In honor of our one year anniversary, I thought I’d write a bit on my experience with wedding-planning and wedding-having in Italy. Because I’m American and he’s Italian, our planning process was both extra fun and additionally stressful as we chose which traditions we wanted to keep and which we wanted to discard, while adding in our own weird personal touches in the process. Disclaimer: my experience is limited as I’ve only been married once (shocker, I know).
I’m not exactly sure when we decided to get married. It happened somewhere early in our relationship, when we realized that, holding passports from far-removed places, staying together would require some sort of official stamp of approval to ensure our legal right to live in the same place. Time passed, including six months of living in a shoebox-sized flat in London, and we began to plan. I was never the kind of girl who daydreamed about her wedding (rather, I never thought I would consent to being part of that particular patriarchal tradition). However, I am a control freak. I’m the kind of person who makes lists about what lists she needs to make. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to put too much pressure on this one particular day, but I thought that with my excellent organizational skills I would be able to pass by my wedding day unscathed by stress. What I entirely underestimated was how fundamentally dysfunctional everything is in Rome, even wedding planning.
The moment that it seemed real was when my (now) husband told his family the news. There was complete silence. Someone laughed. They kept talking about something, probably what we were going to have for dinner.
“No, I’m serious,” Flavio told them.
There was more silence, more staring, then an explosion of excitement, back slapping, hugging, happiness.
The surprise with which our announcement was met was hardly shocking, in part due to our own independent and “non-traditional” personalities. Plus, thanks to a combination of cultural, social, and economic factors, weddings in Italy (particularly of young people in Rome) are fairly uncommon. Today, many people in long-term relationships often still live with their individual families out of economic necessity, and more and more are cohabitating.
At the time, we were still living in the UK (though in a slightly larger apartment), coming back to Rome to visit frequently to escape from London’s oppressive weather and lack of life-work balance. Based on the expiry date of my student visa and our desire for an outdoor wedding, we decided that the optimal time would be September, a mere four months or so away. This meant that wedding planning would be done from London (though the wedding itself would be held in Italy) and that it would coincide with the period I would spend writing my dissertation.
I still have a folder on the desktop of my computer dedicated to spreadsheets and lists filled with possible dresses, decorations, cakes, and lists of guests. The planning process was difficult in part because it had to be done long distance, in part because I knew many of my family members and my closest friends wouldn’t be able to make it thanks to the fairly last minute plans and the expensive flight required to make it over here.
Anyone who has ever been in Rome has probably noticed that nothing here works as it should. When it comes to technology, Italy is also fairly behind the game with most websites reminiscent of this. That made it impossible to find anything online about wedding locations and caterers that didn’t cost the same as purchasing my own castle. In the end, family friends of Flavio’s (who run the most delicious restaurant on this planet) arranged everything, from the location, to the flowers, and the cake. This meant that the wedding planning process required less work than it would have in the US. But it also meant that I couldn’t control every tiny detail by deciding on a vendor to perfectly customize every detail of my wedding. No matter how many times I told myself the wedding wouldn’t be perfect, I still had a hard time shaking myself of that desire. In the end, no, I didn’t get to choose the color of our napkins or the exact shape of the wineglasses. Instead I was forced to let go and choose my battles. And while our wedding (of course) wasn’t perfect, we had a lovely location (think the secret garden), a beautiful cake, and the best flowers I ever could have wanted, (plus a gelato cart, yes, a gelato cart).
In order to get married, we had to understand and navigate the thousands of levels of bureaucracy required for me to get a marriage license (I could write an entire blog post just on this, but for now the memory is too raw.). This required certifications from the US embassy, and visits to something like five different offices around Italy. In the end (thanks largely to my mother-in-law’s talent for making things happen) we managed to get everything taken care of through a lot of phone calls and a four-day visit.
Of course, something must always go wrong. It turned out that there would be no table numbers provided by the caterers (I’m under the impression this is because in Italy they don’t hold with the barbaric practice of forcing your guests to follow a seating chart). Luckily a bit of ingenuity and Flavio running around like a madman on his father’s motorcycle led to us creating our own.
In the end I met some 80 members of Flavio’s family and friends-of-the-family for the first time at our wedding. I had 20 guests in attendance: my mother, father, and grandmother, as well as a handful of close friends from all around the world. The sheer number of people I’d be meeting was intimidating in the time leading up to the ceremony. I wasn’t sure what these people would think of me, my tattoos, and our vey strange half-Italian half-American wedding with me walking down the aisle to “Han and the Princess” from Star Wars and ending the ceremony with “Dovakhiin” from Skyrim. In the end all my worries turned out to be unfounded. Our friends were delighted by the strange details we snuck in, no one seemed to notice the traditions we decided to leave out, and everyone had a great time.
Our wedding was especially meaningful because our friends and family were so involved. Friends took my wedding photos, created my veil, and did my hair and make-up. The ceremony was officiated by my husband’s grandfather, while his sister read the English translation. We also had live music thanks to Flavio’s uncle, who played his guitar and took requests from our rowdy crowd for their favorite traditional Italian songs. Having our friends and family so involved was especially important to us as we’d been living in the UK for a year, both of us far away from our families and many of our closest friends.
“So how’s the married life?”
I think the weirdest part of being married is that people ask me this constantly, especially people who don’t know me and clearly find it strange that I would get married so young. My response, without fail, is “pretty much the same as the un-married life.” The first year of our marriage, we’ve gone through a lot of strange and difficult things, but nothing any different than if we hadn’t signed a pledge and filed it with the state. We’ve never seen marriage as a burden, just a really lovely commitment we made to one another, and a great party we had with friends and family.