Before I even get into this - the keyword is: streamline.
I'm writing this post for every couple out there who lives abroad but is getting married at home, who is planning a destination wedding or planning a wedding abroad, or simply planning a wedding from a distance. I'm focusing on planning a wedding from another country because that's what we are currently wrapping up, but I do feel that the advice here can help couples from all of the above categories.
I'm posting this here and not queuing it for submission on any wedding websites because, honestly, they're aimed at people getting married, not expats - I think posting this where more expats will probably read it seems more worthwhile. Closer to the intended audience.
Whether you're male or female, young or older, planning a big event from the other side of the world is stressful. I don't want to make this all about weddings - an anniversary, holiday or other party would be almost as stressful to plan from such a distance...both in actual miles and cultural "distance".
I do think that planning a wedding in your birth country from your home abroad, and being the ones who have final say over most of the planning, is a relatively new thing. There are some resources out there. A basic Google search turns up:
Planning a Wedding from Afar: good advice, but doesn't address some specific issues facing expats from a distance
But...actual expat-centric, Western wedding advice for women abroad planning weddings is jsut so sparse.
I feel this way for a number of reasons:
- Let's be honest: most expats until relatively recently were either men or their wives. The men who lived as Old Timey Expats (pretty much anyone from the colonial era up until The World of Suzy Wong - I don't count the Hippie / Gringo Trail after it because so many travelers along those routes were either transient or so into the hippie lifestyle that marriage was not on the table) were either already married, confirmed bachelors who may or may not have caroused with locals, or had a woman and her family back home planning things.
I mean, really - when you think about how that world worked, how common does an unmarried woman, living abroad with her significant other, seem? Not very common at all. (There was one character - a British nurse - in The World of Suzy Wong - but I can't see that has having been a terribly common thing.) And I hate to admit it, but even in this day and age most wedding details are planned by women. I'm not doing all of it by myself - Brendan is definitely helping a great deal - but I can't deny that I'm the one who seems to have a clear idea of the details.
- Those who did "plan weddings" from abroad had families back home who more or less took care of everything, from planning to paying (we have family help in paying along with our own contribution, and we do have help planning, but we are the main planners and final decision-makers). Think of Indian expats in the USA who plan and hold weddings back in India: most of them aren't fully planned by the couple abroad - they're planned by the families in the home country, who make the final decisions.
- Of the small remaining group, most either stayed single (a la the British nurse) or married locally (similar to the central female character in Ahdaf Soueif's The Map of Love - a fictional character but I'm dealing in tropes and similarities here). Either they married another expat but did it locally, or married a local.
Even now, as we work to plan this thing, is it apparent how few resources there are for couples planning from abroad. There are plenty for those planning in-country but far away - think a wedding in New York, planned from California - it's still easy to make phone calls, you can still get a dress made for your body type in your size, shipping is relatively cheap so DIY and buying things where you are to send them to where the wedding will be is still feasible on a larger scale. Some companies are nationwide in scope. Gifts are easy: you can register at any of the major stores and have gifts shipped to your preferred address. You can't do that if you live abroad: the lowest charge for a small box shipped from the USA to Taiwan is $26 USD, whether you're buying three pairs of shoes or a single paperback book.
But from abroad? Very few resources indeed. There is nothing on Offbeat Bride, A Practical Wedding, IndieBride or The Knot about this. And can I just say - ugh! I hate that website. And I can say that openly since I'm not posting this on Offbeat Bride where we aren't supposed to say such things outright. But this is my blog and I can say it here: I really, really hate The Knot. I hope it goes down in flames, with their coy marketing and their assimilation and their samey-samey matchy-pants weddings that all look the same and cost a fortune and all the articles that tell you that you have to do things the same way as everyone else and...and...and...all the assumptions about what you're doing ("Be sure to shop around when you look for your calligrapher") and the advice that pushes you to spend money you don't need to spend because their sponsors and advertisers want you to spend it and the guilt-tripping if you don't and the wedding dress gallery where all the dresses are WHITE and the fake-meaningful stuff about "Apache wedding blessings" and "unity candles" - I guess I shouldn't say that in case someone reading this used/is using such a thing; sorry, it's not personal - and the horrible catty drama of the forums and just UGH!
So, yeah. Anyway. Ahem. It bothers me that there are so few resources for us, and even less advice. I guess it's still true that most expats are either already married, single, or if they are getting married they're men who are marrying local women. It's sad that the expat world doesn't have more women in fulfilling relationships planning to marry and still planning to stay abroad, and sad that those who do exist have so few places to turn for advice.
Since this thing is becoming huge and disorganized (maybe I'll tidy it up later), let me start with a redux of online shopping for weddings. In my own case, I haven't been able to buy books or proper undergarments here or online, and haven't been able to buy shoes here.
All of that said, I love the Internet. It's made things a lot easier for people in our situation.
I have to say as our wedding date looms that we don't know what we would've done without the Internet: I have no idea how couples living abroad before the late 90s pulled it off. If you live in-country or at least near it (I count Canada as in-country for the USA. Sorry, Canadians) you could have gotten information sent to you in lieu of an extant website, calling was not that hard, time differences not so steep, and while you would have had to do some guesswork and make a few leaps of faith ("That venue looks good in the brochure, let's just book it since we can't go see it in person"), it could be done.
Imagine now those same phone calls and info packets being made from and sent to Asia. Considering the expense of sending thick packages such a distance, I can imagine some venues wouldn't even be interested, and the time lag between inquiry and getting the information would have meant a snail's pace for planning, which, to a Type A "Git 'r Done" person like me would have been absolute torture. Imagine as well getting the things you need coordinated when you can't buy them where you are (or can but can't get them home) and can't go shopping where the event is taking place. Horrible.
Now, thanks to websites, e-mail, Skype, online banking, online shopping and Paypal, it's not nearly so bad.
