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This past weekend I attended the wedding of my nephew and his lovely new bride. As is so often the case these days they come from quite different cultural backgrounds. Observing the proceedings was fascinating and led me to think that perhaps in another life I was an Anthropologist. I found this definition of what such a social observer might do:

Anthropologists examine, analyze, report on, and compare different cultures and how they grow, develop, and interact. How people live offers insights into modern life and how significantly (or, more often, how little) we have changed and how similar we are in our basic systems of interaction.

What better place to be an amateur anthropologist than a wedding.

My first observation is that the more things change in the broader society the more they seemingly stay the same. Despite all the progress and changes in the way men and women interact with each other the wedding ceremony and reception has remained surprisingly constant.

One of the best indications of this is the way the Four Tribes of the wedding feast interact. Here is my report:

Group 1: The Shirley Temple Tribe

One of the smallest tribes at the event both in terms of physical stature and numbers. These are the youngest members of the gathering and most seem to be in a state of complete confusion about what is happening. One thing they definitely seem to enjoy is the free sugar drinks and the late appearance of something called the sweet table. This sweet table seems to have made up for the tortuous events of the past few hours.

Group 2: The Party Tribe

This is the largest of the assembled group. One of the attributes of this collection of young people is that they are misunderstood by all the other tribes. The Shirley Templers don’t really care about them. The members of the Parent Tribe stand around in a state of disbelief at how these people got to be so grown up. And the Elders are in shock at what they are wearing and wonder how things got so crazy in the past 50 years. Apparently it is all about the shoes in 2011.

This group is waiting for the announcement from one of their own – the one they call the Master of Ceremonies – that the speeches are over, the bar is open and the party is about to get started.

Group 3: The Parent Tribe

Full disclosure – this is the tribe I belong to at this point in my life. This is perhaps the strangest of all the assembled and the one the lacks consistency in terms of their behaviours.

First, it is the group that has been included with a great deal of struggle and conflict. It is from this team that the people paying for the event usually (but not always) come from. They have some say over how many total guests will be in attendance. The conflict comes when it becomes evident that for each member of the Parent Tribe that is invited a true “Party Goer” is denied a spot on the dance floor.

Some members of this community really want to be a part of the younger Party Tribe. They pay thousands of dollars to appear worthy of inclusion. This can be dangerous and there is a fine line between being cool and being a fool. For some the celebration will carry on into the early hours of the next day and there is a possibility they will be found sleepy in a remote corner of the banquet hall.

I am happy to report that all members of this tribe escaped the evening with their reputations in good standing.

Group 4: The Elder Tribe

Another small tribe and while at the other end of the age spectrum than the Shirley Temple crowd they have much in common with them. They are called by different names, this depends on other cultural factors, and like the Shirley Templers they wonder why dinner is served so late.

There is a sparkle about them however. It is as if they know things that only come with time and experience. They do not understand the Party Goers but they wish them only happiness and joy. They have been one step removed from the battles of parenthood and perhaps more relaxed now that they have been elevated to this new tribe.

They are often the first to leave the celebration knowing the rewards and the joy of their own bed and a look forward to the good night’s sleep that awaits them.

They also realize that while the clothing, the music and the scale of the wedding ritual may have changed from their own time as “Party Goers” , they know that  the basic principles of being a married couple have pretty much remained a constant.More on that in a future report.

For now let’s Party on!

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