A typical marriage proposal in Australia calls on the man to get down on bended knee in some sort of candle-lit dinner or romantic holiday setting, asking his significant other “Will you marry me?” while presenting her with a sparkly diamond ring. The element of surprise is also crucial. This is a totally foreign concept to my Vietnamese family.
As one cousin said to me during a recent visit to Vietnam, "You've been together for six months and you don't have any arguments. Why aren't you getting married?"
According to Vietnamese tradition, a couple’s engagement is much more than an intimate proposal that takes place when the woman least expects it. In fact, romance has very little to do with it. Family approval is a key factor. In many cases, the marriage won’t even happen without the blessing of both families.
Rather than getting frustrated at my parents’ attempt to meddle, I take deep breaths and remind myself that there are some major cultural differences at play. It also made me curious how marriage proposals take place in other countries.
A couple isn’t really engaged until there’s a yunio (Japanese for “engagement ceremony”), which involves a meeting between the families of the bride and groom and the exchange of nine symbolic gifts wrapped in rice paper. Each gift is meant to symbolise particular sentiments and well wishes for the couple, such as longevity, wealth and healthy children.
Family approval is a key factor. In many cases, the marriage won’t even happen without the blessing of both families.
In Chile, engagement rings aren’t just for the girls. Both the bride and groom to be wear rings on their right hand and swap the rings over to the third finger on their left hand on their wedding day.
Arranged marriages aside, Indian couples traditionally become engaged after the bride’s family has formally accepted the groom's family’s proposal. An elaborate engagement party usually follows.
Traditionally, a groom and a few of his family members would knock on the bride’s family’s door and announce his intentions for marriage. This “knocking ceremony” happens only a week before the actual wedding!
In Thai culture, men ask for their future wife’s hand in marriage during a “thong mun", which means “gold engagement”. Instead of a diamond ring, the prospective groom presents his fiancee with various gifts made from gold.
In Greek culture, the man must ask the father of the bride for permission to marry. The couple must then attend three counselling sessions with a priest where they’ll receive marriage advice. Once all the blessings are done, there’s typically a huge engagement party involving lots of friends and family.
Like other Western cultures, French couples typically get engaged once a man proposes to his partner. However, there’s no diamond ring presented at the time. After the woman says “yes,” and the man has asked for his future father-in-law’s blessing, the couple go shopping for an engagement ring together. The bride to be is then presented with her ring at a small gathering between both families.
Scottish men looking to marry are traditionally put through their paces during a “Speerin” or “Beukin,” which requires them to accomplish a series of tasks or hurdles set by the father of the bride.
Armenian engagement parties are just as big as the weddings themselves. A priest is called upon to bless the engagement ring and ask the couple to vow their love and devotion for one another. Like the Greeks, Armenians also attend counselling sessions with a priest before getting married.
Top image from Flickr/Nick Nguyen
Marry Me, Marry My Family explores cross-cultural weddings in Australia. Watch or stream new episodes weekly Tuesdays 7, 14 and 21 January, 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.