a beautiful Polish wedding

bart and basia wedding 26.06 (12)

While working the bar at a wakeboarding and waterskiing lake in the UK last summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a group of awesome temporary staff from around the world. They had travelled to work there for the season and learn from the world-class coaches in return. ¬†I got to hang out with people from Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, Austria and America for three months and had a LOT of fun ūüôā

Two of my great friends from that time are a Polish couple who are outgoing, funny, very sweet and completely in love.  They were engaged when I met them, and twelve months later I had the privilege of being invited to their wedding so last weekend I travelled to Poland to attend their marriage ceremony.

Before I left the miserable drizzle of the UK’s attempt at summer weather firmly behind me and boarded the plane, I was slightly unsure of what to expect. ¬†Most of the advice I had received was that the Polish REALLY know how to party and that a lot of vodka would be involved. ¬†Internet research had yielded very little in terms of appropriate dress code, wedding gifts or traditions and I was fairly worried about unwittingly offending someone by somehow being inappropriate without realising it!

I shouldn’t ¬†have worried though – the whole experience was an honour to be a part of and I was treated as family from the moment I touched down at the airport. ¬†I thought it might be an idea to write about my experience in case anyone else out there is in the same position I was and fancies a little heads up as to what to anticipate! ¬†Obviously I am no expert on Polish culture and no two weddings are the same so this is in no way a definitive guide or an attempt at one!

bart and basia wedding 26.06.13 1 (5)

  • Bartering for the Bride

This takes place on the morning of the wedding. ¬†The Groom goes to the bride’s family home and calls her father outside. ¬†Then ensues banter and bartering regarding the quantity of vodka appropriate to give the father in exchange for his daughter. ¬†It’s all very light hearted and comedic – the Father Of The Bride sent out the Best Man dressed as his daughter at one point but then finally agreed (after accepting more bottles of the proffered vodka) to send his daughter out. ¬†This is usually attended by close family only although I was privileged enough to be included and accepted as this throughout the day so got to experience a lot more than as a simple guest.

  • Prayers in the house

The Bride and Groom kneel in the house and their parents and grandparents pray over them or offer them blessings (or both – to be honest I’m not quite sure which it was as it was all in Polish but the priest was there! ¬†A helpful family member translated a few things spoken which appeared to be advice and good wishes!)

  • Best Man and Maid of Honour

There is a Best Man, whose duties include helping collect the Groom’s presents (explained a bit further down), making sure there is enough vodka at the reception and – for this wedding at least – dressing up as a woman for the bartering for the Bride! ¬†The Best Man does not do a speech or dress similarly to the Groom. ¬†There are no Bridesmaids but the Bride did have a Maid Of Honour, whose duties were pretty similar to those of the Best Man.

  • Dress code

I had read varying information about dress code but the advice I found most true to form was for the women to dress as if going to a classy nightclub in the UK. ¬†There were no hats or fascinators, no maxi dresses and certainly no women in trousers, playsuits or posh shorts. ¬†Pretty much all of the women wore heels (I didn’t – bad things happen when I attempt to walk in anything other than flats and the pavements were pretty uneven so I decided to avoid impending doom and keep my heels as close to the ground as possible!). ¬†All of the men all wore suits.

  • The Marriage service

The ceremony took place in a Catholic church, which I understand to be the traditional venue.  A little like a crematorium in the UK, the church was pretty much a revolving door Рas the previous wedding left through a side exit we entered through the main entrance.  Although the Bride and Groom arrive together, once everyone is seated the Bride is walked down the aisle to meet the Groom at the front of the church.  I am unable to explain most of the service as it was all conducted in Polish, however I can tell you that it lasted around an hour.  There was a lot of standing up, sitting down, kneeling (although not everyone kneeled so I refrained), sung responses to what the priest said and singing in general.  On two occasions the congregation was invited to file towards the front, which I later found out was to enable them to give offerings to the church the first time and to receive the Holy Communion (or Mass) the second time.  Not everyone went up so I stayed in my seat as I had no idea at the time what I would be walking to the front to do!  A Polish friend I met in  the summer season last year who attended the wedding informed me that the church service varies in different parts of the country and he had not attended a service where the congregation goes to the front to give their offerings.  The vows and exchanging of the rings took place in a similar manner to that experienced in weddings in the UK.  The interior of the church was beautifully decorated with murals on all available wallspace and the ceiling, which were beautiful to look at.  After the service the congregation filed out and waited outside for the Bride and Groom to exit.

