An Anthropological Study of a Contemporary Canadian Wedding Reception
Last Saturday I went to a wedding reception. The couple are friends of Hannah’s, and so it was the first reception I’d ever seen that was being held by peers. It was also the first reception I’d attended that was fully wheelchair accessible.
I don’t understand large social occasions- nor do I feel particularly comfortable attending them- so I thought I might write about the event from an anthropological perspective.
Here are some of my observations.
- I don’t like formal wear. It makes me look like a stranger, and I no longer feel like myself. Hannah told me that’s the whole point, and that it’s fun to dress up sometimes. I realized later that I spend most of my time with other people effectively playing dress up, so there’s no novelty for me.
- Hannah is an interpersonally gifted introvert, so while she’s quite good at being around people, she still feels awkward about it. I, on the other hand, am just a mess. This resulted in both of us using each other as emotional anchors.
- The tables were assigned, but the seating at the tables was not.
“Do you want to sit with your back against that pillar?” said Hannah.
“Oh, you know me too well,” I said.
- Hannah’s friend Natasha showed up, and things got easier. She’s chatty and effortlessly entertaining, and so when you’re at the same table as her, you don’t have to do any work. People don’t even pay attention to you.
- After about an hour I asked Hannah if she’d seen the bride and groom anywhere.
“I guess they haven’t shown up yet,” she said. “You’re not supposed to be on time for your own reception.”
“It’s so they can make a big announcement when you arrive.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said.
- Eventually I began to detect an underlying pattern in the reception, a Way In Which Things Get Done, and I appreciated this. We got served a bit of food, listened to a speech, were allowed to talk amongst ourselves for awhile, got served some more food.
- I didn’t think I’d enjoy most of the food, but I did. Hannah served as taste tester. She took a bite of whatever was served to us, and she told me whether or not I’d like it. She knows me well enough at this point that she was right every time.
- The speeches were exactly what you’d expect. From the parents there were “Welcome to the family” sentiments coupled with alternately cute and embarrassing anecdotes. I have no memory at all of what the maid of honour said. The best man’s speech was typically laddish, and treaded closer to inspiration porn than anything anyone else said.
- I thought about who I’d want to speak at my wedding, and what I’d want them to say. My sister and I agreed about five years ago that she’d be my best man. I reckon she’ll make a fine speech; honest, unsentimental, and with enough grit in it to make folks a little uncomfortable.
- Turns out the couple have been together for twelve years and are only getting around to marriage now. I wonder why? This is my third reception, and both of the other unions have turned out to be permanent. It looks like this one will be the same. I have no idea how I’ll feel when I attend a reception for a couple who’s obviously doomed.
- There was an open bar. I enjoy those, even though I don’t drink. I find it significantly easier to attend social functions where other people are drinking, because at some point in the evening the crowd starts hemorrhaging social proficiency, and suddenly I’m the least retarded person in the room. I kept an eye on the number of glasses the other people at my table were draining, and knew that at some point in the evening I would definitely gain the upper hand.
- There was a Photo Booth, in which you pose for a series of pictures using a variety of goofy props. I would say that Hannah’s level of excitement about this was inappropriate.
- After dessert, the bride and groom gave their speeches. They were exactly what you’d expect. At my wedding I am going to have to resist the urge to use my speech to announce that I’m dying, or that my bride is pregnant with twins. Or both.
- It was honestly really nice to be in a space where there was so much palpable love. Kind of strange though to be on the periphery of it. I knew maybe three people. When the bride started her speech by saying “I love you all”, I knew that wasn’t true, because she’d only met me twice, and there were plenty of other “plus ones” present.
- Then came the dancing. I only dance when there are people in wheelchairs present, so I know I won’t be the most conspicuous person, or the one with the most “different” dancing style. Both Hannah and Natasha were reluctant to dance. They’d both had experiences where people found their dancing inspirational.
