Five Things that Make Planning a Spanish-American Wedding a Logistical Nightmare

I’m going to admit it – my upcoming wedding is bringing out the worst in me. There’s the stress of planning from abroad, coupled with my body changing with the coming of the Second Puberty (otherwise known as turning 30), the bickering and tension with trying to keep both families happy and me in the middle, plus the logistics and the blind faith of letting other people decide details for someone who doesn’t know how to delegate.

Everyone said weddings are work, and I’m realizing that, yeah, that’s an understatement if I ever heard one!

Planning a Spanish American Wedding

I’m officially down to six months until the sí, quiero. When I chose a date and venue and bought a dress in late July of 2014, August 2015 seemed forever away. So I went about my merry Spanish life, eating jamón and indulging in siestas (kidding, not my real life, and the only difference post-pedido is one more thing in my agenda to do each day).

And then when my sister got engaged at Christmas and started eating a bit healthier, I felt like August was right around the corner, waiting to stick out its leg, trip me and laugh as I picked myself off the floor.

Can I just say that my wedding may kill me?

I keep reminding myself that no one will really remember what they ate (unless it’s terrible or exceptional) or what music the DJ played (unless it’s terrible or exceptional or I convince the Novio to dance sevillanas with me). The most important thing is that we’re there, we’re happy and we’re ready for what comes after the party.

But we’ve still got to get there.

Distance

By far the biggest challenge to the wedding madness is the distance – I’m living in Seville and planning a wedding in Chicago (6,731 kilometers away, in case you were wondering).

Weddings at Meson Sabika

I’m a control freak having to cope with letting someone else decide a lot of the details, though giving up said control means does I’m not obsessing over every detail. This has worked out nicely for my mother and her sweet tooth, as it’s them who will be deciding on our wedding cake, and my Travel Ninja dad is working on the logistics, transportation rentals and hotels for our out-of-town guests.

So, planning. Last summer, I spent hours pouring over wedding magazines, calling vendors and venues, and beginning to work out plans for the big day. I was never one of those girls who dreamed about getting married one day, so I was literally staring with zero ideas, except knowing who I was going to marry. On the way home from the airport in July 2014, we stopped at Jewel and Nancy bought my three wedding magazines. I fell asleep on top of them – THAT was how I felt at that point.

Slowly, plans came together, even if I did do a few things backwards, and when I left for Spain six weeks later, I’d hammered out the big plans, leaving my mom to do the flowers (I sent her a pinterest board with some ideas, and I hate myself for ever typing that) and address US-bound invitations, my dad the tuxedos, and my sister to supervise.

Planning for a wedding abroad

When I chose vendors, I immediately eliminated a few who rolled their eyes when I told them where I lived. Flexibility and email skills were important, as the time difference with Chicago would be killer. One such contact is proving to be less likely to answer me within two weeks (ahem, the church), and I will have to sometimes cancel plans to take a Skype call after work.

Thankfully, I have five weeks of summer vacation to smooth out all of the last-minute details, RSVPs and seating charts. My sister-in-law is in charge of wrangling the Spaniards up and getting them where they need to go on time. Hopefully the day will be enough of a blur that I can ignore the small problems and concentrate on remembering to breathe, eat and smile.

Last Name and Paperwork

Surprise! My last name is not pronounced “gaaaah” but “gay.” Imagine being the new kid in middle school and having your teachers ask you to repeat it time and time again in middle school so they’d get it right.

Yes, that happened, and I couldn’t wait to get married and change my name when I was younger. In fact, my mother told my father on their first blind date that she’s never marry him because of his surname. Thirty-some years on, I’m convinced that she got over that quickly.

mom and dad wedding

Aww, my parents on their wedding day in 1983

Nearly two decades later, who am I to scoff at sexist Bible readings for the ceremony and then go ahead and change my name? I’m not an ultra feminist, but have taken that argument to heart. It’s mine, so why should I have to give it up for tradition’s sake? Not like we’re a normal couple anyway.

