A report by a foreigner on Polish wedding. A bit sterotyped but interesting...
Party like a Pole Polish Radio 18.11.2008
Poland never fails to surprise me. Just when I think I've sussed the place out, out flies another contradiction to slap me in the face to make seem bitter and wrong.
Presented by Mags Korczak.
My international network of friends are always stunned to hear when I tell them that, on the whole, Poland is a very sober country; surprising for a place that is best known for its affinity with vodka -in fact I've written previously about the soberness of Poland and the disappointing lack of public fun. However, I would like to announce that I've just (and it's taken a full year to get to this point), observed, experienced and participated in my very first episode of "fun with the locals", which also happened to be my very first invite to a Polish wedding, that of beautiful bride Malgosia and gallant groom Przemek. Out went the conservative, reserved, teetotalness that I've come to know as the public face of Poland and in came the tomfoolery, the laughter and dare I mention it... the drunkenness.
What was interesting to witness were the differences between British and Polish wedding customs, something I hadn't really thought about previously. As the guest of the best man Pawel, I was kindly invited to the home of the bride (his sister, in fact) to observe what goes on. Firstly, Polish weddings start quite late in the day around 5pm, compared to early an early afternoon start in Britain. They start late because the party will go on until the early hours or late hours of the next morning, say 5am compared to about 11pm in Britain. But before the 5pm ceremony at the Church there is a small ceremony at the bride's house where both sets of parents give a blessing to the soon to be married couple after which everyone heads off to the Church. In Britain, it is considered bad luck for a groom to see his bride before the wedding ceremony but what is interesting is that in Poland the groom comes to the house to pick her up and takes her there himself, no doubt to make sure that she doesn't run off in the meantime. At the Church, the groom accompanies his bride down the aisle rather than the father of the bride which is traditional in Britain. There are no bridesmaids or ushers just the matron of honour and the best man which makes the event a little less cluttered.
After the Church ceremony finishes, the bride and groom stand outside and every guest offers their good wishes and gifts to the newly married couple. I've been told that depending on which region of Poland, different items are thrown over the couple; so either confetti, rice, sweets or 1 groszy coins amongst other items. On this occasion I saw rice and sweets. After every guest has exchanged words with the happy couple, everyone heads over to the venue for the wedding reception. Here the couple are greeted at the door of the reception hall by their parents with a loaf of bread, salt and a glass of wine or vodka which they consume for luck. This is accompanied with the blessing "according to our Old Polish tradition, we greet you with bread and salt, so that your home might always enjoy abundance".
And then the party begins. A band leads the event for the entirety; there is singing, dancing and best of all some party games that kick off at midnight when everybody is a little merrier. As the guest of the best man my presence was a little bit more public as I had to sit at the top table. I was very conscious to be on my best behaviour not least because custom dictates that at least half a bottle of vodka is provided for each guest, including children. Although that's not to say that the children are to drink it, no, that just means that the nearest adults have a little more of the fire water to indulge in should they so desire. And desire it they will. In addition to the numerous toasts throughout the night, the bride and groom share a shot with most of their guests-on the whole a potentially messy affair. And there is enough food to last forever, a hot course was served roughly every two hours after the main meal on arrival.
Dancing at Polish weddings is what makes the party. But what happens if you can't dance? Well this was my reservation because I didn't think I could. I mean there's dancing and then there's full on toss your partner over your head and docey-doe dancing which the Poles seem to prefer. So I explained this to my date to avoid any potential humiliation on the dance-floor. You'd have to be unlucky to find a man in Poland who can't dance so my reservations were soon put to rest. And then once I got to grips with some basic swinging and spinning, I was happy to consent to dance with possibly every male cousin and uncle in the room.
I think I lasted until 4am, although I can't be sure. It could have been 5am seeing as the clocks changed in the night. But either way, the bride's mother was more hardcore than all the other revellers put together as the next day she announced she had only slept for one and a half hours before starting the party again at midday for the "poprawiny", loosely translated as the correction party, where more vodka is consumed and more food is eaten. The food I ate; the vodka I had to pass on.
What was lovely about the whole affair was the fact that people looked to be truly celebrating an occasion. Everything about the day was lovely and I had an absolutely amazing time which annoys me because from now on when I tell people it's difficult to have fun in Poland I'll have to start listing some exceptions.