There have been a few snafus: staying up well past midnight to confer with our caterer about menus (he's very hands-on with his clients, which we appreciate considering how much we're paying him to feed our guests), buying things online and having them be totally wrong, having my poor mother play Air Traffic Controller to all the packages arriving at her house, which are now cluttering up her office. It's a good thing I don't care much about colors (the napkins do not need to be the same shades of wine red and deep purple as the tablecloths) because matching colors from a computer monitor: don't even try.
And with all this, I present to you my advice list for planning a wedding from abroad. As I've said, there is plenty of advice out there on planning from a distance, but such advice always assumes a similar culture, language and even in-country presence. Such advice hasn't helped me much.
1.) Tone down the DIY.
There are still some things you can do yourself - we DIY'd some cloth accents for centerpieces (we'll either turn them into a quilt or into dinner napkins later, or give them to another friend planning a wedding with a lot of Japanese aesthetics) out of that inexpensive fabric you can get in Yongle Market that imitates fancy origami paper. We DIY'd seating assignment cards, cards for our wedding party, and invitations (more on that later) as well as non-floral corsages and boutonnieres and a few other small things.
The thing to remember here is that you should take stock of how big/heavy/fragile the final product will be. Think long and hard about whether you can/want to either ship it or carry it home when you return for the wedding. Paper goods (like seating cards) or your own jewelry are one thing - centerpieces are quite another. Shipping those babies home will outweigh any savings cost-wise - maybe it's not so bad to accept that some of your decorations will be mass-produced. I know this was a hard pill for me to swallow: I enjoy creative things and didn't want the same old wedding tchotchkes as everyone else (I want my own unique tchotchkes dammit!), but there was no way I was going to get that much DIY work home.
Our DIY seating cards. I drew the lotus, too.
Consider as well even non-breakable things: will it need ironing/flattening once it arrives? Is it likely to get beaten up or torn? Will it fit in my luggage? When looking at ways to decorate the bare back wall of our venue, I got suggestions along the lines of "hang paper or fabric on dowels to create tapestries!" - yeah, I won't have the time to make that when we're home and don't have the ability to transport it home without wrinkles, folds or tears so it's not happening.
2.) Get your dress made locally, or if you do buy online, get it tailored locally.
Most Western women who live abroad, to be honest, just don't fit local body types. I know as a somewhat tall, curvy white girl in Asia that I certainly don't. There were some other obstacles in my way:
- In Taiwan, there is just no concept of "fit to flatter". Either you have a nice figure or you don't. Either clothes look good on you or they don't. The idea of strategic cuts, panels, ruching, gathering and darting just...I mean they exist here but. BUT. You often have to cajole the average tailor into incorporating them: I had not one, but three tailors tell me as my dress didn't fit that it was the best it was ever going to look, and I should just accept it because that's my body. Umm, no. I wear clothes that look better than that on me every day. It's true that I don't have a goddess-like figure, but I know clothing can look flattering on me if it's made right.
Let me show you:
Doesn't fit so hot, does it? Check out how the skirt bags out and needs volume and the top is far too tight and has little fabric wings. No good.
Much better, no? I had to quite literally fight to get it fixed to look that good. All it needed was a bit of loosening in the top, a bit of tightening in the skirt, darts in the sides and a little less fabric along the top near the arms.
If you go this route, be insistent and be clear. Use Paint/Pixelmator/GIMP/Photoshop to actually draw what you want on the photo, and get a local friend to describe it in Chinese if you can't do it yourself.
- Most dresses in Taiwan are rentals, and you get three. To be honest, most of them are either boring cookie-cutter white wedding dresses or...well, you've seen the ones on display in wedding planning agencies. "They look like huge frosted cakes" - as Brendan loves to say. They're big on tulle, ruffles, bling and roses. Nothing like what I want. Buying/renting a dress in a salon here is not really an option for most Western women, especially as most would not take too kindly to renting them and then transporting them to the USA and back.
As a result, however, most tailors are not used to making an actual wedding dress, especially a Western-style one. It takes a special kind of perseverance to go this route.
Another option is to order online, but don't get it sent "home", get it sent to you abroad and tailored locally. This is a great chance to get a custom job - right over the strait in China there are tons of custom dress retailers online. If you want something with a Chinese influence, I recommend Chinese Moods. For a more typical Western dress, I know one person who got something from Jeff Liu (just google him) and it turned out really well after she explained clearly what she wanted (the first draft was not that great, the remake is spectacular. I wrote him an e-mail in Chinese on her behalf which probably helped with this outcome). Whatever you get online will almost certainly require altering - that's why you should get it sent to your main residence.
Some dress advice:
- You'll be transporting it home, so get it made in a wrinkle-free fabric
- Don't get a super-poofy cupcake Wedding Dress - it's that much harder to bring home. Go for something simple and easy to transport
- Consider alternate colors to white. White stains and shows wear, and this is a risk even if it's in a garment bag.
It's entirely possible, as a Westerner, that you won't be able to try on dresses to get a good idea of what silhouettes look good on you and what you'd like to go for. Don't fret - this is a setback, but you can do this online, to some extent: MyShape will tell you your body type if you get your measurements done (this you can do - in fact, they tell you how and if you don't find it there, ChineseMoods, also linked in this post, tells you). Then you can do tons of research on what will look good, and run with it. I learned a lot from this, and will post more about it later.
3.) If you can afford it, visit "home" at least once to get some details out of the way and go shopping near your venue.
One of the best things we ever did was go home for Christmas 9 months before our actual wedding. We got a chance to visit each others' parents, which was lovely, do some shopping for centerpieces ($2.25 each for faux copper pots at Michael's) and other assorted stuff and have an engagement party. If I could have gotten more accomplished in that time, I'd have gotten the copy of my birth certificate taken care of, I would have bought undergarments. I highly recommend taking a trip home and scheduling in wedding stuff for that trip, as well as bringing things home that you bought abroad and intend to use.
The biggest mistake I made was bringing home some, but not all, invitations for my parents to send out. Brendan's side is working out fine, but mine....argh. ARGH.
4.) Have a few pairs of trusted eyes and ears in the area near your event.
