Rules of Etiquette for a Modern Wedding
by Mir Jalal
From the book "Dried Up In Meetings"
Azerbaijan International 1998, USA
My half-brother worked in the Cooperative. His mother was employed as a salesperson in a store for many years. She was a busy woman, and I rarely saw her, until one evening when I ran into her.
"Where have you been? You've forgotten all about us," she reproached me for not visiting them. Then she told me that the following day was Bulbul's wedding, and that I had to attend. I excused myself, saying that I had something very important to do.
"Tomorrow is Sunday. Why are you lying? Don't tell me you have to work. You have to come. End of discussion!"
I used to call her Bibi--Aunty. "To be honest, Bibi, I haven't been to a wedding for a while, and I don't know the etiquette. I don't want to be embarrassed in front of the guests."
Closing my mouth with her finger, Bibi said, "What nonsense! You can learn everything in the world. Wasn't Bulbul himself a child of the village? He was just like you, shy and introverted. But he came and got out and mixed with people. Thank God, he's not like that now. The day will come for you, too. God willing, my child, tomorrow you will find a lovely girl and will want to marry her."
I dared not disobey Bibi so I got up in the morning and took my pants from under my mattress [where I kept them pressed] and put them on. I borrowed my school friend's shirt and went looking for a silver pin to wear when my
friends found out about the wedding.
"You lucky devil!" they told me.
They helped me get dressed. Soon I looked just right for a wedding. I arrived at the house at 7 o'clock.
There was such a commotion! One person was putting wood under the pot, another was bringing water, a third brought
in his shopping from the bazaar, and a fourth was noisily cutting blocks of sugar into cubes. Bibi took me to her own room. The groom had returned from the public bath house and fresh tea was being brewed for him. Someone was slicing lemon for his tea.
Bibi didn't like my appearance. She put one of Bulbul's scarves around my neck so that its tassels covered my chest like a horse's mane. She took off my boots, and made me wear a pair of red silken socks. She added a belt with a bone-buckle and a pen for my pocket. She put a silken handkerchief into my upper-left breast pocket, folded in a triangle, so that only one
corner showed. She combed the tassels and arranged them on two sides. Looking in the mirror, I imagined that a beautiful lady had parted her hair and was leaning her head upon my chest. Seeing this, out of either bewilderment or embarrassment, I didn't do a thing. I'm supposed to be an educated person, but obviously Bibi knew more than I did.
And as if this were not enough, while everybody was out and we were leaning against brocade cushions, Bibi sat next to me and said, "My poor darling, what have you seen of the world? Books have robbed you of your taste. You're dried up
like a piece of wood. That's why I beg you to come to our house. You'll cheer up."
At the beginning of each sentence, Bibi nudged me with her elbow, and at the end she pressed my knee.
"Listen! What a wedding. You'll be seen among the people. This is a great new style wedding. Pay attention to what's going on!" She enumerated the etiquette rules of modern weddings to me one by one:
(1) Yawning, hiccuping, shouting, coughing, sneezing and stretching are forbidden.
(2) Sit politely.
(3) Don't slurp your tea.
(4) Don't let any grease from the food show around your lips.
(5) You can laugh, but not loudly.
(6) If you tell a joke, tell a polite one.
(7) Talk, don't shout. Whispering is often sufficient.
(8) Your comments should be relevant to everyone, all the time and on every occasion.
(9) Say hello to everyone and get to know them.
(10)You can kiss, not on the cheek, but on the mouth.
(11) Set your cup down gently on the saucer. Hold the handle with two fingers and stir the tea quietly with a spoon.
(12) Don't wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread.
(13)Don't dirty the tablecloth.
(14)Don't let your chair squeak.
(15)Don't pick your nose.
(16)Don't scratch yourself or squirm in your seat.
(17) Take off your hat and button up your shirt.
I didn't wait for Bibi to finish, but got up. I wanted to leave. "Goodbye for now."
"Wait, where are you going?" She held onto my arm.
"Bibi, on the soul of your dear son, on your conscience, let me go. I can't do all these things. I'm sleepy and I have class tomorrow. Don't keep me. I hope it's a happy wedding. I hope you see many such weddings."
Hearing my voice, several people emerged from the other side of the house.
Holding onto me, they made me sit down.