  • After the wedding

As the Bride and Groom exit the church it is traditional to throw small change in the same way that other cultures throw confetti.  The newly-weds then picked up all of the coins together, which is believed to bring them good luck!

  • Breaking glass

Upon arrival at the reception everyone had a glass of champagne and toasted the Bride and Groom.  Once this had been drunk (pretty speedily I might add), the Bride and Groom smashed a glass on the floor, then proceeded to sweep it up together with a dustpan and brush.  Performing this task well is a sign that they will have great teamwork in their marriage.

  • Wedding gifts

All of the guests then formed a queue in front of the Bride and Groom. As each person was greeted by the couple they gave three kisses and a bunch of flowers to the Bride (which were then passed to the Maid Of Honour) and money in sealed brown envelopes to the Groom (collected by the Best Man).  The Bride at the wedding I attended had told close friends and family that she would much rather have wine than flowers so she received a fair amount instead of the traditional bouquets and the couple also received wrapped presents from a few guests.

  • Speeches

The parents of the married couple then made short speeches totalling about 10 minutes.  As this was in Polish I have no idea what was said but everyone seemed to chuckle quite a bit so I assume it was fairly light hearted!

  • First meal and First Dance

Everyone then sat down to a full three course meal. ¬†I had been pre-warned that there would be a ridiculous amount of food on offer throughout the reception so luckily heeded this advice and didn’t go crazy – more on the food to come! ¬†After the first meal the Bride and Groom performed the First Dance which is a ballroom-style number with set choreography that is learnt beforehand.

  • Bowties and bouquets

The Groom sat on a chair and the unmarried men surrounded him.  The Bride then had to try to get to him and extract his tie.  Once this was achieved it was thrown at the group of unmarried men and the person who caught it is then considered to be very desirable.

The Bride was then surrounded by her unmarried female friends.  She threw the bouquet and whoever caught it will marry next (pretty much like the British tradition).

  • The Reception / Party

At some point the wedding photos were taken and then the rest of the reception consisted of eating, drinking and dancing (explained below). ¬†The Bride’s father pays for everything so it’s an open bar. ¬†The party continues until whenever the guests and married couple decide to leave – at about 5am at the one I attended! ¬†Many of those my age and the younger generation are able to speak some form of English ( a lot speak it very fluently) and they were very friendly and happy to make conversation!

  • Food

I cannot express how much food appears throughout the evening.  Picture each table heaving with food and in addition imagine having enough for everyone to have a full meal brought out about every hour or so.  Each set of food is different from the one before so if you want to try it all pace yourself and only have a few mouthfuls of each dish!  At midnight the Bride and Groom cut the wedding cake and it was shared out to all of the guests.

  • Vodka

Ah. ¬†The vodka. ¬†I think the fact that everyone introduced it to us as ‘Polish wine’ pretty much sums it up! ¬†On the tables each place was laid with a wine glass, a water glass and a shot glass. ¬†There were two 1 litre bottles of vodka on each table of ten at the reception I attended. ¬†When one person has a shot of vodka everyone on the table is offered (and should accept) one too. ¬†If the bottle looks like it’s getting empty is replaced. ¬†There was also wine on the tables and soft drinks, although traditionally the only alcohol is vodka.

  • Dancing

Dancing is as essential to a wedding reception as the vodka.  And by dancing I mean proper partner ballroom style dancing.  The live band played Polish songs and the men ask the women to dance.  People do not stick with one partner when dancing and change after each song.  Everyone was so friendly and inclusive so I was involved in a LOT of dancing Рluckily they seemed to have about as much of an idea of actual ballroom dances as I did so it was great fun!  After the midnight cake the music became a lot more modern with a few tracks in English thrown in.

  • And the party just keeps on going!

It is not unusual for the wedding to last a couple of days.  Unfortunately I had to fly home the next morning but all of the guests and the married couple were going to have a late breakfast together and then continue the party!

In case you can’t tell I had an absolutely amazing time in Poland – it is such a beautiful country with warm hearted people and it was a complete honour to be accepted as family and experience the wedding – I will definitely be going back to visit the newly-weds and explore more of the culture!

If you fancy checking out another post on Polish weddings, this blogger’s¬†Polish wedding survival guide¬†contained the most helpful information I found ūüôā

big love

gollygoshgirl xx

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Heaven is a Halfpipe

Below is an¬†excerpt¬†from a book published in 2009 called ‘Stories From The Streets’. ¬†It is a chapter I was asked to write about a group of young people I have had the privilege of spending quite a bit of time with over the years.

stokeplaza 9th may 09

Heaven is a Halfpipe

This is the true story of how a group of society’s outcasts created a community that inspires others.