I think this goes without saying: you want a good friend or relative who can check out venues in person for you, who can call vendors and give feedback on credibility and who can run the occasional errand for you or, if a contract needs signing, will sign for you.
If it's feasible, I highly recommend a joint checking account with debit cards or a joint credit card for purchases. It makes deposits and paying for things that much easier. We send money home in big chunks once per month - if you do this, plan in advance what you'll buy each month so you only need to send home money once per pay period, instead of being caught financially off-guard and having to sink another $30 and half hour of your day into the transfer process.
5.) Buy stuff online, preferably from a few larger websites to save on shipping, and have it sent to a trusted friend or relative locally.
A few websites (Save On Crafts, The Paper Lantern Store, Luna Bazaar, Birthday Party Supplies and More, Asian Ideas and Linen Table Cloth) sell more than one thing and can be a lifesaver when you can't go out in person to buy things like napkins, vases, tealights, lanterns, favors or what have you.
This means it is very important not to sweat the details - I knew before we started planning that matchy-matchy napkins are 100% not important, even if people notice which they probably won't, and since I had to choose our tablecloths from one website and napkins from another, it was really vital to keep this in mind. Bonus: being unable due to circumstance to go kwaaaazy over wedding details meant that...haha, I haven't gone crazy over wedding details.
If you do care about colors, pick ones that will work if what you get is more than one shade - blue, purple and green are great for this, as are jewel tones and metallics. Red can work but sometimes doesn't. I am not a fan of "shades of white" since I don't like white, but it can work.
This is actually a very important step: if you haven't got one central location in-country to send all your online purchases to, it's going to be that much more difficult - especially if that place/friend is not near your venue. I highly recommend considering this before you book a venue...exceptions are an all-inclusive venue where you need not buy many things or a destination wedding where the venue takes care of such things...or if you hire a wedding coordinator (which is by no means necessary).
The last thing you need is to be like an air traffic controller dealing with who has what package from what online vendor and when they are arriving and what to do with the stuff, especially as you'll be jetlagged when you arrive.
Whatever, man. It's all purple. When you have to buy it all online you can't be picky.
This is also a good way to go because, to be honest, what's popular where you live may not be to your taste. Wedding stuff here is either very specific to Taiwanese weddings (the guest book that looks more like a red velvet account ledger, red envelopes, giant red and glitter gold double happiness decals) or is hideous kitschy Western (silver picture frames caked in flowers, rhinestones and little silver birds). Shopping online and having my mom back home receive the packages has been a lifesaver.
Oh, and The Find? True brilliance. I've found more useful stuff from that website that I can't even say. There are tons of shopping aid websites online but this trumps them all. For locally bought items, Forumosa's Where Can I Find...? forum has been somewhat useful, though not very as most expats on that board are male and as such don't know things like where to find larger women's shoes or DIY supplies.
There have been issues though - in terms of books, I won't have time to read anything at home, nothing is available here for people wanting to read, for real, about weddings. It costs $26 to ship even the smallest package from Amazon.com to Taiwan (and Amazon Japan doesn't have what we want). All you can get in the major bookstores here are giant, foofy bridal magazines full of pictures of overpriced stuff I don't want and don't like and admonitions to buy it from the "articles". Forget actual reads like Offbeat Bride, The Conscious Bride, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding or anything on building the proper foundation of a good marriage.
Undergarments are another issue - I'll address that below.
6.) Get Skype, if you don't already have it.
It's essential for talking to vendors, calling your 'eyes and ears' back home and possibly streaming your wedding live to friends in your country of residence. It's far cheaper than international phone cards and many vendors have Skype accounts, meaning calls are free. You may still have to stay up until midnight to make calls but it's better than staying up late *and* paying through the nose. I find that later calls are better than earlier, because I am not one for getting up at 6am, but 9 or 10pm I can do - making it 9 or 10am on the East Coast.
7.) If they don't have a website, they're not the vendor for you.
Only able to send you a sample menu by fax? Not responsive to e-mails? No website at all, just a phone number and street address? Maybe they do a great job but they don't meet your needs. Find someone equally as good who does. An online presence is a must for anyone planning a wedding from abroad.
8.) Don't assume things you source locally will be available in the same place or sold for the same assumed use as back home.
Really. You just never know. It never occurred to me to buy liquid gold (not real gold, the stuff you get in paint pens) in Sheng Li (a discount department store). I scoured every DIY/craft shop between Taipei Main and Dihua Street for leaf skeletons and didn't find them until I went to the weekend flower market. In the USA they're a craft supply - in Taiwan they're "floral".
I know someone planning a wedding in Maine from Turkmenistan (yeah...I know. Hardcore). She is making her own dress and wanted to do a muslin mock-up - but couldn't find muslin. The best she could do was to buy muslin for burials - as it's used for Islamic funerals. Umm...hello borderline offensive? She ended up using an old bedsheet for the mock-up, but afterwards realized that instead of asking for "muslin" or "mock up fabric" or "cheap cotton" in Turkmen, that she should have been inquiring after "cheesecloth" and bought it in the food section of the market.
We're holding up table numbers - yeah, it's a big wedding, we have lots of tables - with colorful glass candleholders and needed more than what I bought back home over Christmas. All I could find in shops that sell that sort of thing were ugly white glass/fakey crystal candleholders. It wasn't until I stumbled upon a junk store in the lanes of Zhonghe city that I found what I wanted.
You just never know. Don't assume things will be sold in the same places and for the same purpose as you see them back home. Be creative. Think about how that item might be used where you are, not where you're from.
9.) Go home and stay in-country at least a week before the wedding.
- You'll get over jetlag, which is a must
- You'll have time to sort out paperwork
- It's nice to spend those days with family, getting ready together
- You're there and can deal with things on-scene if something goes awry
- It's great to greet guests as they come into town
10.) Don't get too ambitious in terms of vendors: get a few vendors that can offer a lot of stuff.