And so with fear and trepidation, I waited for the wedding to begin. I begged to be taken to the wedding hall before the people arrived so as not to be conspicuous.
"My dear, poverty is a sad affair--we've taken the hall of Khanimnenegelin for tonight! The men haven't prepared the tea yet. Wait awhile. I'll take you there myself."
The groom had returned from the public bath. His face was flushed and red. Frowning and upset, he looked like a person who was ready for a fight. His sad face lightened by a smile. He was silent. Looking into his eyes, the groomsmen seemed to understand what he wanted. The tea was brought and he poured some of the hot liquid into his saucer and slurped it down.
I whispered to Bibi, "It seems Bulbul doesn't know either!"
Then I added, "I mean the etiquette. Bulbul is making so much noise. Look at him."
"My child," she said, "among ourselves, it doesn't matter, the wedding hasn't started yet. He's making such a noise now so that he won't do it then."
I felt very shy and sat in a corner. Guests arrived. Hearing footsteps, my heart started to race, and I reminded myself of the etiquette rules of the wedding. It was as if Bibi were sitting next to me or looking over my shoulder, whispering in my ear, "Do this, do that!"
The guests entered. I got ready to shake hands and greet the guests. The guests said "hello" to everyone and sat down. Like a child who's afraid to go to the barber, I was apprehensive. When they came towards me, I told myself, "Be careful not to break the rules of etiquette." But I didn't know whether to stand up or sit down when saying "hello." It was all Bibi's fault. She hadn't told me.
I saw some people get up, but others greeted the guests while sitting. At a glance, I compared the two--it seemed like those who got up to shake hands were the more important people. Following their example, I also stood up. Taking the white, soft
hand of a lady, which was adorned with a ring, I squeezed her hand in mine. I wanted to kiss it, but was afraid of Bibi. "You're very welcome. May Nature smile upon you!" I said when I dropped her hand. It hit her leg like a mallet, and her crepe de Chine dress undulated like the sea.
The groom had arrived. There was a commotion, and a place for three people opened at the front of the hall. Bibi, waving her silken head scarf in the air, came in and told the groomsmen, "When I motion to you, bring him in."
The musicians were ready. The music began and what music it was! A man with a yellow Bukhara hat held his tar and played it so passionately, that he almost went into an ecstasy. There was no dulcimer.
A young man with big ears, bareheaded, with a scarf like mine and dressed in short pants, put a drum between his legs, and began beating it like mad. Another was playing a Zurna [wind instrument], and everyone was astounded how amazingly long he could play without taking a breath! But he somehow managed to breathe. The music was intoxicating.
A breeze came in from the windows and songs floated out. The drummer occasionally looked at the audience, which shouted to him, "Bravo, bravo!" and "That's my man!" He was beating the drum so hard that I felt sorry for it. People sat in rows on both sides of me, but I didn't know a single person. I sulked like a stranger in a corner. Afraid to break the rules of
etiquette, I dared not speak to the people sitting next to me. I suddenly saw the groom, taking long strides as he entered the hall. They made room for three people, he and two groomsmen. As soon as he sat down, he asked for "Khankishi."
Like a stealthy cat, wiping his mouth with his hand, a tall, bareheaded man entered. (He was bareheaded like me.)
The groom told him in a rather brusque tone, "Friends are counting on you. They want you to start."
"Yes, sir. Upon my eyes!" [Right away].
Khankishi, wiping his hands on his apron, looked around. "Friends, why are
you so quiet? Is anyone up for a game of dominos? Who wants to play cards?
Let's keep ourselves busy. When the musicians get tired, we'll play the
gramophone [record player]."
Bibi shouted from the other room, "Everybody dance, Khankishi, make them dance!" People laughed. Khankishi joked, "What can I say? Whatever the mistress of the house says goes. Let's dance."
The groom banged on the table with his hand and complained to Khankishi, "What is this strange behavior? Why are the ladies sitting on one side and the men on the other? They should mix immediately. 'Death to Mullah!'"
Everyone applauded. Khankishi began arranging the guests' seats so that the men and women would sit next to each other. Some men had come without their wives, and women had come without their husbands.
Taking all of this into consideration, he organized the guests' seats in such a way so that there were enough women for the men. He made one woman sit in the middle with a man on each side. Since I was one of the shy ones, I was the only man left
without a woman. Khankishi looked at his arrangement and exclaimed, "Look, now this is civilized!"
