Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Another Qatari Wedding
A few days before Christmas I received an invitation to the wedding of a business associate. While I can read Arabic I had a tough time deciphering the invitation because of the fancy calligraphy, I was trying to figure out where the wedding was but couldn't do it (yes, I'm still taking Arabic lessons and probably will for a long time). A Qatari colleague of mine helped me out and gave me directions to where the wedding tent would be.
So on the appointed evening I went to the wedding tent.
As you can see these tents are huge (side note: there doesn't appear to be many people in the tent because I took this picture when dinner was being served so everyone was in the dining tent, in truth hundreds of men attended the wedding)
So when I arrived I followed standard procedure: I followed the carpet to the far side of the tent (the carpet is in the above photo, the long red one that crosses the tent) where the groom and his father were greeting guests. They were easy to spot as they were the only men wearing black bishts. After shaking hands with the groom's father I shook hands with the groom and gave my congratulations, stopped for a few pictures with the groom, then moved on to mingle with the guests and enjoy tea and other drinks being handed out by waiters.
This time the singers and musicians were stationed in the large carpeted area outside the tent. I hung out there to watch them for a while. Occasionally a few guests would do some sword dancing. The groom and his father spent all their time greeting the guests who were arriving, or chatting with relatives.
I arrived what I thought was fairly late, 8:15 pm, as I had been at a friend’s dinner party earlier. In Qatar this is not a big deal, the point of attending a man's wedding is to congratulate him and his family and give your regards. No gifts, no ceremony, and if you are not close to the groom (close friends, relatives) you can even leave after giving your regards. Close friends and relatives should stick around for most of the wedding as a matter of politeness but others are under no obligation to stay for the whole event.
I figured I had missed the dinner, which didn't bother me as I was full. Well imagine my surprise when around 8:45 pm they announced dinner. There was a buffet of appetizers and desserts but the main course was already on the guest’s tables -- whole roast lamb on a platter of rice and lentils, one for each table. In traditional fashion, there was no cutlery, you roll up your right sleeve and eat with your hand (ONLY your right hand, never touch food with your left hand). I'm not great at tearing off chunks of meat and rolling it with rice using just one hand but the Qatari gentlemen who were sitting at the table would sometimes tear off pieces of meat and give it to me, which made things easier. I didn't eat a lot because I was still full from the dinner party earlier but I felt that it would be rude if I didn't eat some food -- a lot of effort must go into preparing whole roast lambs for hundreds of guests. I chatted a bit with the other gentleman at the table, practicing my still-limited Arabic, but I still struggled a lot to follow the conversation.
After eating you go to a small room at the side of the tent were about a dozen portable sinks were set up so that guests could wash their hands after the meal.
As I left the dining tent I saw a couple of dozen men, mostly South and Central Asian, waiting patiently by the door. These men were not guests, I assume they happened to be nearby and saw the wedding tent so entered in the hopes of getting a meal. Unlike a Western wedding reception there is nothing wrong with this at all, as far as I know a Qatari man's wedding is open to all men. The etiquette seems to be that once the guests have finished eating these men can enter and partake of the remaining food -- and believe me there was plenty of food left. I've attended two weddings that were held in wedding tents and this occurred both times (the other weddings I attended were in hotels where this doesn’t occur).
I hung around for a while after dinner to watch the singers and eventually the groom and his father did some sword dancing. I did not have a chance to ask the groom whether posting photos of him would be okay so I’m only going to post photos that keeps his identity hidden. Keep an eye out for a Qatari in a white thobe wearing a black bisht, as opposed to Qataris who are wearing black thobes.
I've also posted some video of the festivities, including sword dancing.
Singers at the wedding
The groom sword dancing with guests
By 10:00 most of the guests had left so I left as well. The groom and his father will continue on to the bride’s wedding reception to pick up the bride.
If you would like to know what happens at a Qatari woman’s wedding a fellow Qatari blogger, Just Kooki, has a four-part post about her experience at a lady's wedding. It's definitely worth a read.