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Language Translations for Real Life: A Big Fat International Wedding

Language Translations for Real Life: A Big Fat International Wedding

What do Queen Sofia of Spain, the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar have in common?

  • Queen Sofi­a of Spain, once known as Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark, is wife of King Juan Carlos I of Spain
  • Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is married to the Italian-born singer Carla Bruni
  • Former South African president Nelson Mandela is married to Graca Machel from Mozambique
  • Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar is the widow of Michael Aris a leading Western author born in Cuba to a Canadian mother and English father.

That’s right they each… had an international marriage to celebrate!

Wedding and marriage often conjure up interesting connotations. For some, the thoughts swirl around arranged marriages and 3-day long ceremonies. For others, it’s about eloping or simple civil declarations. For royalty and heads of states, it may be making alliances and declarations of international relations. In my last segment, I discussed Love Language Translations and international relationships, in this segment, I will continue to build on the theme of international relationships and share my own cross border wedding experience…

Every young girl grows up dreaming of the perfect wedding. Typically by age 8, she’s already figured out that she wants to have a huge princess wedding. By age 12, she’s already mentally designed her dream wedding gown. By age 16, she probably picked out or at least narrowed down the list of the most romantic wedding destinations. Does she have the guy, yet? Maybe not, but that’s ok, it’s all part of the master life plan… he’ll come riding in on a white horse and find her (hopefully before the parents and grandparents start bugging her). No matter which culture she’s from, a girl usually has an idea of the broad strokes… what, where, ideal guy, ideal age.

As more people travel, study abroad and relocate for work, the”farangs” or “farungs“, (which means Western foreigner in Thai) meet and marry locals. These unions symbolize cultural integration and the desire to truly be part of the local culture. International marriages reflect-globalization.

Apart for the international foreign affairs, globalization and migration reasons, why else are international marriages on the rise?

According to research reported by The Economist (Nov 12th 2011, SEOUL from the print edition), there are many reasons that people “marry out”. Reasons often include:

  • Lack of choices – in some countries, such as China and India, there are simply less women than men. Due to the male to female birth rate patterns, many men simply need to look for women elsewhere.
  • Increased fertility rates – In Europe and America, the fertility rate of new immigrants is higher than average, however, it appears to revert back to the local rate within a few years.
  • The “marriage strike” – whereby many modern women in some Asian societies are simply waiting longer to marry to pursue careers, education and other aspirations. For example, in Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, a great percentage of local women are not marrying or choosing to wed later (i.e. in their thirties). This in turn may be driving local men to look elsewhere for their life partners.

Whatever the reason may be, the fantasy of having an international marriage is truly put to the test when one tries to actually pull it off with a wedding for an international relationship.

Sure SHAKIRA might be able to managed a cross continent international wedding for her country fellows in Latin America and her hubby in Europe. At least she and her guy, Gerard Pique both have Spanish as their common language. Can you imagine arranging a wedding from another continent that will join guests from Asia, Europe, North America and South America? Can you fathom the challenges that could arise?

A Big Fat International Wedding can be fun, but also complex for everyone involved.

Challenge #1: How do you get two sets of in-laws together who don’t even have a common language to follow the traditional cultural rituals, for example a Thai Engagement Ceremony?

There were 4 professional translators & interpreters at our nuptial events – Thai/English, Thai/French, English/French and Italian/English.

Apart for having professional translators follow the parents everywhere, from time to time, you just have to wing it! Interestingly,”Sabaidee?” which means, “everything good?” in Thai, sounds very closed to the French “Ca va?“, which essentially means the same thing! It is funny how languages from across the globe can sound and translate into the same meaning.

Challenge #2: What do you do when the custom dress/suit maker messes up all of the wedding party’s outfits, including the future mother in-law’s gown, right before the wedding?

Invitations, menus, programs, announcements and itineraries were all translated into 3 languages. We tried our best to get everything prepared for our international guest list, which included friends and family from France, Italy, USA, the UK, Argentina, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, China, and Malaysia. However, one cannot foresee everything…

At 11pm the night before the big day, the tailor delivered the custom designed dresses and suits to our hotel rooms. Most of the bridesmaids dresses where not fitted properly, and my future mother-in law’s dress essentially looked like a sack of potatoes! On top of all that, they forgot my fiancee’s pants! Major night before the wedding panic! Major language emergency! Luckily, body language can be easily interpreted… once my Thai cousin saw the horror in our faces; she jumped right in and took care of the situation. It helps to have a native on board to translate!

Challenge #3: Who will translate when the best man gives his speech in Spanish to a Thai audience?

The vows, the ceremony and speeches were exchanged in English, Thai, French, Spanish and Italian. Talk about language diversity…

Yes, for matters of the heart, conveying emotions in one’s native tongue seems to prevail. Who knew that our Argentinean best man was such a romantic – he delivered his speech in Spanish – to a Thai audience… without a translation from Spanish. It really didn’t matter, because the audience loved him, for whatever he said, in Spanish, it sounded so beautiful and heartwarming… tears were streaming that night.

Delightful Surprise: The mother in-law was loved by the guests, as she wowed the Thais with her wedding speech… delivered in Thai, with a French accent!

As the great Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

My future mother-in-law, managed to get amazing cheers, like a celebrity, from the crowd as she delivered a short and sweet speech in Thai… very touching indeed.

So to sum it all up: International marriages are part of our modern globalized society. One might plan for every little detail, but there will always be little delightful surprises along the way. Make life easier for yourself and everyone involved, hire a translator or interpreter to help facilitate things… and, if you can share a few of useful phrases in the host language… it will mean a lot to the local people.

So there you go, you don’t have to be a queen or head of state or international pop star to feel like one at your Big Fat International Wedding. Whatever your reasons – foreign affairs, globalization, migration, or simply love – with a little bit of localization, and openness to surprises, you can experience the best ceremony of your life, from the altar or from the pews…

… Stay tuned for the next Segment of Language Translations for Real Life Series, where we’ll explore… Kids growing up in a multi-lingual world!