Photo Credit: Greenphoto Wedding

Today’s lovely guest post comes to us from Sophie Darling of Enjoy!

I attended a wedding in Taiwan last August, and the first thing that jumped into my mind as guests departed was “where’s the dance party?” It was a beautiful ceremony that involved a stunning bride and dashing groom, excellent food and great company, but I couldn’t help wonder why my dancing shoes went unused all night. It turns out that getting down on the dance floor isn’t how people celebrate weddings in Taipei!

Read more after the cut!

As someone deeply rooted in the world of western weddings, it was a blast experiencing a non-western one for the first time. There was some crossover of traditions throughout the event (partly because the groom was American), however I still noticed clear-cut differences as the evening went on. Here are the three biggest distinctions I witnessed (and then researched to ensure they were, in fact, the norm).

Photo Credit: Greenphoto Wedding

1. Wedding Attire

Guests: We have a lot of opinions when it comes to what isn’t acceptable to wear to a wedding in the U.S., but this doesn’t seem to be the case in Taiwan. People were dressed in a variety of colors and to varying degrees of formality, although there did appear to be a lot of bright red – something I’ve specifically mentioned as being unsuitable to wear at an American wedding.

In Chinese culture, red is an auspicious color that signifies luck and good fortune for newlyweds. It also symbolizes happiness and joy, which has made it an iconic hue for festive occasions in culturally Chinese places around the world. Historically, red has been reserved for brides (just like white in the west), so it was interesting to see guests getting in on this symbolism. The bride didn’t seem to mind either, which is really the most important part at the end of the day.

The Bride: There are so many different wedding dress styles out there for western brides to choose from, and this makes selecting the perfect one a bit tricky. It’s the crown jewel of a bride’s ensemble, so the energy (and cash) put into purchasing one is often substantial. Such an investment has become the norm for women getting married in the US – buying more than one would be madness, right?

3 Big Differences Between an American and Chinese Wedding (6)Photo Credit: Greenphoto Wedding

Not for a bride at a traditional Chinese wedding. Having three or four wedding gowns is fairly standard for women in Taiwan and China, who must make wardrobe changes at different points throughout reception (sounds stressful, I know). Roxanne, the lovely bride pictured above, made her grand entrance and spoke her vows wearing a stylish white sweetheart wedding dress by Amaré Couture. Later on during the evening, she changed into a lovely floral gown, and to close out the night she rocked a classy green dress while posing for pictures with attendees exiting the venue.

Although Roxanne didn’t end up wearing the traditional one-piece “Qipao” dress (characterized primarily by its slim fit and golden embellishments), it was fascinating to watch her go through three gowns that evening. Each one was distinct and symbolic, and together they added something special to the entire celebration. That being said, it’s not a tradition I’ll be adopting soon. One dress is good enough for me (unless I win the lottery before my big day)!

The Groom: Another surprise was that the groom had a wardrobe change as well. As guests began to eat, Roxanne and Erik (the happy groom) vanished for a period of time, and when they returned both were decked out in groovy dinner attire. Erik had replaced his classic blue suit from earlier with a snazzy smoking jacket, argyle pants, and suave brown-leather dress shoes. Subtle, but noticeable (in a good way).

Photo Credit: Greenphoto Wedding

2. The Reception

Food and Fun: I don’t trust anyone who claims to be indifferent to food. Eating is such an important part of our daily lives, and the thought of taking it for granted is wild to me. At your standard American wedding, food plays a central role in the festivities – whether it’s a classy, multi-course, sit-down meal or a grand buffet spread that people gorge themselves on throughout the evening, you know it’s going to be good.

At a traditional Chinese wedding, be ready for a banquet menu. At your table, it’s normal to see a Lazy Susan with snacks (things like peanuts, cold slices of meat, various pickled vegetables) laid out prior to your actual dinner. This is to tide you over while you wait for the groom and bride to enter and exchange their vows.

Once they make their leave, the first course arrives, which is often a chicken soup with (hopefully fake) shark fin that’s been cooked overnight. You can then expect all kinds of goodies dropped off at your table over the next couple of hours – including fragrant racks of lamb, pork belly with sticky buns and chives, crispy duck drizzled in plum sauce, as well as tender crab-meat atop sticky rice.

Be ready for seafood too, because delicacies like abalone, lobster, and sea cucumber are all popular options. And the word “fish” sounds similar to “abundance” in Chinese, so definitely expect some fish at the banquet! It’s fascinating how this linguistic coincidence is still playing out today at Chinese weddings around the world.

