them worked out in the end is prob­a­bly proof that hav­ing too much choice is just as bad as hav­ing too lit­tle.

Fast-for­ward to 2017 and for the past seven years, I’ve been with a nice boy who, like me, has Sri Lankan par­ents and was brought up in New Zealand. We also man­aged to find each other without the help of ei­ther the print media or my mum and dad.

He pro­posed in June and we de­cided to marry in the full knowl­edge that or­gan­is­ing a wed­ding that sat­is­fies both our cross- cul­tural up­bring­ings would un­doubt­edly

“We quickly learned that our fam­i­lies had wildly diver­gent ideas about what it ac­tu­ally means to be en­gaged.”

come with its own unique chal­lenges.

What we didn’t an­tic­i­pate, how­ever, was how much we would con­fuse peo­ple with the use of the word ‘en­gage­ment’ and we quickly learned that our re­spec­tive fam­i­lies had wildly diver­gent ideas of what it ac­tu­ally means to be en­gaged.

My mother-in-law con­fessed that she had as­sumed we had been en­gaged this whole time. Ev­i­dently, in her day no­body went on over­seas hol­i­days to­gether un­less they were al­ready en­gaged or mar­ried.

Mean­while, a text con­ver­sa­tion with my fa­ther went some­thing like this: Me: Why don’t we have the en­gage­ment party when the whole fam­ily is here in Septem­ber? Dad: Okay, can you see if you can find a cel­e­brant to con­duct the cer­e­mony? Me: What cer­e­mony? It’s an en­gage­ment party. Dad: Yes, but that is where you of­fi­cially get mar­ried. Me: No, that’s the wed­ding… in Sri Lanka… in April next year. Dad: Well, I don’t un­der­stand what you mean by ‘en­gaged’ then, if no one is sign­ing any­thing. It turns out that for Sri Lankans, the en­gage­ment party is where you sign a piece of pa­per declar­ing your­selves legally mar­ried. Oops.

This also ex­plained why my mother was field­ing calls from irate rel­a­tives in Sri Lanka de­mand­ing to know why my Face­book sta­tus had sud­denly changed to ‘en­gaged’.

Thank­fully, my fa­therin-law had a more con­ven­tional un­der­stand­ing.

Af­ter two months of be­ing en­gaged, we’ve found there is only one ex­pla­na­tion that sat­is­fies ev­ery­one, and that’s to say ‘it’s a Kiwi thing’.

We have a funny feel­ing we’ll be us­ing that line a lot over the next few months.

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