“One time, I swear to god, I was dancing at this club, and a bunch of strangers started dancing around me in a circle,” said Natasha.
- We hit the dance floor anyway. I stuck with Hannah, and she stuck with a bunch of people in wheelchairs who stayed at the edge of the dance floor at first. We gradually moved into more visible positions.
- I don’t have the coordination to match my physical movements with other people’s, so I’ve never really danced with anyone before. I mean, other than slow dances, which are easy. Dancing with Hannah, however, was pretty straightforward. Her range of physical movements is limited, and I got to use her chair as a prop. It took us a few songs to find our footing, but we ended up busting some reasonably respectable moves.
- Most of the music was ugly, contemporary club and dance stuff.
“I kind of hate this song!” I said to Hannah, more than once.
- Just about everyone switched intermittently between dancing and drinking at or near the bar. It was cool to see people’s inhibitions get incrementally lower. It happened so gradually that it was surprising to realize that people were finally trashed.
- I think everyone was drunk except me, which was even better. I love being in a place where I can see someone doing something and think, “Wow, that’s inappropriate.”
- Hannah and I had our first slow dance. We were out on the dance floor when it happened, and we just went with it. We had no idea what to do; it was actually more difficult than fast dancing. The song was At Last, which was appropriate.
- About fifteen minutes later, Hannah and Natasha were drinking by the bar when a song ended and the music didn’t immediately start up again.
“Here we go,” said Natasha. “This means a slow song is going to come on.”
Sure enough, Unchained Melody started. When I was sixteen-years-old, I went to one of my grandmother’s big-ass parties where she invited everyone she’d ever met. I remember standing at the edge of the crowd, and they played Unchained Melody, and I watched couples dancing, swaying slowly to the beat. I wanted more than anything to dance with someone while that song was playing.
Let me tell you, I practically dragged Hannah onto the dance floor. It was easier this time, and we figured out how to slow dance together. Unfortunately, that was the last slow song that was played.
- The bartenders messed around with fire and alcohol. That, plus the surplus of shitty club music, ensured that by the end of the night the dance floor was empty. Everyone was hanging out by the bar, often taking shots.
- At one point Hannah took a mysterious neon blue shot from the bar. She hated it.
“So take one of the bright orange ones,” I said.
“Such a responsible attitude,” she said, taking another shot.
“You wonder why I don’t drink?”
- I had a moment where reality shivered a little and I wasn’t sure which city I was in: Boston, Ottawa, or Toronto? It only lasted a moment.
- Toward the end of the night, Hannah became fixated on Photo Booth.
“Let’s do another one!” she said. We did. Then she wanted to do one with Natasha, but she was talking to a hot guy.
“If she doesn’t want to do it, then you and I should,” she said.
“We already did two. I think you have a problem.”
“Don’t tell me how to live my life!”
- We managed to talk to the bride. Everyone wanted to talk to her and pose for pictures with her. We told her how much fun we were having, which was true, and that we didn’t like the music, which probably shouldn’t have been said. But the party had organically reached a point where moments of human honesty were being freely shared.
“Oh my God, I know!” the bride said. “Let me tell you, we made a list of the essentials and the non-essentials, and they’ve only played like, two of the essentials.”
I decided right then that for my wedding I would not hire a D.J. How hard would it be to just make a playlist on YouTube and hook up the computer to a couple of amps? I have autism. I can easily compile a list of two hundred songs I like.
- The wedding party was kicked out at 1 A.M. Not because of anything we did, but just because those are the rules. Hannah and I had been denied at spot on Wheel Trans, so we were surprised to find a Wheel Trans bus waiting for us. It was the same one that Natasha was taking. She told us all about the hot guy while riding back with us, but unfortunately she hadn’t gotten his number. I had another moment where I wasn’t sure what city I was in. “Is this Boston? What’s Natasha doing in Boston?” Once I regained my footing, I looked forward to not doing much of anything for several days.