I don't think this requires much explanation. The more vendors you have to deal with, the more you'll be on Skype, the more you'll be running with checks to the post office and explaining apologetically that it'll be a week at least before their deposit arrives, the more risks you are taking by not being nearby if one of them flakes on you. Our caterer is also helping to set up (including decoration), handle bar stuff and make our "cake" (it's not really a cake - it's a tiramisu) and we aren't hiring a florist - many costly and stressful things off the typical wedding list. There are vendors out there for everything: bakers, florists, calligraphers, designers, people who will set up hanging lanterns, tent rental companies, bartending companies, port-a-potty and generator rentals, you name it. Do not think you need to hire all of them (this goes for locally-wed couples as well but is especially true for expats). This doesn't mean you need to do it all yourself - that is, if anything, worse than hiring someone to do it. You really don't need most of that stuff, anyway. No, you don't. No matter what family or The Snot tells you.
That website, by the way, implies you need that stuff through the subtle, vaguely manipulative assumptions built into their articles and 'advice', not always through direct marketing: instead of saying "you need a calligrapher!" it says "When you hire your calligrapher..." - and it's surprising how many people get sucked in. Why? Their sponsors and advertisers and listed businesses on vendor pages offer those services and they wouldn't be the massive corporate wedding juggernaut that they are if they didn't quietly push brides to think they need all that stuff. Turn away from the siren song.
11.) Don't book a venue that requires heaps of rentals and other detailed coordination, and try to book a single-venue event.
We're getting married here, but I have to admit I was and am absolutely in love with this venue. (I also love the venue we booked, mind you.) The problem with the Wilderstein? No rain location. Receptions require renting everything, from tents to tables to chairs to a catering kitchen if you are doing anything more than a dessert reception (even a small hors d'oeuvres reception requires a small kitchen setup) to...a generator, any lights you may want, linens, a bar, Port-a-Potties...you name it. If you need it for a party, you have to rent it. My mom made a very good case against this: with us abroad and Brendan's parents some distance away, the person dealing with all of that would be...you guessed it. Her and Dad. And they both work. No. Plus, with renting everything, costs add up and it's harder to keep track of what you've got to pay for and when, and thus what you need to send home and when.
(We don't do credit cards. The "rewards" feel more like golden-handcuff-esque traps and aren't worth the interest rates and looming debt. If we can't pay for it we don't buy it. Don't listen to wedding websites that tell you to get a wedding credit card. The Snot has its own wedding credit card "opportunities" and they only encourage you to get a credit card for this purpose so they can convince you to get theirs. Natch.)
Better to get a venue that has things for your use already there - tables, chairs, a kitchen, toilets, a rain venue if necessary. They don't need to be a "package" option - I don't care for "packages" because honestly, the food is usually not that great (it's where the Wedding Chicken trope comes from) and the offerings are cookie-cutter. Not always - I mean I've been to some very nice weddings at a package spot, but enough to make me wary.
I know many couples want to marry in a church, but as non-religious people, while we do have a minister marrying us (my parents' church's reverend) we prefer to marry outdoors. If you feel similarly, a venue that includes both ceremony and reception will be far less stress to plan for a couple living abroad than a single venue option. Keyword: Streamline. We could have had a ceremony at The Wilderstein and a reception elsewhere, but it was just too much hassle to plan for two venues...so Locust Grove won. No regrets.
12.) Get travel insurance. Really.
Raise your hand if you've heard of that couple whose wedding in Europe got cancelled because of the Iceland volcano, and they had a wedding in Taoyuan instead. Yeah. Get travel insurance.
13.) When sourcing things locally, get a local friend to help be your interpreter when needed, even if you speak the language. Also, a dictionary/phrasebook is now your best friend.
You may think you're fluent - I mean, I speak Chinese (more or less). But do you know how to say "bodice"? "Godet"? "Leaf skeleton"? "Cardstock"? "Card box" - I've found that the straight translation - 卡片盒 - doesn't work. I know some of these now, but I didn't when I started. Get help. It's not admitting defeat. Don't let pride get in the way. Bring a dictionary and a printed picture of what you want whenever you're out looking for something obscure. I can say "leaf skeleton" and "copper color" but it is much easier to just show people a picture. I can demonstrate a mermaid skirt but it's easier to bring a photo.
14.) Get good friends to help back home.
It's not too much to ask to e-mail one or two friends asking for help ("Can you pick up a box of hibiscus tea for us to serve with the rest of the tea selection?") - I know a lot of wedding talk these days assumes that your rite of passage is everyone else's inconvenience, but trust me, if they are good friends, they will be happy to help with these small things. It's a good way to incorporate details you would really like when you're feeling down about all the streamlining you have to do.
15.) Invitations: Take total control of this. TRUST ME.
We sent all the invitations that Brendan's side needs home to his parents, and because they have all of the invitations and we are all on the same page as to who's getting them, it's worked out fine.
My family has not been such a piece of cake: we are a big clan (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and we didn't have the time to prepare enough invitations or the space to carry them when we went home for Christmas, so my parents are not entirely in charge of sending them out. We have about half and they have the other half.
This was a huge mistake for two reasons:
1.) We don't entirely agree on who should be cut, because we can't possibly invite everyone. Our budget doesn't allow it and anyway, we don't have the space. There has been miscommunication and disagreement on who stays and who goes. If I had kept total control of invitations on my side and not split them with mom in the interest of saving money on postage, this wouldn't be such a problem because, as the one with autocratic powers, I could put an end to all the disagreements and just do what needed to be done (but isn't being done, because I was foolish enough to split the invites). Either that, or I should have given them all to Mom and let her deal with it instead of the back-and-forth we're stuck with, and relinquished all control as well as all claim to blame.
2.) It's led to a heaping, steaming pile of confuse-a-liciousness. Figuring out who she's got invites for and who we've got to send invites to has led to more than one stress headache for me, especially with my sister graduating in Portland just as I needed a list of who she had so I could figure out who we needed...I got the list too late to send invitations that will arrive as the ones she sends arrives, and if I'd just never brought invitations home it could have all been avoided. (The ones I gave her were pre-addressed by me because otherwise I just know they'd get written as "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith" - argh - women have their own names, y'know.)
