Saturday, August 9, 2008

Weddings...Kazakh style!

After a late night yesterday, staying up well after midnight to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies live on EuroSport, it has taken a while to get into work mode today. It was well worth it, though, if only to hear the comments that the Russian announcers were making about all of the different teams as they entered the stadium. My personal favorite was the commentary on Italy's tough immigration policies! exactly does that relate to the Olympics?

By the time I finally woke up this morning, it was too late to go for my usual walk around Shymkent. Once the temperature hits 100F, I usually stay inside and enjoy the air conditioning until the sun starts to go down. At least tomorrow we are expecting some cold weather--the predicted high temperature is only 86F!! People will be out in sweaters, I am sure. Much of the day has been spent inside, working on the latest section of my UNESCO report--untangling governmental expenditures on education. After several hours of going over the latest figures from the Ministry of Finance, I was more than ready for a break and decided to treat myself to a new movie from the local video store. As I probably have mentioned, my life here really is not THAT exciting!

Leaving the video store, I was suddenly reminded that today is Saturday. In Kazakhstan, particularly in the warmer months, that can only mean one thing--wedding parties are everywhere. These are not wedding parties like you seen in the United States, either. This is Kazakhstan, where there is no such thing as being over-the-top or tacky. In fact, there is not even a word for 'tacky'--although it has been suggested that possibly 'klasna' (classy) could be an acceptable substitute.

Exciting the video store (which is in a new shopping center that closely resembles an American mall), I was nearly run over by 2 wedding parties that were entering the building to take pictures. Lest you start wondering why on earth a wedding party would want pictures taken in a mall, I should explain something about weddings in this part of the world. After getting married in the local municipal wedding office, the bride and groom embark upon a tour of the city, having their picture taken in front of any building or monument that might be of the slightest significance. The entire wedding party (usually about 15-20 people) accompany them, and they all travel in cars that are decorated with flowers and streamers. You can usually tell the car with the bride and groom by the huge gold interlocked wedding rings attached to either the hood or the roof of the vehicle. The cars race down the roads, honking their horns to inform everyone else that they have the right of way.

Arriving at the desired location, the wedding party crowds around and ensures that they have the best possible access for pictures. If it is an expensive wedding, there will also be someone videoing the entire process. It does not matter if there are other people visiting that particular monument or park...the wedding party essentially pushes them out of the way (this has happened to me on more than one occasion.) The bride will usually then strike her best supermodel pose, resplendant in her sparkling white gown. Yes, I said sparkling. Without exception, the dresses are a brilliant white with either shimmering threads or some sort of beading/sequins. There is one basic style, too--a fitted bodice with a full skirt that strangely never moves or changes shape. And the more ruffles and sparkles, the better! Klasna.

On Saturdays in the summer, there can often be two or three wedding parties having pictures taken at the same time in the more popular locations. I don't know how many sites the wedding parties will travel to, not having bothered to follow them around the city--but I suspect that there are at least 5 or 6 different locations. Eventually, the wedding party will arrive at a reception hall--where the toasts are lengthy and the vodka flows liberally. If the bride is the daughter of an important official, there will also be 'gifts' presented to her father. A friend has told me that at a recent wedding, these gifts were a minimum of $500 per person--and there can be hundreds of people at the reception. Yikes!

So, after a day spent looking at budgetary figures, it was highly amusing to see two of these bridal parties entering into MegaCenter (the location of the videostore), jostling each other to see who would have the better positioning for pictures--or to see who would have their pictures taken first. I should have waited to see what they used as the background--the escalator (a novelty over here) or the ice-skating rink. Maybe next Saturday I'll spend some time at the mall to see what people prefer...

(I should note that I would have taken some pictures myself, but cameras are actually not allowed in MegaCenter. Wedding parties seem to be exempt from this rule.)

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