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Attending my first Polish Wedding and Celebrations

Nozzferrahhtoo 1 | 4
12 Sep 2011 #1
Hi all, new user so apologies if I step on anything I shouldn't as I barge in and ask my questions.

I am travelling at the end of this month to Bydgoszcz to attend a Polish wedding (Saturday) and celebrations (Sunday).

I have never been to Poland or to a Polish wedding before. I have also never met the bride or her family before. So I am looking for ways to endear myself to the family. The groom, my friend, is Irish.

I believe they are not having a very traditional wedding, but I would like any and all ideas for gifts, words, gestures or anything that is traditional that I can do, give or say that is culturally relevant.

For example at some weddings I have read it is traditional to give bread and salt to the couple (chleb and sol) and say to them "oby Wam go nigdy nie brakowalo". If no one else performs this tradition.... is there any reason I should not do so myself?

I also have read that giving a water melon to the Brides father and telling him that it is not too late to give this to the groom.... should be a joke many people will understand? Or is this too a bad idea?

Any other ideas or examples such as this would be very much appreciated in my wish to help make the couples day very happy. Anything you think I should do or not do would be very helpful.

Also what are the traditional polish songs sung over drink after such a wedding in the early morning hours. I would like to try.... though I have no polish so it will be fun.... to learn one or two and maybe sing one late in the night. Is there somewhere I can find words and music to listen to so I can hear the words being sung. Funny folk songs would be the best for this, but also the kind of songs that make old men cry for a forgotten past would be lovely too. I am Irish so I know all about such songs in Ireland :)

Again, thanks to all for any help, and I appreciate your time, even if it is only the time to read this message.
teflcat 5 | 1,032
12 Sep 2011 #2
Pace yourself. It's going to be a long night. Plenty of juice. Just knock back half a glass when there's a toast. I wouldn't worry too much about providing the entertainment. Go with the flow and enjoy it; you're a guest, not the guy on the organ playing 'The Lady in Red'.
OP Nozzferrahhtoo 1 | 4
12 Sep 2011 #3
Yes I am not stressed or concerned about it, but I would like to make some gesture that is culturally relevant or funny or both. Something that makes it clear I did not just show up, but actually did put in some research on the topic.
12 Sep 2011 #4
Only parents perform the bread and salt ceremony, so just watch if it happens or not. The melon thing? This would be weird indeed and totally incomprehensible to the locals (including me). Each wedding is different, we can't know which one this will be, including the songs. Just have some fun there.
OP Nozzferrahhtoo 1 | 4
12 Sep 2011 #5
Well I believe historically that the father of a girl can refuse the request for marriage from a man by offering him a water melon. I am not sure how true the tale is though. I think it comes from the fact that there is some similarity in polish between the word for "water melon" and the word for being rejected or for meeting rejection? Does this sound familiar in any way?
PWEI 3 | 612
12 Sep 2011 #6
Not at all. The way that a suitor is turned down by parents in Poland is serving them soup made from goose blood.
Teffle 22 | 1,321
12 Sep 2011 #7
Hi Nozz

I'm Irish. I'd say there will be a fair bit of minor unfamiliar elements to the proceedings. If it were me, I'd just go with the flow and not try too hard. The Poles will probably find your occasional bemusement endearing and entertaining enough as it is : )

You'll have a good time. The whole thing will probably last two days by the way...
gumishu 13 | 6,134
12 Sep 2011 #8
Not at all. The way that a suitor is turned down by parents in Poland is serving them soup made from goose blood.

water melon was used in the same manner in south easter Kresy (Podole, Ukraina) as well as in some Russian lands - there are mentions of this custom in Polish literature (I guess I remember it from Fredro)

sorry - it was 'Nad Niemnem' by Emilia Orzeszkowa
OP Nozzferrahhtoo 1 | 4
12 Sep 2011 #9
Not at all. The way that a suitor is turned down by parents in Poland is serving them soup made from goose blood.

Yes I think I read that one too in my research. It is called "czarnina" right? The same site I read about that on mentioned the water melon with the explanation that " the Polish word for watermelon having two meanings: watermelon, and to meet with refusal". But it would seem this reference is so vauge that there is no point in my making a joke out of it.

I have been to many weddings from Catholic to Jewish to Quaker and I usually try and invest a lot of time in researching old traditions and customs and bringing them up at the wedding somehow. This impresses for a start, breaks ice which is great, and serves to stimulate interesting conversation especially in the older generations who remember such customs. That is why I like to make the effort in cases such as this and why I am on a site like this asking questions :)
boletus 30 | 1,361
12 Sep 2011 #10
Yes, our young Irish friend here, of hard to remember alias, is right about the watermelon custom. I guess most Poles here did not recognize that custom (with the exception of gumishu) because of the English translation of the word, "watermelon", which carries no cultural association for most Poles. In Polish it is known as "arbuz", and most Poles are familiar with the phrase "dostać arbuza" (to be rejected), even though some did not recognize its source in an ancient courtship customs.