Don't do this: send all invitations out from one location, whether it's all on you and you spend the money or if it's all on them and you give up all responsibility. Don't split them.
A note about RSVPs: I know you're supposed to provide already-stamped RSVP envelopes or cards (we had postcards printed)...but unless you can actually get stamps from the places people will be responding from, it is in fact OK to skip this. People will understand.
16.) Drama Avoidance: Guest Lists and Wedding Parties
It's hard enough for local brides to deal with their families over guest lists - as an expat bride, it's even harder because you're not there to break the news in person to insistent relatives. We'd agree on who would be cut, Mom would be on board, and there would be resistance: if I'd been in the area I would have been able to talk to relatives myself, but I wasn't, so it fell to Mom (it didn't seem right to do it via phone call - an exciting event since I rarely call home - or e-mail, which is too impersonal). This led to all sorts of issues.
My advice would be to not ask anyone for their guest list ideas: make a list yourself (assuming you are contributing financially) and tell people what the deal is. Get addresses but don't open it up for submissions. If you've actually forgotten someone important, trust me, they'll let you know anyway.
Keep your wedding party small unless your group of friends is fairly drama free - again, when you are not there in person to handle difficult people or drama llamas, it just becomes that much worse. Websites will advise you to smooth ruffled feathers by taking the disaffected party out for coffee and talking with them one-on-one: you don't have that luxury, so don't even consider a plan in which you may have to do so. If your friends are not that sort of dramatastic, you can expand your party a little.
I do not advise matchy-matchy dresses because if you're not around to make sure everyone buys the dress you chose, and not there to go shopping with them, it's just easier to say "wear what you like". Really. Just don't go there. Or pick one color, or one store that everyone has access to, if you really want a coordinated look. I suppose you could go through the website of some major bridal manufacturer or other online shopping conglomerate so everyone could get dresses anywhere they like, but then you run the risk of "I hate it!" syndrome, as well as fitting issues for bridesmaids who may not run true to standard sizes.
Up to you: which is why I just didn't go there. I like the mismatched look (in fact, I actively do not like matching attendants, but I realize most people do and that's all cool) and it was just easier on everyone to wear dresses they choose, in colors and styles they choose.
17.) Shoes and Undergarments: It Depends
When I was a bridesmaid back in 2004 or so, we all had to buy silver shoes. I wear a US 10: it's nearly impossible to find silver shoes in a store in a US 10. I ordered online and my shoes were OK-looking, but uncomfortable as hell because I didn't have the chance to try them on first (and didn't have the time to return them).
Maybe you have big, unusual feet like me. In that case, order online and splurge to get them shipped to your home abroad - the time to try them on, figure them out and break them in is really important. Don't have them sent where you are getting married (assuming you have someone near your venue willing to hold your online shopping deliveries - this is a really important thing, which is why I covered it earlier) because if you arrive and find they are uncomfortable, don't look like the picture, don't match your dress as you thought they would or don't fit, you have precious little time to fix it. Shoes can cause a lot of discomfort: they can make or break a mood on a day when you will be on your feet all day. Spend the money and do it right.
If you have fairly regular feet or know for sure just what you want, this isn't such an important thing, of course.
Same goes for undergarments: buy these in a country where such things are made to fit your body type if you can. If you can't, be very careful about ordering online and if you do, have it sent to you where you live, not where your wedding is. Consider splurging on having something made if budget permits. Get / have a dress made that requires no special undergarments...but do look before you leap.
As for undergarments, fortunately I have some from another dress that will work, but I can't order online due to high shipping costs and certainly can't buy locally. Shapewear here is either woefully inadequate, meant more as a "bored housewife's sexy corset" than as true shapewear, and covered in lace and tiny charms - ick...or it's meant for old ladies, and covers way too much for my somewhat low cut dress (the neckline should pass the Grandma test, never fear: 我不要讓我奶奶看我奶奶!). The idea of shapewear for a woman of curves to fit appropriately into a pretty dress...does. Not. Exist. Either you're 75 years old and need some giant fleshtoned body sock to fit into your mature woman's clothes, or you're 25 and already look fine and don't need it. Or something. I call BS.
I did order one longline bra online, and it was a complete and utter flop: despite measuring myself, when it arrived it just didn't fit and didn't look good. I gave it to a friend who has a use for it. $60 down the tube. My advice: don't bother. Either get your shapewear in person or don't get it at all.
18.) Be Clear With Your Vendors
If you let them know that you're planning this from abroad they're going to be much more flexible about talking to you and the method by which you communicate (a "I prefer the phone" vendor will be much more willing to deal with you via e-mail - if he/she is not, then find another vendor. Giving estimates about when things like deposit checks and contracts will arrive helps, as does explaining upfront any issues you may have in paper-only contracts/menus/info sheets as well as "I'll fax it to you" not being a viable option.)
Don't try to use the fax machines at convenience stores for this: it takes forever, it's harder than heck to coordinate and it's expensive and irritating, even if you speak Chinese / the local language.
19.) Colors, Matching and Ornate Details: Be like Buddha. Let It Go.
I know I covered this before, but it bears repeating.
I covered this above: if you're coordinating from abroad, you can't perfectly match details and colors. You just can't. Computer monitors don't work that way yet. Let it go.
You may be enthralled with the idea of a candy bar or a photo booth or 1,000 paper cranes or a clothesline of pictures or whatever extra thing-o you really want: let it go. If you can't think of a way to get it to the site, don't have it.We are having a modest tea bar because it's easy for us to pull off, but if it hadn't been, we wouldn't have done it. Streamline! You just can't do everything that a local couple can do, because you are so far away. Don't try. Your wedding will be just as lovely: more lovely, possibly, because you didn't get all caught up in random stuff you really didn't need.
