Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Speech number 2

Yes, I made myself do it again, and they rewarded me with another 'best speaker' award. If I do the third and don't get the award I think I might cry. Spoilt brat. This is how it went, more or less. I actually managed to unclench myself part of the way through, and deviated from the script somewhat, but I'm taking that as a good sign.


Good evening fellow toastmasters and very welcome guests.

Tonight I would like to talk you about something that is

- something I'd never experienced as recently as five years ago
- something I experienced rather a lot of over the three years while I lived in Warsaw
- and something that will greatly influence one particularly important day for me this year

I'm going to talk to you about Polish weddings.

Five years ago I had never set foot in Poland. Well actually, that's a bit of an exaggeration, I had stepped over the border from Germany once, but I knew little of the history of Gdansk, I had only vaguely heard of the beauty of Krakow and I didn't have a clue about the buzz of Warsaw.

As you may remember, I moved to Poland to work with asylum seekers and refugees through the European Voluntary Service. I worked with Poles and foreigners and spent my free time learning the language and exploring the culture. The best introduction to Polish culture came during the first few months with an invitation to a wedding.

In England weddings are generally held at grand places with no expense spared - a short ceremony to get the serious business out the way and then a loud party, with flowers and champagne followed by speeches and your Dad dancing round the dancefloor in an uncoordinated fashion.

This wedding was different. The differences started at the church. There were all the familiar trappings of a wedding - rings, misty eyed relatives, music... but then after the service all the guests lined up and presented the happy couple with bunches of flowers and their best wishes one by one. I had only been in Poland for a few months and as Polish for best wishes is 'wszystkiego najlepszego', I think I just smiled.

Then came the reception. For starters it was held in a fire station. OK, the party room of the fire station, but a fire station all the same. There were flowers, but mainly the ones presented by the guests, spread around the room. There were no champagne glasses and no speeches, but there was vodka - lots of vodka - and games, led by a traditional band with an accordian, a saxophone and several guitars.

As the newlyweds arrive at the wedding reception they are greeted by their parents and then there are a couple of traditional rituals before the party starts. The bride's mother shows the couple a plate with bread and salt on it and asks her daughter whether she wants the bread, the salt, or her new husband. She takes all three. Then they drink a shot of vodka and throw the glasses behind them to break on the floor for good luck. Finally, the groom carries his new bride into the building and the fun really begins.

The first thing I noticed as I came into the room were the tables. In England there is usually a three course meal and then the tables are cleared to make way for the dancing. In Poland the tables stay, and are groaning with food from the beginning of the party until the early morning. Waiters come and serve food at regular intervals and you are free to choose between the salads, cold meat and cakes set out on the table whenever it takes your fancy, in between dances and games.

Between the hot courses the band played and the people danced, but this was no shuffling of feet and clumsy hand clapping as you might see in England, here everyone was ballroom dancing as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I tried my best waltz, but mainly watched the others - old ladies twirling around in the strong arms of their steady old husbands; young kids with their arms shyly around one another; the newly married couple gliding round the dancefloor with large smiles plastered to their faces.

The games were also new to me in this setting, although some of them - like musical chairs - I'd played as a child. Do you know that one? A number of chairs are set out, one more than the number of people playing. The band plays and everyone dances around the chairs, then when they stop, everyone sits. There is always one person left without a seat, or on someone else's lap or slipped off onto the floor. Let me tell you, if you thought these games were fun when you were six, you should try them as an adult after a few shots of vodka. Great fun. In England the bride throws her bouquet and the girl who catches it will be the next to marry. In Poland it is a little more complex. The bride throws her veil out to the unmarried women and one of the unmarried men gets the bridegroom's tie. The new couple then has to dance and do a series of dares... it is very entertaining to watch although I am always quietly relieved when some other girl catches the veil.

The vodka was a challenge to be honest. The most important man at a Polish wedding is the one who goes round the tables replacing the empty vodka bottles with new ones. I was amazed at the speed with which this man had to do his job, and had to refuse a couple of times when a friendly hand tried to replenish my shot glass. Then I learned the trick to a successful Polish wedding. When everyone downs a shot, take a sip. You'll last much longer.

After that first wedding, I was happy to receive several more invitations. Some were in grander locations than the fire station, some were smaller groups or had louder bands, but all had the basic elements - people genuinely enjoying themselves and really celebrating with the newlyweds.

So when my Polish boyfriend proposed last June, not only did I know I wanted to marry him, but I had a pretty good idea about where we should take those vows. Forget all that stuff about weddings taking place at the bride's birthplace, I'd like a Polish wedding please.

Thank you.

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Blogger pinolona said...

I'm seriously thinking of joining this: it's no fun being an interpreter if you're afraid of public speaking...

I'm also constantly on the lookout for single Polish friends that I can marry off to my single British friends. Partytime all round!!

3:25 pm  
Blogger Becca said...

Sounds like a good idea to me - face that fear!

8:10 am  
Anonymous Norman said...

I've never seen it that way. Thank You for rising weddings beauty in my eyes.

10:55 pm  
Anonymous said...

That's a great idea! I'm really happy that you like polish wedding so much :D
Best wishes!

3:22 pm  

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