Etymology: Polish arbuz, (Russian, Ukrainian: harbuz) , from Persian cherbuze, Turkish harpuz.

When a suitor was treated to a piece of watermelon (a courtship took place mostly in autumn) this implied a refusal. Hence the source of the expression "dostać arbuza", "dostać odprawę" ("to get a watermelon," or to be rejected). The same meaning had "czarna polewka", a.k.a. "czernina" - the black soup made of duck's blood [with cream and prunes added to taste, boletus] - or a wreath made of dry pea stems, suspended in the chamber, where the suitor was to spend the night.

The custom of serving watermelon comes from the Ruthenian folk, where an unwilling wench "mistakenly" serves to a young man and his matchmaker a "harbuz", rather than a loaf of bread, as a snack to be taken after a drink of vodka brought by them.

Aleks. Kremer says that in Podolia a watermelon is put into carriage of a suitor whom a girl does not want - hence "harbuza dać" means the same as refuse the girl's hand. Krzysztof Kluk, Polish botanist of eighteenth century, writes about watermelon as a fruit, "they are white and green, elongated and round, rich in Podolia and the Ukraine."

Translated from: Zygmunt Gloger, Encyklopedia staropolska/Arbuz,

Nozzferrahhtoo: Playing the "arbuz" joke at the wedding party? It all depends: it is probably quite OK for a close family friend, but it might draw strange reaction if it is coming from a stranger - even if you are a close friend of the groom. I would follow Teffle's advices if I were you.
Wroclaw Boy
12 Sep 2011 #11
Dude just take your normal self with a couple of Polish words, do what ever you would normally do, that's what they're really looking for. As for gifts it all depends on the budget, cash is king. Give em some cash.

Good manners and a well to do attitude will win you the greatest respect of all. Obviously you need to be able to down at least one bottle of vodka over the course of an evening. If you cant there will be talk....
teflcat 5 | 1,032
12 Sep 2011 #12
Turkish harpuz.

'Karpuz', but excellent post boletus.
Nozz, imagine a Polish guy coming to your wedding wearing a bowler hat and carrying a bone china cup and saucer, or, having done his research, offering the father of the bride a piece of willow branch entwined with holly.

These people will be happy if you just have a good time and give the happy couple an envelope containing 200PLN. Have a good time and don't get in the way.
12 Sep 2011 #13
I'd just go with the flow and not try too hard. The Poles will probably find your occasional bemusement endearing and entertaining enough as it is : )

I would agree with Teffle,just remember you are not the star of the show,you will get enough novelty value by being an Irishman at a Polish wedding, if you want to do something nice, buy the pig ( whole) for the spit it will be about 600 PLN or bring a few bottles of Bushmills anD share it with close family. Enjoy have a great craic...
beckski 12 | 1,617
13 Sep 2011 #14
Anything you think I should do or not do would be very helpful

Be prepared for many guests to make several vodka toasts. At my cousin's wedding, I held the shot glass up each time, pretending to drink it each time. I didn't want to end up passed out & with a major hangover the next day!
f stop 25 | 2,507
13 Sep 2011 #15
Get drunk and pass out. Wake up and do it again. It's a marathon not for the faint of heart.
aphrodisiac 11 | 2,437
13 Sep 2011 #16
polish wedding are fun and go and have fun too. Take a gift, dress well, smile and avoid drinking too much. Lots of dancing, so wear comfy shoes. Take lots of pics if you are not a dancer;)
OP Nozzferrahhtoo 1 | 4
13 Sep 2011 #17
Thanks for all the replies guys, it is helpful, and interesting, especially the full explanation of the Watermelon tradition from “boletus” though I find myself wondering how "Young" he means when he calls me "young" as it is somewhat presumptious :-p

I appreciate the foreigner coming to an Irish wedding comment too. It is just a habit of mine to research these things, even if I do not do them, just in case. Also I simply find it personally interesting. Often I end up doing nothing, but there have been a couple of weddings that were going awfully that I stepped up with my knowledge of their traditions and turned it around. Also I was only this weekend at a Jewish wedding where I was meeting the Brides parents also for the first time and I learned off a semi-short formal greeting in Hebrew along with a gift from their more ancient customs and the parents were overjoyed and happy with it, and me. It also felt good to know all the customs, such as breaking bread that no one else knew so at my table at dinner the bride and groom did not have to explain to us what to do and how and were able to move on to the next table quickly. So every little helps.

And at the end of the day such knowledge aids ones feelings of being out of place. Would that more people had more than a cursory, if even that, knowledge of the customs of other cultures huh?

And finally, I simply feel that sometimes a well places cultural joke is just funny, and makes people happy, and I do like to make people happy :)
Siegfried 1 | 100
12 Oct 2011 #18
I found this article if you are interesting what to expect on polish wedding:

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