Sometimes you can indulge in some details, if you have a good plan for making it happen.
Because postcards are lightweight and easy to bring home, I had time to put together table cards that incorporate them (we have those cool reprinted vintage postcards from Taiwan - the ones you see at railway station souvenir shops - as well as some from India).
20.) Transporting things home
- splurge on one box home, and get it insured and registered
Really. It'll cost us something like $50 but we're putting together a box of items to send home so we don't have to cart them in our luggage: non-breakable but bulky things. It's worth the money considering how much we have to bring home regardless (including my dress).
- airplanes have closets for dresses
They do. They really do! Inquire about this early and get your dress a spot in this closet. It'll save you de-wrinkling stress later.
- your dress will wrinkle anyway
...and that's OK. The best you can do is minimize it. Have a press-the-dress plan for de-wrinkling it when you arrive. The fewer wrinkles there are, the easier it will be. This is one of the reasons you should arrive home approximately a week early: you can hang up your dress to help de-wrinkle it.
Better yet, get a dress made in a non-wrinkling fabric! I didn't do that, but maybe you should. Learn from my mistakes!
And, the obvious advice. Luggage gets lost all the time. Prioritize (within the confines of what's allowed onboard) what is most important to you and bring it in your carry-on, even if it's inconvenient. What can't you lose? (I would say there's nothing you "can't" lose - save your birth certificate or marriage license or some such - everything else can be improvised...but what would be most inconvenient to lose?) That goes in the carry-on, as annoying as it may be. What do you not want to lose? Check luggage. What do you not want to lose, but it wouldn't really matter in the long run, that is not breakable? That goes in the box you send home. I say this because many expats live in countries where packages are not guaranteed to get to their destination. Get insurance on that package, as I said before.
DIY signs for our very small tea bar. Oriental Beauty, Hibiscus, High Mountain Oolong, Matcha, Rooibos and Jasmine.
For us, our DIY seating cards aren't something we absolutely NEED but it would stink to have to think of an alternative, so they go in check luggage. Dress and shoes go in carry-on. Tea bar goodies go in box sent home.
Many people express disapproval when others incorporate wedding traditions from cultures not their own into their weddings. Sometimes this is for very understandable religious reasons: many (not all) Jews are offended at the idea of a non-Jewish person having a huppah in their ceremony. Other times it's just that it seems trite and co-opted.
But, as an expat, you are in a unique position to honor and recognize your life abroad by incorporating a non-religious tradition, aesthetic or reading (if you are not a practitioner of one of the main religions of the place where you live) from that culture into your event. (I say "event" for a very specific purpose that I will cover in another post). We're using some Double Happiness characters and the color red in ours, as well as aesthetic touches from Greater China as well as other countries in Asia (where we've either lived or visited).
22.) Do not feel pressured to hold two receptions or two parties.
As expats, we hear this constantly: we are asked not "if", but "when" we will hold a reception in Taiwan.
We intend to invite our closest friends who could not make it to the wedding over to celebrate, drink a bit, eat dinner, see my dress etc., but we haven't exactly got the time or money to throw an entire separate party in Taiwan, especially with Brendan's brother's wedding coming up in December. It's just not going to happen. Once our honeymoon is over, we have to start thinking immediately about how (OK, if) we're going to come up with the cash to come home in December to be there for that wedding. A second party? HAH.
Do not feel obligated to do this - do what you can afford and what your sanity allows. You don't even have to throw one party (remember: actual big weddings, even small weddings, are 100% optional. You don't NEED to host any reception of any size. As such, unless you have the time and money for two receptions, really one reception is enough. You aren't on the hook to everyone you've ever met.) Don't feel sorry about saying this:
"You're going to have a reception in Taiwan too, right?" (an actual question I was asked)
"Well, probably not, no. We're paying a lot towards our wedding in the USA and throwing two parties just isn't in our budget right now."
23.) Consider streaming or Skyping your wedding.
If you do have close friends abroad who can't make it - we do - consider a live stream so they can watch and be a part of your day, albeit at a distance. Offbeat Bride has a fantastic four part series on how to do this, and what could go wrong.
We started far too late on trying to figure this out, because until recently we thought our closest friends in Taiwan would make it (they won't - Taiwanese work culture is to blame. NOBODY could get enough leave or sympathy from work to make the trip. Of course they're all working loads of overtime this summer, but noooo they aren't allowed to take leave in early fall. I love this country, but I hate it sometimes, too. Stupid f*&*&$ing Taiwanese bosses and work politics.)
Our venue has no wireless, and we tried far too late to find out who might have a 3G card, preferably Verizon, that we could use. Nobody does, and we're kind of stuck.
24.) Custom work is often a lot cheaper abroad.
This is an excellent chance to get custom work done, which can in many ways make up for the fact that you have to streamline elsewhere. It's cheaper to get a dress made, cheaper to get invitations printed, cheaper to get almost anything created, done or prepared here, and cheaper to buy the DIY supplies to do your own custom work.
Take advantage of that! Custom invitations or a custom dress is far more personalized, unique and interesting than everyone else's candy bar and photo booth, anyway. Not that I'm knocking either - just that as an expat bride, you may not get to have those things but you can do a lot more custom work than your compatriots back home can do, by virtue of the economy in which you live. It's a perk. Enjoy it.
25.) You get a Wedding Trump Card. USE IT.
Many of us female expats live in countries with either insane work cultures (Taiwan, Japan, Korea - I'm looking at you) or an undercurrent of sexism in society. It's horrible to say and to think, but it's true: as a woman getting married you get a trump card. If you need something done and people aren't being cooperative (whether it's work giving you issues about leave or a tailor who won't alter your dress correctly), you can occasionally use the "I'm getting married" or "It's for my wedding" as a way to stop with the faff and give you what you want. Women, especially abroad, are dealt so few advantages and so few negotiating cards that I fully believe you should use what you get. Don't feel guilty. Just do it. In the West this often translates into higher prices or eye rolls, but in more traditional cultures, there is still a special status attached to this time in your life.