Six years ago the village was not at peace.  The sound of boards clattering, trucks grinding on metal and a few choice profanities of either triumph or frustration was broken intermittently with the complaints of residents and caretakers.  The group was moved along from so many locations that they spent more time finding new spots than mastering the ones they had already discovered.  They were a nuisance; too loud, too rude; too inconsiderate of others sharing the same living space.

Unless you cared to look below the surface and see the real picture.¬†They ended up outside the church ‚Äď it was the best location for their sport.¬† They utilised the front of the building; the wheelchair ramp, the stairs, the brick wall and the flat concrete were perfectly positioned for learning tricks and the doorway and bench were just in the right position to allow the spectators amongst them a great view.¬† A group of teenagers; baggy clothes, music players, cigarettes, obligatory skate deck slung under one arm, cans of energy drinks and beer.¬† They had found their resting place; for the moment.

Church services were interrupted by the chatter, laughter, hollering, slamming boards, thuds of fallen skaters.  These young people defied being seen and not heard.  They left cans, cigarette butts and a few cracked or eroded bricks each visit; the mark of their territory.  Yet it wasn’t theirs and they were all too aware of it.  Something had to be done.

And so a few members of the church volunteered to spend time each evening service outside with the skaters; investing time in building relationships and breaking the stereotypes on either side; the ‚ÄúShow Love Team‚ÄĚ was formed.¬† And as these teenagers and Parishioners started to interact an entirely different picture of the adolescent characters emerged.

Skating was their passion; it united them.  Their whole lifestyle revolved around it.  If it was dry they would be conquering a new trick; if the weather was unsuitable they would be planning their next outing.  They were constantly learning, developing, improving.  It was addictive.  They were consumed with their sport and it created a strong bond between them.  They encouraged, valued and learnt from each other.  They were loyal, friendly and welcoming.  And yet they were consistently turned away from public property, car parks, even kerbs on the roadside.  This rejection led them to develop an exterior of indifference, protecting them from the negative response they generated in others.

As they gained confidence in the intentions of the Show Love Team they spoke of their dream; to have a skate park on their doorstep ‚Äď somewhere they could call their own and claim for their sport. A place they could belong.¬† Their vision caught the imagination of one member of the team who captured their desire and vowed to help make it a reality.¬† She was an unlikely candidate; female, barely eighteen years old and completely uneducated in the world of skating.¬† But she had a passion for the cause, a willingness to unite and campaign with these adolescents and the belief that God had brought them to the Church doorstep – the least she could do would be to love, accept and support them.¬† She was warmly accepted by the group and became part of their small community.

In February 2003 the skaters embarked on the first step towards their goal.  A meeting was arranged between themselves and the local leisure development officer to discuss the possibility of building a skate park in the village.  Although they naively went into the meeting assuming it was just a question of putting forward a strong enough case; they left with the knowledge that this was not a project to be taken lightly.  They were going to have to be in it for the long haul; planning permission, council approval, residents’ agreement, suitable space, and, of course, a vast amount of money.  Still, they left undeterred and began to draw up designs and create ideas as to how to overcome the hurdles.  Their delight at being believed in enough for them to be taken seriously at a meeting was apparent and their enthusiasm became infectious.  They were motivated and driven; they would achieve this!

However the latest addition to the group didn’t want to leave the vision on hold for the years it could take to accomplish.  She decided that if they couldn’t bring the skate park to them; they would have to bring themselves to the skate parks.

A week after that first meeting, six boys piled into a couple of cars. A few hours and many wrong turnings later they reached their destination. It was a small outdoor space with minimum equipment but to the boys it was perfect.  They were in their element and came alive during the excursion; they wanted nothing more than to enjoy the unfamiliar layout and develop the best technique to conquer it.  Watching their response to the simple outing, one member vowed to find a way for them to keep experiencing new places and improving their sport.  That member was me.

Over the past six years I have been privileged enough to bear witness to the development and growth of the individuals within this emerging community in addition to the group as a whole.¬† And it is whole.¬† The original founding members are still very much involved; some becoming leaders and mentors, others choosing to continue pursuing their sport elsewhere ‚Äď but the thread that binds them together created by the shared passion for their hobby is one that cannot be broken.¬† And that bond is not limited to that handful of schoolboys in those two cars six years ago.