In many Hispanic countries, everyone has two last names: first their father’s, and then their mother’s. So if your name is María de Dolores de la Cruz García, de la Cruz is your father’s first last name, García is your mother’s. Imagine trying to write all of that at the top of a standardized test.

I’d gotten so used to using my middle name to fill out paperwork that when signing up for things like bank accounts and supermarket discount cards, I’d put my middle name as my first last name. My name was wrong on my paycheck stub for an entire year, despite my pleas to change it, lest I lose years towards retirement.

The whole name change thing makes my head spin. Apart from changing my email nick, I’d have to change my US-issued passport, driver’s license, social security as a start. In Spain, it’s about the same, though the process is bound to be arduous.

Cat+EnriqueEngagement042

photo by Chrystl Roberge Photography

At the moment, I’ve decided to stick with Gaa and bring a whole new generation of guiri descendants to Spain. I do have to renew my NIE, passport and US license within eight months of another, so I could change my mind. Regardless, my middle name and the Novio’s surname begin with the same letter, and Catherine M Gaa could totally pass for both.

The Novio’s solution is simple: convert my surname back to its original Dutch form, lost and subsequently butchered when my ancestors immigrated to America: Van Gaal.

Priest and Traditions

When I first arrived to Chicago, my first order of business should have been contacting the church where I did my confirmation to check availability and book a date. I went ahead and scheduled appointments to see venues and find a wedding dress first because, priorities (and my sister was in town from Texas).

I was hesitant about whether or not to get married in a church – not because of religion, but because one usually be a part of the congregation. What saved me from questions was that I’d done a sacrament and that my dad is active at Saint Mike’s, and August 2015 was wide open.

orange and blue wedding flowers

As Catholics, we’re required to complete a pre-marriage course called a pre-cana. In the archdiocese that my church belongs to, this is a weekend-long event to the tune of $250, plus subsequent sessions and attendance at mass. But Father Dan gave us the go ahead to do the course in Spain since we live here and communicate in Spanish – in fact, he even offered to do the course over Skype with us! I assured him we’d find a course in Seville, and he told us we’d just need to present a certificate of completion and the Novio’s birth certificate.

Bonus: the curso preboda is free in Spain and less of a time commitment!

With that figured out, we could focus on the ceremony and reception. But first, a primer: while Spanish weddings and their American counterparts are largely the same, there are a few big differences, and they’re causing confusion to the Spaniards (and usually the ones who pleaded that I have a big, fat, Hollywood-style wedding).

If I have to repeat, “There are no rules to what you wear to American weddings” one more time, I may throw up. If someone asks me “por favor can you find a way to smuggle in jamón,” I will break down into tears. Attire and timetables are proving to be more meddlesome than I excepted.

Spanish women wear short dresses and fascinators at day weddings, and long dresses to night ceremonies, so imagine the confusion with the ceremony at 2:30pm and the reception at 5:30. I don’t care, so long as you don’t come in jeans. This is also appropriate:

Spain's Duchess of Alba Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva dances flamenco beside her husband Alfonso Diez at the entrance of Las Duenas Palace after their wedding in Seville

And when will the Spaniards eat?! I may be up the night before my wedding making ham bocadillos for them to chow on between the ceremony and reception, and because we’re getting kicked out at 11pm, we had to look for a place for an after party and serve more food to soak up the liquor from the open bar. Because of this, we’ll be buying our own alcohol based on estimates from the caterer, yet one more pre-wedding task (but one that means I’m not stuck drinking Michelob). Our menu is pretty American, but with a few Andalusian twists. Y punto. No 12-hour gorge fest. 

We’ve also opted for a wedding party, so I’m coordinating tuxedos with the three Spanish groomsmen living in three different cities. My American bridesmaids are all set to go and will even be sporting a few Spanish fashions, but not having the mother of the groom as the official witness did mean some feelings got hurt. The solution is letting her accompany the groom to the altar.

