Wedding crashing: The best way to immerse yourself in a culture not your own

- Los Mochis, Mexico - 

Wedding crashing: The best way to immerse yourself in a culture not your own

Weddings have always been one of the main reasons why people travel (other than for funerals or for work). There's something really special about being invited to celebrate one of the most important days in someone's life. It's especially exciting if you get to go to land different from your own and you get to experience a culture and traditions that are unlike whatever you're used to. 


Whenever I travel I am always in awe of how people live; what their houses look like, what they do for a living and what their ‘normal’ consists of. I usually make a point of trying to visit cemeteries and churches because how people honour God and their deceased tells you so much about them. Up until recently, I thought visiting such sites (and in some cases risking getting flashed) was the closest I could come to getting an up-close look at the culture of another’s. That was until my recent trip to Mexico anyway, when I discovered the joys of cross-cultural wedding crashing.

This was my experience:

Two months ago I visited some friends in the thriving tourist-filled metropolis that is Los Mochis, in Sinaloa, Mexico. Okay, its total population is less than 300 000 people and tourists don’t go there. 
After witnessing a dolphin defecate on a boat tour in the neighbouring town of Topolobampo, I thought things couldn’t get any better. And then they did! My friends asked me if I would like to join their parents at a wedding that weekend. (They’re musicians so they had a gig that night.) Sure, I had only been stared at incessantly while in public for the entire 10 days that I had been there because I was the only white girl in town with green eyes, but who would even notice that I didn’t belong at the wedding of some couple I had never met?

Posing by the Los Mochis sign
Me with my amazing friends Rox and Fer

While I may have crashed one or two weddings in the past, (okay, it was literally two), this was the first time I had been to a wedding outside of my country (and any of its many somewhat familiar cultures) regardless of invitation. 

My friend’s parents picked me up at about 7pm. We didn’t actually attend the ceremony, apparently, only the immediate family does that. That was the first surprising thing to me, but there would be more.   

I first laid eyes on the bride and groom as I wished them ‘Felicidades’ at the entrance of their reception. Any ideas I had of blending into the crowd and my presence passing by unnoticed were dashed the moment I walked in the door. I may have been greeted with somewhat confused expressions, but fortunately, they were welcoming ones. 

After about 30 minutes and some cheese and crackers, they officially started the event. The wedding party paraded around the room to the sounds of a live band and then the bride and groom opened the dance floor with their first dance as a married couple. 


Bride and groom share first dance

It was definitely unlike any wedding reception I had ever been to. The first major difference was that, at white English-speaking South African weddings (we’re a very multicultural nation, okay?), the bride and groom only open the dance floor later in the sequence of events and, with the exception of a small minority, they often struggle to get people to join them. Here, it was one of the first things on the agenda and the majority of the people who attended that night spent a significant amount of time on the dance floor. 

Live bands are apparently a staple at these receptions in Mexico, and the one that played at this one consisted of 16 members (if I counted correctly). The first set they played was entirely Cumbia. I thought that style of music (and dancing) was a Colombian thing. I had also been taught to dance to it by Colombians (and obviously, my South African Zumba instructor). It turns out that all my dance training gained from my many years at Latin parties on cruise ships that sailed out of Miami turned out to be completely irrelevant. Mexicans dance to Cumbia quite differently to Colombians. (And, Public Service Announcement: Non-Latin women of suburbia the world over, please be advised that Zumba dance moves should NEVER be attempted outside of Zumba class - especially in a properly Latin setting like a wedding. Ever.) 


Large wedding band

After the main meal, we took to the floor again. If the music wasn’t already enough to fill the dance floor (it was) the party ambience was aided by the introduction of a hype person (I think they were male) on stilts. He came out in a costume that concealed his (or her?) face and brought with him/her a whole lot of balloons. They were the type of balloons that you make balloon animals out of, …or at least you would if you knew how to make balloon animals. 


Hype Person on dance floor


It felt like the reception took a distinctly kids party turn. When I was 21 I had a Barbie and Ken party. Back then (in the early 2000s) it was kind of trendy and different for people to have kids-party themed 21st’s. I had a few friends that did it. They welcomed in adulthood with jumping castles, cakes made to look like hamburgers and piƱatas filled with shots and condoms. When it comes to weddings though, back where I’m from, people try to be extra sophisticated and classy. If a couple wants to do something really quirky or crazy at their wedding, at the very most they may don some unusual footwear (like wellington boots or sneakers). Crazy, I know! Of course, they’ll only do this for one picture and then they’ll return to trying to be classy and sophisticated again.