As those teenagers developed into the young adults they are now, the group increased.  Members were added to their number and they continued to travel monthly to skate parks across the country.  They formed a collective identity; The Grind.  One member created a logo using his flair for graffiti and this became a symbol of their culture.  It marked their unity; they were part of something: finally, they belonged. The journey from that first amateur trip has not always been straightforward but there have been some considerable encouragements along the way.  Although we have felt, at times, a lot of opposition we have also been overwhelmed by the generosity and love of many individuals and organisations.

About a year after the meeting to discuss building a facility in the village for the skaters, I had become very discouraged.¬† We were unable to source any funding, were hitting proverbial brick walls with every site location suggestion and felt unable to stir in others any enthusiasm for our vision.¬†I was at a summer festival, and came across a stall selling skate clothing by a Christian company.¬†Many of the garments bore a logo declaring ‚ÄėRise‚Äô and a bible reference.¬†I soon discovered that the reference from Micah 7:8 read; ‚ÄúDo not gloat over me my enemy, for though I have fallen, I will rise.‚Ä̬†This became a source of inspiration over the years to come and continues to be a mantra in challenging times.

I wrote to that company explaining our dream, our frustrations and the hope we found in that verse. I received in reply an email of support and a large package of merchandise. This belief in our cause was incredibly moving, and filled us with the conviction that our idea truly was worthy. It was to be the first of many donations, each of which have inspired, encouraged and moved us for the simple reason that others have faith in our ambition.

We have received financial gifts, letters of appreciation, countless donations of time and even been privileged enough to have a supporter running the London Marathon in our name. We have had funding applications granted and one internationally prolific skate brand provided us with 100 limited edition t-shirts left over from their sponsored skaters’ UK tour, pairs of exclusive trainers and all of the other merchandise left from their trip. Our subsequent outings saw the boys showing off their new attire and being delighted to be asked by their peers at the skate parks if they were sponsored!

There have also been stories on a more personal level of transformed lives and lifelong friendships. We come from an assortment of different circumstances and often forget the diversity between us that is visible to the outside world. Those looking in on our community are often surprised at the characters they see and the behaviour displayed – there is acceptance, inclusion, tolerance and unity – whereas in different contexts the same individuals are known as characters for entirely different reasons!

The Grind has, for many, become an environment that induces development and maturity. It is a place where young people are released to be themselves because they are celebrated for their individuality. And it is not just our members who have changed.

Remember that village?¬†The one that was sent into disarray at the beginning of our story?¬†Two months ago ‚Äď and six years after our tale began ‚Äď a skate park was officially opened, marking a new beginning and leading us forward on the next step of our journey.

Grind on Tour 30th - 31st oct 09

a little bit of perspective

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“It’s not what you look at, but what you see”

Henry David Thoreau

The teensiest bit of perspective goes a long way. ¬†The little quote above has actually helped me quite a bit. It helps me recognise that life is not black and white. Even if sometimes I can’t affect what happens to me; I always have the choice to decide how I view each person or situation I encounter.

One example is my daily commute. ¬†The drive to work is a 100 mile round trip. ¬†It is almost all on the M25 (which I firmly believe turns into the UK’s biggest carpark during rush hour) and I spend hours sitting in traffic. ¬†Literally. ¬†Hours. ¬†A good day for me is getting to work within 2 hours and home within 3. ¬†And it costs a lot. ¬†Not just in time but financially too. I love my job but the endless queues and miles of brake lights stretching ahead of me don’t exactly fill me with joy. ¬†However, I am sure I have learned a little patience over the past 3 years. ¬†At least; I sure hope I have! ¬†What has helped me get through the long drive is also the quote above. ¬†I look out at hundreds of cars worth of traffic, crammed into three lanes in each direction and hemmed in with barriers to protect the outside world from the sight of us; tall fencing, high banks of earth and other obstructions that save local communities from having to view the never-ending stream of vehicles. ¬†And after more than a little frustration on a few occasions I decided I needed a bit of perspective. ¬†I started a little personal project to find beauty amongst the mass of queuing automobiles. ¬†Believe it or not, seeking out something wonderful to capture has had a very positive effect on my mindset (and for any of you frowning and tutting at me for taking pictures on my phone whilst driving: I’ll have you know I only do it when my handbrake is on and my¬†engine¬†is switched off, which counts as parking thank you very much). Above and below are a few little moments since I started this little project 6 months ago – check out my¬†instagram¬†for more if you’re interested!