The matter of a registry was also a pain. In Spain, most couples receive money, either to a joint bank account before the wedding or in an envelope between dinner courses. While my family scoffed at the idea of giving us money, it’s what we prefer because we’ll be making our home in Spain and don’t want to cart gifts back on an airplane. In the end, we decided to do ZankYou, which is an online registry available in both languages, and where we can choose to buy the items or pocket the money. Our house has the basics, but we’d rather not jump the gun and buy something we don’t want.

The ceremony has yet to take shape. Unfortunately, Catholic tradition is pretty rigid, so we’re still unsure about how much wiggle room we’ll have. I’d have loved our exit song to be a heavy metal ballad played on strings, or something a bit more nosotros, but we picked our readings blindly and happened to agree on them. Also an easy decision? No mass!

Language

I learned Spanish for many reasons, and one of those was love. The Novio and I speak about 90% of the time in Spanish, with occasional English words mixed in, like, “Estoy muy sleepy.”

How, then, do you plan a ceremony, speeches and the like in two different languages? The reception has a decidedly Spanish theme, between azulejo tiles and oranges, but there was no way I’d make two sets of save-the-dates, two sets of programs and two sets of invitations.

Bilingual Save the Dates

Our wedding web is currently in two languages, and the save-the-dates play on easy Spanish words. My bridesmaids also got tiny packets of saffron with a cut-out Osborne bull that said, “Help me with the wedding BULLshit. Will you be my bridesmaid?”

But I’m still puzzled as to what to do for the church programs and have decided that menu cards are totally unnecessary – you choose your entrée people! The tricky part could be the reception cards that will need to come back.

In Spain, invitations are handed out in person just a few weeks before the big day, and everyone is served the same food. This means that all of the extra stuff – the reception card, the RSVP and the extra, self-addressed envelope – is useless and even confusing to a Spaniard. People considered our save-the-dates to be the actual invitation, as a matter of fact!

Bilingual Wedding Invitations

For this reason, we’ll be sticking a few extra pieces of paper into the envelopes going to Spaniards to explain that they have to return the reply card and to give them our bank information.

The ceremony will likely have one reading in English and one in Spanish, and we’re hoping to speak to a Spanish priest about the verses and refrains used here. I want to have a balance so that the Spaniards don’t feel left out during the service – because you know I’ll have tons of crappy Spanish pop songs and sevillanas at the reception! Speeches are not common at Spanish weddings, though we may ask a groomsmen to do one. We’ve also decided to splurge on a videographer so that family and friends who aren’t able to make the trip can share in our big day.

I’m almost relieved that the church won’t allows us to make up our own vows, because that would open a whole new can of worms. I know my family would like me to do the votos in English, and the Novio’s family in Spanish. My goal? To fill in the language gap with laughter and love. Oh dios was that cheesy.

Timeframe 

For me, there was no argument about when to get married – I’d need to work around my work schedule, even though I am entitled by law to 15 days off. Looking at a calendar, we had four Saturdays: July 25th, August 1st, August 8th or August 15th. The 15th was off the table – it’s my 30th birthday.

I had a few things to consider: When could he come? When would be convenient for the Spaniards with their holiday time? What about fares from Madrid to Chicago? And, considering how much I’d have to do before the wedding, which date would give me the most time to prepare before the big day?

Cat+EnriqueEngagement065

photo by Chrystl Roberge Photography

We chose August 8th, as all of the pieces just seemed to line up, both with holiday time and vendor availability. This, of course, caused uproar because of pricey flights from Europe. The Novio gave me good advice: those who want to come will make the effort. Those who don’t – that’s one less person to coordinate. I rejoice that my partner is so pragmatic, particularly when I get carried away.

I also headed home over the holidays to meet with a florist, have my dress fitted and do a hair and makeup trial, and I’ll be jetting back for a month before the wedding to take care of the last details, including having a shower of sorts and a bachelorette party (bonus! I get one in Spain, too!). July and August have been insane months for the last three years, and 2015 will keep pace.

We’re opting not to take a honeymoon just yet because of other expenses (clearly not my choice!). Japan and Cuba are the top choices, and hopefully a minimoon just before returning to Spain to begin married life.

