بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Remember the post that I wrote about my friend’s family here in Riyadh? After my last visit they invited me to attend their cousin’s wedding. I was thrilled at the thought of finally experiencing a Saudi style wedding that I have heard so much about in the past couple of years. I didn’t really know what to expect, but my first thought was what they heck am I going to wear? I didn’t pack any heels with me or any nice dresses, because I really didn’t expect to have an opportunity to wear them so soon. I felt like I was going to stick out like a sore thumb in my knit jersey dress and pair of flats. Luckily, I had a chance to buy a pair of shoes and a dress at the mall with one of my new friend’s Tuesday night. I chose a black dress with an empire waist, lace detailing and a gold colored lining and a pair of black heels with a pretty cut out design. ّI wore a set of gold jewelry that was given to me by Y’s mom and dad and a small beaded bag that belonged to my great-grandmother.
Weddings in Saudi Arabia are segregated by gender. Because of this weddings are the ultimate time for women to wear their best clothes, put on makeup and do their hair. The women can remove the abaya and hijab (the long black robe and headscarf) that they typically wear in public and enjoy their time in a female-only environment. You’ll see all kinds of styles from classic to advant-garde and probably the best way to describe it is as some kind of red-carpet event or fashion show.
I’ll be honest, it was a little bit overwhelming at first. As soon as we walked in the room we started greeting people with our hands, kissing cheeks and giving Salaam (peace or hello). These are the moments that I wish I spoke more Arabic. I just tried to say “Hi, how are you? Alhamdullah, I’m fine” with a big smile, hoping that would suffice.
At one point I felt a tap on my should and when I turned around there was an older woman smiling at me. She started talking in Arabic and I didn’t catch much of hit, but she took my hand and I kissed her cheek. Every time my friend’s family would say, “This is A’s friend from America” the other women would give me a huge smile and say “Mashallah” (which is a phrase used typically to show appreciation).
We sat down at a table. There were containers of coffee and tea and women were walking around with trays of sweets and snacks. Throughout the night I continued to meet others, standing up, presenting my hand, kissing cheeks and attempting to say hello. All the while there was a group of women at the back of the hall singing and playing drums, while many of the guests danced.
The music changed and everyone looked to the front of the hall. There was a large staircase leading to the aisle and the bride appeared and ever so slowly began making her way down. Everyone just watched her and a few photographers snapped her picture. She finally got up to the stage and stood in front of the couch. Her family members came to hug her, kiss her and congratulate her. After that, everyone else in the hall made their way up in groups to do the same. She wasn’t there very long, the music changed and she started to make her way out.
You might be wondering why I don’t have any pictures from the actual wedding. That is because cameras or cell phones with cameras aren’t allowed. I know this seems a little strange but just imagine that everyday you take the time cover your body and your hair in front of men and then you’re at a wedding looking your best when someone takes your picture and perhaps puts it on the internet (or shows it to others). No one would feel comfortable in this situation. So, unfortunately, I can’t show you exactly what the hall looked like, or the food we ate, but I’ll do my best to describe it anyways.
↑ These are pictures that ‘A’ sent me a while back of a different wedding that she had attended. It is very similar to the one that I went to. The bride and some of her family members sit on a sofa at the back of the hall. The guests sit along either side of an aisle. I’ve never seen anything like it in the USA and apparently it is quite standard here.
A new song would start and women from tables all around the hall would suddenly get up and make their way to go dance. You’d see young girls dancing, teenagers, young women and even the older ladies. It is really lovely. I guess I am going to have to try and stop being so bashful in this situation and just give in. Next time I will in sha Allah (God willing).
After some time in the main hall all of the guests began moving to another room. There was a buffet dinner set up and more tables and chairs for sitting. There was all kinds of foods: salads, spring rolls, rice, chicken, pasta, vegetables and more.
Something interesting about this place was the area of sinks at either end of the dining hall. They were small open rooms containing just sinks with mirrors. Saudi’s often eat with their hand and so hand washing (they also rinse their mouths) is necessary afterwards.
We went back to the main hall to sit, listen to the music, chat a bit and wait for our ride.
Lastly, and just as an fyi, if you attend a Saudi wedding make sure that you get a lot of sleep the day before. I left my apartment at 10pm and didn’t get back until 4am. It’s party time between the night prayer and the morning prayer, haha.