26.) Time: Be aware of it. Oh, and can I say? Disregard traditional "timelines".
Really. You will need more time. More time to wander the city searching for stuff you need. More time to figure out how to say "corset stays" (or whatever) in the local language where you live. More time to finagle a dress. More time to deal with e-mail contact with vendors, for checks to arrive, for friends to get visas, to book tickets, all of it. Time. Plan a longer engagement if you can, or if you can't, be very conscious of the time you have.
We had to have invitations done before December 18, '09 for a September 2010 wedding so as to bring them home on our Christmas visit (a mistake, as I outlined above). Long before those online "timelines" tell you that you need to get it done.
The "go shoe shopping" or "buy your dress by X time before the wedding" - ignore it all. Don't even look at those advice timelines. Your timeline is different. Other than booking a venue fairly early and getting a dress started early, everything else should be done by priority, not pre-determined timeline. Work down from most important to least. Work around when things need to be sent home or brought home. Don't work around what some advice for a website or book tells you.
If you need to send out save-the-dates (e-mail ones are great: free! Free free free!) and feel they should be a year in advance, go for it. If you start on your dress months before some website tells you to, it's OK. You are doing what you need to do. If you need to do the dress and then go shapewear shopping less than a week before, OK.
27.) Send invitations earlier than most.
As an expat, you probably have friends abroad you'd like to invite. Send out save-the-dates (an e-mail will do) very early as well. There is nothing wrong with sending out save the dates a year in advance for those who may want to consider an expensive trip over. Same for invitations. Think long and hard about when you, someone who lives very far away, need to get things done and make your own timeline.
28.) A wedding website is your best friend.
If you live abroad, plenty of people will ask you for information in e-mail. You don't want to have to type it to them over and over: create a website and send links. Also useful for friends abroad who may want to attend and for everyone to be on the same page. This also helps considering that friends abroad will need detailed information before invitations are even sent - a website can give it to them.
29.) If you do have foreign friends coming, give them their invitations far in advance, and write visa letters - early!
Months before you'd normally do so. Up to a year! They may need that time to ask for time off, save money and get a visa. Bosses and visa officials often want to see such proof - give it to them. Prepare a visa recommendation letter for them and give it to them early. Six months if it's US, Canadian or British visas they need. Trust me. We waited until May to write letters for people attending a September wedding and it was a big mistake: in early May, the next visa interview opening at the American Institute in Taiwan was for June 10th - far too late to guarantee a visa that would make it wise to book air travel (which was too expensive for anyone by then).
30.) Book airfare home early.
If we'd bought tickets home for late August back in March, we would have paid about NT $32,000 (about $1000 USD - a normal price) each. We bought them in May and paid NT $39,000 (about $1200 each). That's $400 between the two of us that we could have used elsewhere. Learn from our mistakes.
Oh yes, and budget your airfare as part of your total wedding budget. It's not a wedding without the bride and groom, so this counts as a wedding expense.
31.) Be prepared for none of your friends abroad to come.
Some of ours are coming: the other expats for whom that kind of travel is more feasible. But emotionally get ready for the serial punching-of-the-gut when your friends in your new home tell you, one after the other, that they can't make it.
This is a good time to reflect on cultural differences: back home when faced with difficult work situations (as all of our friends where), we'd talk to our bosses and at least try to work something out. Maybe it wouldn't happen, but we'd try. Contrary to popular myth, most managers aren't completely evil and will try to work something out for you if it's that important. Taiwan? Not so much. It's an ideal time to check yourself and keep in mind that even while your friends ostensibly could fight for that time off, as you would, that they can't because they won't, and they won't because that's just how the culture works. It sucks, and you can try to encourage people to think differently just living by example (just being a woman who travels and has traveled alone here has caused so many people I've met to sit up and think "hey, wait, I CAN travel the world if I want to!" - they've told me so. I see this is as a good thing.)
32.) When you can't make the phone calls...
We have had a few dilemmas that I won't go into detail over, but that, in order to step up and be an adult, I would have had to call the affected parties and personally explain things / own up to various situations. But, heh. I live abroad. I think most expats can tell you how hard it is to call from abroad when not everyone has Skype (the people I needed to call don't have it) and there's a 12-hour time difference.
I felt calling to give bad news, anyway, would have been worse than not calling at all, because when I *do* call it's cause for excitement, as I do it so rarely. To then come out with something bad would be a double let-down.
E-mail didn't feel right.
A written letter is even worse than calling for the same reasons.
So while I was OK with doing this, I am not proud to say that I let my mother do the talking, because she can actually talk in person without the extra let-down factor.
I shouldn't have: learn from me. I should have anticipated these situations after careful thought and taken measures to control them *before* there were problems and hurt feelings. This isn't always possible, but in my case it was. Failing that, I should have just written the stupid letters - letting it be handled by someone else seemed like the better idea at the time, but it wasn't.
This is especially tough, considering the fact that we, as adults, know that when you encounter an interpersonal issue, there are a few rules you need to follow. Deal with it in person: don't shift responsibility, blame or clean-up duties to your mess. Be gentle and kind where possible, firm where necessary. Define your boundaries and hold them, even with difficult people and even when your polite rebuffs are hard to say in the face of pressure. Do it anyway. Do it even if it's hard. Don't flake. Always RSVP. Don't be too casual: text message is not the best medium for dealing with a difficult problem. Be quick to forgive unless you have reason (including a gut feeling) not to. Trust your gut. Know when to let things go.
This is all so much harder to do when you live abroad and can't just pick up the phone or make the drive to break news to someone in person...but you still have to do it yourself.
33.) Wedding Coordinators?
Many people, when planning a wedding from far away (or writing about it) suggest hiring a wedding coordinator / wedding planner or at least paying a friend to do things for you.
I am totally on board with paying a friend to do things for you, and if you feel you need to hire a coordinator, go for it. I mean, really, what is a wedding but a legal ceremony with a big party afterwards (and not always all that big), and most big parties are planned by professional event planners. It's not a sin to hire one for your own, if you are in fact going for something on the scale of a company formal banquet.
