1. What the bride says does NOT go.
As a newly engaged woman planning her wedding I had certain assumptions about how the experience would unfold thanks to an early education in bridal reality TV shows. Number one being my omnipotent role as THE bride which gives me veto power, the right to have emotional tantrums, and my overall role as ‘baller shotcaller’. Not that I planned to take my bridal responsibilities to the Bridezilla extreme, but I did expect to wield a certain amount of influence, and rightfully so.
However, I quickly realized that instead of being asked what I wanted or what I thought about any given wedding planning topic, people were making their own decisions without me. If I offered a peep of disapproval, they were quick to bombard me with reasons why their idea was infinitely better than any idea I might concoct. You can imagine that this exchange, which continued to play like a broken record, very often brought me to tears. All I wanted was for someone to ask ME, the bride, what I wanted.
Hello, cultural differences! I quickly realized that these interactions I was having with Albanians were not malicious nor intended to usurp me from my self-imagined throne of bridal power. The reality is that, in Albania, wedding planning is a family affair. It is not something the bride and groom do on their own (thus guaranteeing a certain amount of freedom and decision-making).
2. No deposits!
Most of my wedding checklist items (ex. venue, cake, flowers, DJ, etc.) did not require a deposit. Several of these businesses did mention a deposit, but it turned out to be more of a friendly suggestion than a requirement. Additionally, I felt we had more freedom when it came to ‘negotiating’ with these businesses.
A lot of businesses in the American wedding industry will offer a desirable list of services but they are also quick to have you sign a contract that very explicitly outlines what they will not accept from their clients. In Albania, it is no secret that things are a bit more ‘loosey goosey’.
3. It’s cheaper – KA-CHING
One of the biggest draws to living in a developing country is the cheaper cost of living. This translates into most facets of life including groceries, dye jobs, car rentals, and wedding planning. Our most expensive wedding checklist item was our photographer, followed by my two rented bridal gowns, followed by the combined cost of reception venue, food, drink, and decorations. Of course, you have to keep in mind that a lower cost of living does not necessarily make things more affordable because salaries are also low.
4. Bigger is better.
I remember doing a bit of bridal dress scouting in Tirana and happening upon a particularly gaudy bridal shop. The ceiling was adorned with golden trim and hand-painted cherubs, so…I rest my case. I was ushered to a plush couch worthy of Marie Antoinette’s best pastry chef and given a dress catalog. While perusing, I could not help but notice a group of women fawning over their ‘bride to be’ who had just emerged from the dressing room in a fairy-tale ballgown, complete with a bejeweled bodice and sparkling tiara. It suddenly occurred to me that this is the expectation for brides in Albania. The higher the hair, the fluffier the dress – the more beautiful the bride.
5. The reception is not really about the bride and groom – it’s about the guests.
Like a glutton for punishment I was really stubborn about coming to a healthy place of acceptance when it came to the proactive management of satisfaction guests would potentially be having at our wedding. In other words, I did not think that it mattered whether or not the wedding guests would be ‘tickled pink’ by the decorations and favors we had picked out, but I was swiftly and insistently told otherwise.
Weddings in Albania are not only planned by the entire family; they are also paid for by the community. How so? In the weeks leading up to the wedding friends, work colleagues, neighbors, and family visit the home of the groom and bride (separately) to offer their well wishes, drink a Turkish coffee with the family, and leave a monetary gift. That money is collected and used to pay for the wedding reception. This is at least one of the main reasons why the family pays very close attention to their guests and the ways they can make the wedding more enjoyable for them.
I think this is also true in other countries – in varying degrees, of course. Even in the United States, we want our guests to enjoy themselves. That ‘party anxiety’ is tough to shake, especially when you sometimes feel you are working against tradition.