His eyes were laughing. Pointing at me with his finger, he said, "Look, the poor boy is all alone!" Everyone laughed. I was embarrassed.
Bibi shouted from the other room, "I'll sit next to him myself."
The room was decorated like a store during a festival. The men looked like "bad bargains" that had come along free with the ladies! The mens' noses were shining and the womens' fingers were sparkling. The womens' faces and the mens' teeth looked white. The womens' eyes and the mens' hands looked black. The ladies' lips and mens' necks looked red.
The zurna player sucked the air from the room and blew it back out through his insturment, sending a waft of air against the colorful dresses in the varied crowd. Suddenly, a song was played that was full of drunken sadness: "The Song of the Cock"
My hen is speckled,
Her wings are speckled,
She is not a hen, but a nightingale.
May you burn in fire, stealer of my hen!
May you scorch in hell, stealer of my hen!
Khankishi dragged a stout woman to the middle of the hall. The people next to me whispered, "She's the cashier at Department Store 21." What a dancer! In her every movement, you could sense the fear of a person on a ship about
to sink. The floorboards under her feet were moaning, the glasses were trembling, and the sides of the chairs were quivering. When the music sped up, she got confused. She didn't know what to do--she was falling down and
getting up like a drunkard. Everything was contrary to a modern wedding. I expected Bibi to shout from the other room to stop her from dancing. But nothing happened. She behaved like an elephant that was being poked by an awl. People played it safe; they didn't clap.
Then--as if it had been calculated--a thin, frail-looking girl, exactly this woman's opposite, stood up to dance. Dressed in taffeta pants and red boots, her eyebrows and nose looked a parenthesis and a question mark. As soon as she got up, she began wiggling around. Her swift, varied movements reminded me of a person who is in the last throes of life. Like a fish on land, she was flipping from side to side. After galloping around for a while, she sat down and stayed glued to her seat for the rest of the evening. Her chest heaved, as if she was having difficulty breathing. She was the new cashier of the store. A broad-shouldered, chubby lady got up immediately after her; she was dressed in a black crepe de Chine, Charleston shirt. Khankishi raised his voice.
"Let's all dance! Comrades will dance with their wives!"
A man came from the upper side of the hall. His collar was awry, and he was smoking a cigarette in a cigarette holder. He began to dance in circles around his wife, like a hawk hovering. His wife was stout and heavy - her lower lip hung down like the tongue of a cow. While the husband was whirling around, the lady stood her ground and swayed back and forth like
Most of the ladies who followed after these two went around flapping their wings like birds. Only one (and she was a relative of the bride) danced so beautifully that even the Zurna-player was astounded. Instead of taking in air, he wanted to take in the girl. In her red dress, she glowed like the setting sun and she amazed everyone with her drunken eyes. With her
harmonious movements, her beautiful hair kissed her breasts; and fell like silken tassels behind her back.
After tea, the food was served. Dishes of rice pilov! How wonderful they looked! Mounds of white rice, with turmeric-colored melted butter cascading, as if off the sides of a mountain. People dashed for the food. An incredible sound of gobbling food filled the house. Very soon it was obvious that neither the rice nor the stew would be enough. By way of encouragement, Khankishi said, "Don't worry, eat as much as you want. More food will be found."
But I got worried. As I watched the people eating with their greasy lips, and their dark hands descending on the dishes of white rice, I looked at Bibi who sat next to me.
"Bibi, it seems like the etiquette rules of the wedding are a little bit..."
Her mouth was full with soup and stew. She only spoke with her eyebrows, saying "No!"
Everyone was given tea glasses and Khankishi filled them with wine. From the other end of the hall, the cashier slowly raised her head, "Comrades, please. We are very fortunate to have comrade bridegroom, Bulbul bey, as a worker of Department Store No. 21. I propose to drink this round to his health."
At this moment, Khankishi shouted out, "Just a moment!"
Everyone looked towards the door. An old lady with bad makeup and too much powder on her face entered. Khankishi introduced her as the mother of the bride.
"Long live our groom's mother-in-law! May the unseen forces of Nature bless us all! May Nature give everyone a mother-in-law!" The mother-in-law was taken over to the groom.
