Different Countries, Different Customs. Learning what NOT to do

Switzerland, The Good - The Bad - The Funny — By on May 16, 2013 6:54 AM

I strategically positioned myself on the outer left perimeter of the women, ready to box out anyone who got in my way. Knees slightly bent standing on the balls of my feet, I anticipated the throw. My adrenaline was pumping, I took a deep breath. She heaved it over her head and it sailed high through the air. I jumped with my arms stretched high above me, leaping across the floor. I blocked it with my right hand, swatting it to the floor. I landed with a thud, scrambling  quickly forward, snatched it off the ground and raised the bouquet of roses above my head triumphantly.

My short royal blue dress spun as I turned around to see the look of astonishment on my boyfriend’s face. It was priceless.

He and the rest of the guys had been standing in the back of the room, collectively sweating buckets, praying their girlfriend wouldn’t catch the flowers.  Sighs of relief followed by rolling laughter as his friends congratulate him with high fives and big hugs.

As I made my way through the crowd of single ladies to the back of the room, I thought of how easy that had been in comparison to my previous wedding bouquet toss experiences back home.

I stopped in front of my boyfriend Tom, burying my nose into the flowers peering at him mischievously.

“I told you they don’t fight for the bouquet here,” Tom said with an uneasy grin and sigh.

This was true. Moments before I followed the other single ladies onto the floor, he had casually mentioned this to me … knowing my sorted history with wedding bouquet tosses.

“But I didn’t REALLY fight for it darling” I said in my defense.

The previous demonstration was not exactly “fighting for it” per my standards. “Fighting for it” was knocking down a fellow bridesmaid in a head on collision over a decade earlier at my cousin’s wedding and snatching the bouquet out of her hand as she lay outstretched on the concrete path in front of the church, dress ripped with blood dripping from her knee as she looked up at God and most likely asked him “Why me?”. She hobbled away with a twisted ankle and I walked away unscathed with a beautiful bouquet and the promise of matrimony.

And there were several other incidents by which I was involved in lively bouquet scrambles on wedding dance floors across America. More often than not I emerged the winner.

Now don’t misunderstand, I haven’t been dying to get married the past decade as it may seem. Quite the contrary, actually. I am just innately a highly competitive gal and the bouquet is a mere trophy.

It could also be said that I have single handedly debunked the myth that the girl who catches the bouquet is next to be married, as there has been over 16 years of singleton since I caught my first bouquet.

“You jumped for it!” Tom said laughing, followed by  “Oh girl,” a cute expression I elicit from my boyfriend at times in which I shock and or amuse him. He still believes me to be unpredictable and mysterious, which I find hysterical as I am as open a book as they come.

While bouquet fights are common in American culture, so much so that “America’s Funniest Home Videos” would not still be airing if American girls were one day to decide to act more civilized at weddings …  I would come to learn that this is absolutely not the norm in Switzerland. A fact that really should not have surprised me as my experience in Switzerland continues to be that politeness is the foundation of the culture. And surely shoving your best friend or sister out of the way in the name of love is anything but polite.

But then again, I wasn’t sure whether to believe what Tom was telling me, after all, he is a guy, and what does he really know about bouquet catching anyway I wondered?

So I asked a few of his friend’s girlfriends, whom I am still just getting to know, all of whom probably thought I am crazy at this point. They unanimously agreed that no one jumps or fights for the bouquet at Swiss weddings and instead it is a game of fate, in which single girls stand STILL and if the bouquet comes to her, then they are meant to marry next.

“Oh, I see.” I said quietly, wanting to rewind the night and have a do over or better yet just hide under the nearest table immediately.

I also didn’t get the memo ahead of time that Swiss girls wear panty hose and close-toed shoes to weddings. I was certainly representing California girls in my sandals and bare legs.

I began to feel embarrassed, a feeling that is not often elicited in me. While I have never really experienced “culture shock” in Europe, I did feel rather out of place at that moment.

I realized that I don’t know these people very well and they were all likely to conclude by my enthusiasm for catching the bouquet that I am desperate to marry, a label I was not at all comfortable with wearing. A suspicious they may have already had given that I am a 35 unwed woman (GASP) with a younger boyfriend.

I felt silly and told Tom I was very sorry if I had embarrassed him in front of his friends.

“Not at all sweets”, he said with a laugh, “you are a funny one!” hugging me tightly.

I quickly downed my glass of white wine abandoning the bouquet on the table in an attempt to distance myself from it.

Tom tried to make me feel better suggesting that the other girls were probably glad that I had caught the bouquet as he guessed that many of them did not actually want to get married anytime soon.

Many hours later after watching on the sidelines as the rest of the wedding guests did the macarena, the YMCA and rode that train, I felt somewhat redeemed. At the end of the night I gave the bride three cheek kisses goodbye and thanked her for a lovely wedding wishing her a wonderful honeymoon in Australia.

As Tom and I walked away she called after me, “Kelly, don’t forget your bouquet!”

I sheepishly walked back to the table, picked up the bouquet of white roses and vowed to never fight for the bouquet again … I think five is enough.


The Good: No one got hurt

The Bad: I committed a cultural taboo

The Funny: I caught the bride’s bouquet … AGAIN 

Have you ever embarrassed yourself abroad by not adhering to local customs? Please do tell!

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  1. Lisa says:

    LOVE IT!! Why oh why did the videographer get that on tape?! Sorry Vick.

    Kelly don’t be against getting married….eventually someone (Tom ?) may get you to stay in one place long enough to tie the knot. I better get the chance to be there! I love you and miss you

    • Kelly says:

      If only the videographer had caught it on tape! We would have won millions on “America’s Best Home Videos” 🙂 Yes, so sorry I knocked you down Vicky, glad you don’t hold a grudge! And OF COURSE you will bet “there” wherever “there” may be IF i ever do tie the knot. Love and miss you too. X

  2. Amy says:

    I always love hearing these stories… I start playing back my own! Like spending a year in Germany and then being upset that the German friends I had made in my building didn’t do anything when I and another American moved home. I found out long AFTER we’d left that the tradition there is for the one going away to throw the party. Apparently they were pretty miffed too. That one’s the biggest bummer since it was too late to sort it out. I hate that I left on that note! But at least when I was back in Germany a few years later I was a bit wiser and threw a BIG party when I left!

  3. Kelly says:

    Thanks for sharing Amy, it is good to know I am not the only one! 🙂 I recently learned that it is also the tradition in Switzerland to throw your own going away party when you leave your job too. I love hearing these stories as well, they fascinate me that cultures can be so similar yet so different as well, love it!

  4. Dasha says:

    Oh girl 😉

  5. Aine says:

    Oh Kelly, Kelly, Kelly! I’m gonna go ahead and say when we reach a certain age, NO lady tries to go outta her way and / or dives for boquets anymore! I think that’s why you’ve caught so many as of late, ha, ha. Crazy girl! Miss you, love you!

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