From procuring the services of a skywriter to professing one’s love on live radio, engagement stories are often as interesting as they are varied. Some suitors opt for deserted, tropical beaches, others are drawn to the bright city lights of Paris. Many prefer to keep the whole thing close to home and low-key (a friend of mine found her engagement ring in between the cheese and the patty of her regular Wednesday night Quarter Pounder). Regardless of how humble or grand the moment turns out to be, in Australia, we have the full gamut of options to choose from, with or without a side of family approval.
But what if you fall in love with someone from overseas? What happens if the person of your dreams is from a completely different cultural background? I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t dreamt about this prospect more than once…ahhhh, Antonio. I mean, who wouldn’t want their kids to grow up effortlessly bilingual and with a James Bondian access to different passports? What religious, cultural and familial expectations exist when it comes to getting engaged to that lucky person with a different family heritage? For the record, I am happily married to a man with whom I used to walk to primary school.
In 2017, my brother became engaged to, and subsequently married, his amazing Turkish wife (my fantastic new görümce – pronounced goo-room-je – a.k.a. sister in law). What frightened the bejeezus out of him, but thoroughly interested me, were the many cultural rituals – most involving family – that had to be performed before the betrothal could be signed, sealed and delivered. It turned out to be a weird and wonderful experience for fiancé and fiancée alike.
I looked into it, and it turns out many different cultures, from all over the world, have their own unique and glorious engagement traditions. So, I compiled a list. Below are but a few of my favourites:
For engaged couples in Daur, in China, there is an old tradition whereby the couple must dissect a chicken to check the state of its liver. If the liver is healthy, the couple are able to set a date for the wedding. If the chicken’s liver is deemed unworthy or diseased, the couple cannot proceed with their plans until a healthy chicken liver is sourced.
In Turkey – like in many parts of the world – it is rare for a couple to marry without the explicit permission and blessing of both families. The prospective groom must formally ask the father for the prospective bride’s hand in marriage (called kiz isteme). During this formal occasion – usually held in the evening with extended family in tow – the bride is also expected to make a perfect Turkish coffee for the guests. The groom’s coffee is usually spiked with salt so that guests can see how stoic his reaction is when he takes a sip (the father of the bride and particularly her brothers will be paying close attention to his face). Then there is an exchange of engagement rings, which are tied with a red ribbon and placed on the correct finger by an important relative.
The yuino is an exchange of gifts between the families of an engaged Japanese couple that is an old-school, but still widely practiced part of the betrothal. Originally akin to a sort of dowry (back when arranged marriages were common in Japan), these days both families usually exchange gifts and the ceremony is used to confirm their agreement to the upcoming nuptials. Most gifts are symbolic of the families’ well-wishes for the couple’s future: konbu, a seaweed that represents children; suehiro, a spreading fan of growth and wealth; or shiraga, a long bolt of white hemp symbolising the couple growing old and grey together. Most often, however, the gift is money – placed in a special envelope (a shugi-bukuro) – because money is a bloody helpful gift to most newly or soon-to-be weds.
The United States of America
At first you may not associate the USA with cultural proposal requirements – the groom gets down on one knee and presents his intended with a diamond engagement ring. However, diamond rings weren’t really a wedding thing in the United States until the 1920s, and didn’t properly take off until well after the depression when the diamond industry began actively flogging the concept of diamond engagement rings to the States and to the world. You may have also heard the notion that an engagement ring should cost three months of your salary and that “diamonds are forever”. Both ideas were created by the advertising industry in tandem with the diamond barons to increase revenue sales. Needless to say, their advertising was very effective. Few would disagree that diamond rings are beautiful regardless. Before diamond engagement rings, most American couples would simply present each other with a token of their love: a poem, a necklace, sometimes a ring and sometimes even a lock of their hair.
So to all of you lucky folk preparing to pop the question to Antonio, Antonia, Haruto or Elif, god-speed and good luck with the wedding and with the engagement.
Ms Zigzag says: I don’t think my husband (who is very particular about his food and drink) would pass the salty Turkish coffee test! I certainly was not aware of these unique traditions from around the world. Thanks for sharing Caz.
About Caz Pringle: Caz has been in the Event Management industry for the last decade, producing events for the likes of Rolex, Revlon, New Balance, Jeep, The Australian Open, Peroni and Alfa Romeo. After running her own events company for three years, she now lives in Antalya, Turkey with her husband where she remotely works as a copywriter and digital content producer and teaches Boxing and Yoga. She also writes the blog www.shecanpunch.com about boxing and women’s empowerment, you can follow it on Insta @SheCanPunch.
Image of Event Producer and author of this post, Caz Pringle. Image supplied by Caz Pringle.