Suddenly though, I was in a crowd of adults all trying to get their hands on balloon animal worms (I see what you did there) from a costumed guy on stilts, except I wasn’t at a kids party, or a 21st themed as a kid’s party, I was at a wedding. And kids weren’t even invited (but, like me, some were present anyway). “No, not the green one, can I have a purple one please?” 

Before long the potentially non-binary hype person started handing out oversized plastic ties, masks, tiaras, beads and pom-pom antennae, the works! These Latinas know how to dress. They dress up to go to the mall to buy groceries, so when they get the chance to go to a wedding they go all out. Suddenly their stylish attire was being accessorised with the cheapest most colourful accessories. 

Apart from being the only girl in the room with green eyes, I was also the only one under the age of 50 in flats (I might have packed some heels if I had known I would end up at a wedding). At this point in the party though, family members started handing out the take-homes/ gifts: branded flip flops and water bottles. The water bottles enabled people to drink and dance at the same time without spilling anything, and the flip-flops aided the ladies with the crazy heals (so everyone but me) to stay on the dance floor and keep the party going. Instead of over-thinking the take home / gift thing like South Africans tend to, or worse, giving out those little bags of pink and white almond sweets, they gave out the most practical gifts I have ever received at a wedding.

I can’t remember the exact order of everything but I remember that there were no speeches.  Seriously, none. I didn’t even miss this part of the what I thought was tradition, although that might have had something to do with the fact that I didn’t know the bride or groom and my Spanish is terrible.  

At some point, we did the usual bouquet and garter tosses. The difference was all of the unmarried ladies were given little veils and the unmarried guys were given little aprons. When it was the ladies’ turn we all had to march around the bride in a circle to the music and then in the other direction. I wasn’t really sure what was happening and I worried that I was part of some weird Mexican game of pass-the-parcel or musical statues: The winner gets to get married next! 


Girls march around bride at wedding

Then we stopped and went to stand in a huddle for the bride to throw the bouquet in a manner that I was used to. I’m not going to lie, I hung out at the back. As a wedding crasher I did not want to raise questions about my presence at this wedding and if I caught the bouquet and had to dance with whichever guy caught the garter, that would give everyone in the room at least two and a half minutes to ponder “Who is this green-eyed gringa and what the eff is she doing here?” 


Bouquet Toss

The last band set of the night was a Banda set. That is a genre of music. Banda and Cumbia are in fact, very easy to differentiate - even to foreigners like me. At the risk of offending anyone with my white girl explanation: Cumbia is the one that’s set to a rhythm that sounds like a pony trotting. Banda sounds like German polka music with a little bit more brass and Spanish lyrics. They even use a tuba! They don’t polka to it though. The dance they do looks more like a couple jogging while holding and facing each other. They’re very light on their feet as if they are worried that their partner is going to step on their toes. 


Guests dance at wedding

I had so much fun and I left with so much wedding swag. Thank you, Felix Ernesto and Carolina, for not being offended by my uninvited presence at your special day. I had the best time and I hope that your marriage is as happy as I was at your reception.

In conclusion
Though Mexican weddings aren’t that far different to what I’m used to, I still found the whole event enlightening. The experience made me want to go on a wedding-crashing world tour. (Anyone want to give me some money to make that reality show?) I, however, cannot take credit for the idea of ‘Wedding tourism’. Since Bollywood has done such a great job of glamourising Indian weddings, as a tourist, if you don’t want to crash a wedding in India, you can just buy yourself a ticket to one. There’s even a whole website set up for it (www.joinmywedding.com). According to the site “You haven’t been to India until you’ve been to an Indian wedding”. Well, unlike some of you people who have only been to Cancun or Cabo to drink tequila and eat tacos on the beach, I guess I can say that I have properly experienced Mexico. I even have the flip flops, a little veil and a deflated purple balloon worm to prove it! 


Leaving with our wedding gifts
The whole mostly-invited wedding crew, this time including parents Elvia and Mauro


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  1. Replies
    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. ChelleB, you are the opposite of a Cyber bully (there should be a name for that) and I love it! You rock.

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Sharon Waugh

Sharon is a writer, cruise ship entertainment host and freelance unicorn wrangler. She is currently taking a break from her seafaring adventures to explore some more landlocked locations from her homebase in Johannesburg, South Africa. She likes to photograph a plastic lawn flamingo 'Rodrigo' on her travels because it seemed like a good idea ten years ago and 53 countries later, it’s probably too late to turn back now.

 Sharon greatly dislikes reading 'travel blogs' by people who are just rephrasing press releases or composing lists like '15 ways to travel the world for cheap', specifically formulated for SEO, with absolutely no evidence that the writers have ever left their bedrooms. (This is not one of those blogs.) Sharon also dislikes bigotry and referring to herself in first person, apparently.

To find out more about Sharon and Rodrigo’s travel aspirations read this.

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