Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Couples Say 'I Do' Again On Different Continents

PARIS -- Karim Nour's marriage got off to a rocky start after he rolled his eyes and yawned during the wedding ceremony. Luckily, the self-described "worst groom ever" had a second chance to get it right. And a third -- and all with the same bride.

With family and friends scattered across the globe, international couples are increasingly taking their weddings on the road, staging multiple ceremonies in their respective countries -- and sometimes additional countries, too.

The past decade has seen a big increase in cross-cultural marriages. The globalization of business and the cross-continental movement of workers, the Internet and Europe's open borders have all contributed.

More than 10 percent of marriages performed last year in Spain united a Spaniard and a foreigner, according to the country's Institute of Family Policy. In France, nearly 2 out of 10 marriages are between a French national and a foreigner, according to the National Demographics Intitute.

Andrea and Karim Nour married three times in as many years, on three different continents: first in California, where they lived at the time, then in Andrea's native Australia and finally in Cairo, where Karim's family is from.

The Nours' first wedding was purely practical. Andrea needed papers to be able to work in the United States, so they went to city hall in Redwood City, Calif., to sign on the dotted line.

"We agreed to distinguish this administrative wedding from our real one by keeping it as casual as possible," said Karim, who wore jeans and a t-shirt for the civil ceremony. Andrea was elegant but casual in a white blouse and brown corduroys.

Not everything went as planned.

Draped in white fabric and decorated with fake flowers, the office at city hall looked less like a bureaucrat's lair than like a Las Vegas-style chapel. And the other people involved -- the officiant and the witness, a colleague of Andrea's -- were treating the matter as, well, a wedding.

"In my mind, it was going to be like paying taxes," said Karim, an Egyptian-American who also holds French citizenship. "But the next thing I knew there were flowers and pictures and people trying to turn this into a solemn experience."

He decided to lighten the mood by yawning, checking his watch and rolling his eyes -- which shocked the officiant and enraged his new wife.

"I was the most rotten groom of the year," he said. "All I did was follow through with our plan to keep the real wedding special."

Wedding planner Lisa Mimoun said it is not uncommon for couples who have multiple ceremonies to designate one as the "real wedding."

"Problems start when the bride and groom have different ideas about which the real one is," said Mimoun, president of Chateau Chic, a California-based planner that specializes in weddings in France.

That was the case for Kimberley Petyt, an American who married a Frenchman in 2000.

For the groom, Sebastien, the civil ceremony in the city hall of his hometown of Dunkerque, in northern France, was the real marriage. For Petyt, it was the reception in Chicago a month later.

"We have two anniversaries -- mine and his," said Petyt, who parlayed her experience into a wedding-planning business, Paris Events. She said she did not feel really married without her grandmother, who was in her mid-70s and unable to travel to France for the ceremony.

Missing guests are a sad staple of international weddings, said Mimoun, citing restrictive visa requirements and expensive airline tickets as a couple of causes.

They often cause a marked imbalance between the number of guests on the bride's side and on the groom's, she said.

At the Petyts' wedding in France, the groom's guests outnumbered the bride's by more than 75 to 15. At the Nours' Canberra ceremony, Andrea's Australian contingent numbered 71 while Karim's overseas guests were a modest 4.

"Knowing that even just a few guests went through lots of trouble and expense to be there gives them a different energy," Mimoun said.

An extra dose of nuptial good humor can go a long way toward breaking down cultural and language barriers.

"When people are shaking it on the dance floor, it doesn't matter that they don't speak the same language," she said.

For the bride, the most difficult part of multiple weddings can be deciding whether to break out the wedding dress again. While some relish the chance to get maximum use out of their gown, others balk at recycling what they think of as a one-wear-only garment.

Regional bridal wear is often a good solution, said Mimoun, adding that some of her international clients have opted for saris, salwar kameezes or ornate Middle Eastern wedding garb for their second or third ceremonies.

"People still want everything to be perfect on their wedding day," Mimoun said. "Even if there's going to be a Part Two -- or Three."

NBC News

The Handbook of International Psychology



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