Example number two: The reason I endure countless hours in my little VW Gulf is because I truly love what I do. ¬†I teach teenagers who have failed at school and been kicked out from all other education options due to poor behaviour. ¬†However; on a bad day – amongst all of the aggression, verbal abuse and bruises – it can prove a bit tricky not to feel useless, helpless and hopeless. ¬†But, like Mr Thoreau suggests above, it depends on what I am choosing to see. ¬†As I write up all the daily required reports about each learner, I make sure to include at least one thing that went well for them that day. ¬†Don’t get me wrong – this can sometimes take a while to come up with and it can be a tiny thing such as the fact that they actually arrived at school. ¬†But it can also be positive changes that we wouldn’t have noticed if we hadn’t been really searching for them in the chaos – holding a door open, moving away from the elderly or young children when aggressive and threatening, calming down a little faster than usual, accepting someone else’s view, showing teamwork in football, making an effort. ¬†It’s these little things that could easily go unnoticed that are often the key to unlocking the potential in an individual. ¬†Our learners are used to being yelled at, criticised, arrested, told they won’t or can’t achieve, feeling unworthy, scared, helpless, out of control. ¬†And if that’s all they’ve had then it’s no wonder they end up with us. ¬†Along with clear boundaries, if we can help each teenager notice the good in themselves and encourage it – ¬†give them attention and praise for the positives, show them that they can contribute and are worth something – ¬†then¬†somewhere¬†along the line (and trust me it can be a very, very long line) something beautiful happens. ¬†They start to believe it. ¬†They start to believe in themselves.

big love

gollygoshgirl

xx

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Walk Off The Earth

Live music ¬†rejuvenates my soul. ¬†People gathering¬†together¬†to celebrate someone else’s talent; how awesome is that!?!

Earlier this month my brother and went to a gig in north west London. Walk Off The Earth are a Canadian band that we discovered through YouTube one Sunday lunchtime and it turns out they are a pretty darn talented bunch! ¬†If you haven’t heard of them I fully¬†recommend¬†checking them out – their own stuff is great but if you want to hear some great covers take a peek at ‘Somebody that I used to know’, ‘Grenade’ and ‘I knew you were trouble’.

Walk Off The Earth

Living with boys

My housemates are awesome.

Over the past few years I have had the (sometimes debatable) pleasure of being the only girl in a houseful of guys. Below are a couple of observations on life with these wonderful human beings.

Firstly, though, a small disclaimer. ¬†Don’t expect to find any insightful revelations into the male mind ¬†(I’m afraid I don’t have any). ¬†Embarrassing¬†stories won’t feature either –¬†that’s¬†a whole other blog post and the boys have way too much ammunition on me! ¬†Should you ever want to hear some of the out-takes, though,¬† I’m pretty easy to bribe.

Right; now that‚Äôs out of the way….

Life at number 5 – a few features

  • The great heating debate. ¬†When the temperature of the house reaches a warmth enabling me to retain circulation in my fingers: cue¬†complaints of mouths drier than the desert¬†and a lot of walking around in shorts. The result being that I’m doing my bit for the economy by keeping hot water bottle manufacturers very much in business.
  • Film choices. Don’t bother trying to make a convincing argument¬†unless you can use as many of the following terms as possible; respect, honour, glory, justice, epic battle, redemption. (Luckily, most of these descriptions can sum up dance films. ¬†Unluckily, the boys are now wise to this.)
  • Deep and meaningfuls. ¬†These conversations creep up on you when you least expect it. ¬†Generally in the middle of a remark about something else. ¬† “Tea?” ¬† “Sure. ¬†Oh yea, and (insert very short statement of life crisis here) just happened. Milk and 2 sugars please”.
  • ‘If in doubt; burn it’. ¬†The mantra adopted by every male inhabitant of our household. ¬†Be warned.
  • ¬†Punctuality for important events. ¬†When travelling by plane it is an unwritten rule that passports must not be located until all other packing is completed; a process which may only be started after the journey to the airport should have begun. ¬†Also never rely on your housemates to arrive at a wedding on time (or to resist from playing ‘last man standing’ whenever the congregation is required to be seated.)
  • The ‘Feelings’ Face. The look adopted by men everywhere when they’ve heard enough about emotions. ¬†This occurs after varying lengths of time depending on state of hunger, mood and interest level.
  • Creative use of everyday items. ¬†Apparently, the washing up brush can be used to clean car¬†oil off of the front step. ¬†The challenge is to intercept whoever is¬†wielding¬†it before it reaches the sink and is returned to its previous use.
  • ¬†Houseparties. ¬†Great people, fancy dress, bonfires, dancing, Heineken heat and a nice cozy bed just upstairs. Brilliant.

big love,

gollygoshgirl xx