Photo Credit: Greenphoto Wedding

Alcohol Consumption: For many Americans, weddings are a time to eat, drink, and be merry. Champagne toasts, wine with dinner, open bars, and late-night revelry – these are the reasons many people in the US can’t wait to attend their next reception (family and friends are important too, of course). I figured that people would surely be turning it up at Erik and Roxanne’s wedding.

That ended up not being the case (for the most part). Red wine was provided with dinner, but there was no bar, no beer, and tragically no cocktails either. Erik did place a bottle of Scotch whiskey at each of the “American” tables though (where his family, friends like myself, and his colleagues were sitting) which was a much appreciated move!

Regarding alcohol consumption, it appears that wedding receptions may diverge a bit between Taiwan and China these days. Some locals I talked with claimed Taiwanese celebrations to be more focused on food than alcohol – understandable since each course was so tasty. On the other hand, weddings on the mainland have been getting out of control recently, a fact that can be attributed partially to western influence but also to culture (with guests pressured to drink if the newlyweds so desire). In general though, alcohol seems to be a less prominent fixture of Chinese weddings.

Photo Credit: Greenphoto Wedding

Dancing: Looks like a great dance party, right? This was actually the only moment of the evening where anyone was moving their body to music. It was part of a game, too, so I couldn’t get in there! Tragic, I know. Dancing isn’t much of a thing at weddings in Taiwan, whereas it has always been a thing at the western ones I’ve attended (“the first dance” requires dancing, after all).

However, wedding revelers did end up at a karaoke establishment to sing their hearts out into the early hours of the morning, which was a nice alternative. Karaoke (often referred to as “KTV” in Taiwan) is a huge deal for people living there – I encountered it in public around the city, and frequently saw big KTV buildings on various major streets. It was fun that such a popular part of local culture was incorporated into Erik and Roxanne’s big day (plus I finally got to do a little dancing there too)!

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3. Traditions

Day-of Activities: Unfortunately, I wasn’t present for Erik and Roxanne’s pre-reception activities, because I heard they were simultaneously fun and touching experiences. The most significant event that transpired earlier that day was the tea ceremony, where they served tea to their parents as a sign of appreciation for having raised them to adulthood. There are usually two tea ceremonies (one for the bride’s parents and one for the groom’s), but they decided to simplify the process here.

There were also some wild “door games” that involved a lot of embarrassment for the groomsmen (and a lot of fun for the bridesmaids). The bridesmaids set up an array of challenges for Erik which generally involved his groomsmen as well. Things started off with a trivia game about Roxanne to show how well he really knew her, and ended with some good old-fashioned leg waxing.

Such games are supposed to show the groom’s dedication and knowledge of his soon-to-be wife, but they’re also intended to be fun as well. Although I didn’t witness them, this is a tradition I could definitely get behind!

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Wedding Gifts: Sick and tired of setting up a wedding registry for your big day? What about receiving a mountain of cash? That’s how they do it in Taiwan, China, and all over the world wherever Chinese culture holds sway. Giving out money for weddings and other special occasions has become so ubiquitous that almost nobody has a registry these days.

The way they do this isn’t through wire transfers or greeting cards, but by using red envelopes. Red envelopes (“hong bao”) have long been a symbol in China, and though their historical roots are tied to the lunar new year, they have managed to become an important part of weddings as well. If you show up to someone’s reception in Taiwan without a hong bao (or didn’t put enough money inside), it could be considered a slight.

Even wilder is the system employed for calculating the amount you give someone. Your relationship with the couple getting married, the venue they chose, your socioeconomic status – these all play a role in the total of cash you should hand over. Plus, you don’t want to give them an unlucky number (“four” in Chinese sounds like the word “death”, for instance), because it will be interpreted poorly. Gifts don’t sound so bad after all, right?

Erik and Roxanne’s wedding was a beautiful, eye-opening experience for me. I gorged myself on delicious local cuisine, drank with great people, and overall had a wonderful time taking part in a new yet all-so-familiar tradition. If given the chance, I’d love to fly back to Taipei in the future. The locals there sure know how to live, eat, and have a great time – especially while singing karaoke!

Sophie Darling is a wedding expert and community manager at Sophie is known in the industry as a professional who knows how to create the perfect wedding day without breaking the bank. When she’s not blogging about weddings and pinning wedding inspiration, she enjoys meeting her girlfriends over margaritas to discuss nonsense and unfulfilled romances.