I don't think you need one, though. I'm doing this. Tamar is doing this. We are rocking it. You can do it too. Now, I don't have to streamline as much as some people because I have my parents nearby to hold packages and deal with things, and if you aren't lucky in that way it might behoove you to either streamline more or hire a pro (or pay a friend). My point is, it is not a hard and fast rule that you have to get a wedding planner if you can't be there physically, as long as you're willing to streamline.
34.) Remember: it's only a party
Really. Formal work events really aren't much different (I attended several while working for a finance company years ago) - meal, invited list, black tie, open bar, band, dancing, speeches. Same deal, really. And those parties have professional event planners behind them. Yours may not, but in the end, the marriage is going to happen if you both want it to happen, whether you do it at the courthouse or in a big wedding ceremony. The part that comes after is JUST a party. You'd laugh if something unfortunate went down at a Christmas party. You'd be OK with not getting something "done" or "right" at a birthday party.
Same deal. Don't fret.
35.) Tastings and Trials
We are not doing any food or "cake" (it's a tiramisu) tastings, nor am I going in for a "hair trial" (I did decide to get my hair done) because we're just too far away and won't have the time.
It's OK. You don't have to do these things. They're optional. You are not required to do a hair trial, and if a stylist insists on one when you don't think you need one (or just won't have time), find another stylist. These are perks, but not baseline requirements.
36.) Destination Wedding?
You may be thinking: "well, we are already planning this from abroad. Why not choose an awesome destination and get married there instead?"
Sure, you can do this. If everyone attending your wedding needs to travel, it may make sense to pick a place people would actually want to go to, as opposed to some small town in the middle of nowhere because it happens to be your hometown. Considering how many "Hometown USA"s are far from airports and have lackluster hotel options, this may even be a better option.
Keep in mind, though, that most "destinations" for a destination wedding are far more expensive than Hometown USA, and people who could have traveled to the small town, be it cheaper hotels, food prices and airfare or the ability to stay with a relative or old school friend may not make it to a destination due to cost issues.
This is ultimately why our wedding is in the USA and not Taiwan: so few people would come, and we do really want them there. My grandparents are too old to travel such distances, others don't have the money, still others don't have the time.
If you're OK with this, go for it! If, however, you view your wedding as a chance to see all your loved ones in one place - an especially powerful pull, I bet, if you live far from them - it may not be the best option.
37.) Control and faits accomplis
This could be standard wedding advice, but as an expat it's even more important to note. Define your boundaries, figure out your dealbreakers, know your necessities and not-so-necessities and stick to them. I should have never opened up our guest list to public commentary (at least not on my side, with my huge family). We should have decided as a couple who was invited and been done with it, with a pre-determined flexibility for extra invitations as we two saw fit.
Everything else has worked out fine: we didn't want a solo first dance, and we're not having one. We didn't want a traditional wedding cake, so we're not having one. I didn't want to wear white, so I won't. No garter toss, bouquet toss, money dance or other little cogs and buttons we didn't want. Other than my red dress, our biggest victories: no "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith" (hello - women have names too), giving away of the bride, toasts by fathers and the groom but not mothers and the bride (hi moms. Yes, we want you to toast), no veil - none of the old wedding archetypes that just scream "sexism". And no registry! I got a lot of heat for that, but I stood my ground and we refused to create one. It's not that I find them rude, it's just that we don't need stuff, can't store stuff and can't ship stuff to Taipei.
The key was to present these things as faits accomplis. My family is like that one in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (hello: Nana's house even had the plastic-covered couches) and I love them for it, but they get just like that about weddings. It's not a bad thing: it is what it is. If the wedding website is already done, nobody can tell me what needs to go on there. If the dress is already made, nobody can push me about it. If the envelopes are already addressed, then nobody can pull a super-sexist "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith".
Then again, just wait until I get my first piece of mail addressed to "Mrs. Brendan [lastname]." Hooo boy. There will be shenanigans.
This is one of the hardest parts of the planning process, because you'll be inundated with "Where are you registered?" or pleas from family to register when really, it's your decision.
We didn't register: we live together, live abroad, already have what we need and can buy what we don't have, and will need new stuff at such a later date that it doesn't make much sense to receive it all in gift form now. We have nowhere easy to store it all, no way to ship it to Taiwan inexpensively, no way to carry it over in person, and we don't need it. Instead, we said "no gifts" and put links to charities we support. If guests choose to give us gifts, well, OK, that's also appreciated, and it's not like we'd say no to monetary gifts: just not *asking* for them because we both find that rude.
Another friend of mine who lives in Japan registered on Amazon's Japan site, which has a very limited selection (VERY limited: I looked) and ships from their Yokohama warehouse.
If you live in a country where registering is a done thing, you can just register locally (England, Australia etc.).
Still others register for things they need when they return home, if they are planning to do so, and store them at parents' houses until that time. You can do this online on many sites, including Amazon.com. If you want to have things you can bring home, you can always register for small, portable items (French presses, Japanese knives, sheets, kitchen gadgets).
There are also a few Internet Registries where you can quite literally register for anything on the Internet: just google for it.
If your family and social circle wouldn't be put out by it, you can always register for cash or honeymoon donations...I personally don't care for this but wouldn't judge others for doing it!
39.) Wedding Customs: If your friends abroad do attend
You'd be surprised what is unknown about American (or Western) weddings - I was surprised to find out that most Taiwanese people don't realize that you do, in fact, need to RSVP. It might be a good idea to think of a few things you figure your local friends won't know and clue them in gently - like "please RSVP" or "no, you can't bring a guest if we don't invite you with one" or "no, you can't wear white" or if you're inviting Americans to your wedding in the UK and it's a cash bar, as seems to be normal there, "btw, in the UK we normally have cash bars at receptions. I know Americans don't usually do this, but it's normal here". This is also a good idea if any of your friends abroad are acting as attendants.