Bibi, expressing the respect of the people, said, "May Nature give you a wedding. May the unseen forces of Nature be happy with you." Glasses were filled and emptied to the health of this and that. Interesting talk went on. When the groom spoke, everyone listened. I was so attentive, I wanted to borrow an extra pair of ears to listen.
"They shouldn't say that Bulbul hasn't finished university or anything like that. You know that cashier, everyone here is my colleague. They understand . . . That cashier is such a son-of-a-bitch that even the university cannot cope with him. They've really ruined the university. Don't you see the students coming and timidly hanging around and learning from us? I say, let's drink to the health of that cashier who has made this possible. (He held his glass up almost as high as the light hanging overhead.) The world does not turn without this. I've never seen such a delicious thing in my life. Let's drink to the health of the cashier."
The sound of glasses clinking filled the hall. When the groom's glass touched that of his mother-in-law's, he looked surprised and said, "This can't be! Khankishi! Say something to this lady!"
Someone said, "Why are you fighting?"
Khankishi filled the glass of the mother-in-law.
"Whoever refuses to drink, we'll empty the glass on their shirts. We propose that they should kiss each other. The bride and bridegroom should kiss each other. But since she's not here, for the time being, he should kiss her mother. We propose that they should kiss each other."
Kankishi put his arm around the mother-in-law and brought her to Bulbul. He kissed her noisily and drank up. The woman was embarrassed and sat down in her place. Her brother left the room in protest. As soon as Bulbul heard about it, he swore, "Whoever doesn't like me, a curse on him! Let him go!" Everyone returned to the food. Mouths were busy; spoons made noise.
Suddenly Khankishi shouted, "Who stole mine?"
"Who took it?"
"You took my meat!"
A glass shattered on the head of Khankishi. The wine glass struck the buffet and glasses broke. A half-filled jar of marmalade broke, spilling its contents. The mother-in-law became very irritated, and pulled her son-in-law aside, saying, "You've gotten yourself all dirty!"
The fight picked up. The gathering divided into two sides. Something tragic could have happened, but Bibi threw herself into the middle of it, screaming and crying. I whispered in her ear, "It seems that the wedding rules of etiquette are a little bit..."
When things quieted down, I opened my scarf, and took off my boots and pin, got dressed back in my student's clothes and started to leave. At the expense of making my Bibi upset, I said, "I apologize that I yawned once and broke the etiquette of modern weddings."
Bibi held onto me and wouldn't let me leave. Everyone left and we went to the other room. She was bringing all sorts of things from the windowsills and other places: boxes of chocolate, sweets, dishes of marmalade. I thought that these had been saved for us to eat, so I started to take a chocolate from one box. Bibi took it from my hand and wouldn't let me eat it. There were all sort of things: socks, shawls, a bouquet of artificial flowers, silver spoons, a sugar bowl, a box of make-up, face powder, a handkerchief and a collar pin.
In short, Store No. 22 was there. I waited. Bibi took her time, and holding each item, announced, "This shawl was brought by Mammad's wife. How wonderful: six silver spoons. Mina Khanim brought them. A box of cosmetics--how nice. I should say worthy of the name of Mashdi Rahim!"
Bibi held up each gift, and after learning the groom's opinion of it, put it aside. The groom seemed pretty mild-mannered at first,
"Well, it's not bad - next."
Bibi said, "It isn't a joke! I have created a source of income for her
husband. If it is it too much, leave it!"
Bibi showed him a bouquet of artificial flowers and said, "This is from the family of your friend Ayyub."
The groom whispered, "May I bury such a friend! How shameless!"
Bibi showed him a pair of socks. "These were brought by Hizmet."
"Mirsaad's wife, you know, Hizmet! She made a mistake to send such a gift, and you made a mistake to accept it! She has made a mockery of us. When I was still single, I spent 40 manats on the daughter. Now on the most precious day of my life, why is she so cheap? Damn her gift! Come on, take it back to her! I'm not so desperate. Trashy people! Socks! What socks!"
Seeing this, I realized why my half brother wouldn't talk to me. I was the one who had broken the rules of etiquette more than anyone else because I hadn't brought anything.
Afraid of being beaten up, I left on the pretext of getting some fresh air, and headed straight for the student dormitory in
Armenikendi. I vowed never again to go to a new-fashioned wedding, never again.
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