The Countdown

While many people enjoy the planning process of a wedding, I don’t feel like I’m much a part of the whole thing. The Novio’s been out of town on business for four of the last six months, and I’m not stuffing envelopes with my bridesmaids. The light at the end of the tunnel is being husband and wife and able to share our love and future with our más queridos. So for every headache, there is something to look forward to in the future.

Cat+EnriqueEngagement078

photo by Chrystl Roberge Photography

People have asked me if I’m nervous to get married or to stay in Spain for life. The Novio and I have been pretty serious since we first met, so the answer is no. We also did the very Spanish thing of dating for a bajillion years before getting engaged, so his feeling on the matter is, “I’ve learned to live with your caprichitos, and I’m old enough to know what I want and who I want.”

So glad we’re sticking to traditional vows! 

Six Years in Spain – Six Posts You Can’t Miss

Six years ago, my 90-day student visa was cancelled as I stepped off the plane in Madrid’s Barajas airport. Happy Spaniversary to me!

Somehow, in the span of six years, my blog has gone from a little pet project to being a story of sticking it to El Hombre, of carving out a space in my little Spanish burbuja and learning to embrace my new home. People know my Spain story…or so they think.

Want to know something? My first year was hard.

And so was the second and third.

And then I couldn’t figure out how to stay in Spain legally and make enough to support my tapas and traveling habits.

Just recently, my group of guiritas and I were talking about how we all finally, finally – after four, six or even eight years – feel settled in Spain. I’ve written before about how I feel like I have a life in two places, like I can’t be 100% present in either, and that choosing one over another would be extremely painful.

I’ve made Seville my home, but it’s been like the prodigal rollercoaster – highs bring elation, lows bring the dark storm clouds of depression. During six years in Spain, I’ve weathered homesickness, disappointment, rejection, a break up. I’ve cried with friends over Skype when their loved ones have died, gotten teary when getting the news when amigas have married or had kids, and I’ve missed it.

Today, as I celebrate six years living in the land of sunshine and siestas, I’m actually reminded of the times where I’ve had to grit my teeth or scream or curse the Spanish government for their inefficiency.

Think you know the girl behind this blog? If you haven’t read from the beginning, you may not know the whole story.

Year One

I arrived to Spain on September 13th, 2007 and promptly toppled over, the weight of my bags way too much to handle (and before I got weighed down by solomillo al whiskey and torrijas). This was, in many ways, a taste of what was to come: stumbling, falling, laughing about it, and getting up again.

While it was the direction I wanted to take after college, I felt utterly alone in Spain. I came without knowing anyone, with little Spanish and no idea what to expect in my job. The first few weeks were trying, and I was ready to up and go home. Meeting Kate and Christine, two guiris with whom I’m very close, changed everything (thankfully). When I read the following post, of how lonely and depressed I was, I cringe. What a difference a year (or five) makes. read: Sin Título.

Year Two

Believe it or not, my second year in Spain was tougher than the first. Yes, I spoke more Spanish and, yes, I had the abroad thing more or less figured out. But it was the year that the Novio started going to Somalia for long months with no phone contact, the year that I had serious doubts about a life in Spain and the year I almost went home forever…that was the intention, anyhow. Oh, and I got hit by a car, too.

But by far the worst was the fact that my ugly American was creeping in. I was discriminated against for jobs, told my Spanish was absolute kaka and got taken for tonta. Apart from my personal doubts, I was so sick of the sevillanía that had me feeling like an outcast. read: Hoy Me Quejo De.

Year Three

My third year in Spanilandia was by far the most fun – loads of great fun with close friends, traveling to Morocco and Prague and Budapest, finally coming to terms with my two years in Spain. I was determined it would be my last, but it was just the beginning. The Novio and I rekindled our romance not even 12 hours off the plane, and I decided he was worth staying in Spain for. As I tearfully said goodbye to my students at IES Heliche, I was faced with the problem of how to keep living in Spain legally.

I figured out a way to skirt around stupid government regulations in what has been my proudest moment to date. Getting a last-minute appointment o renew my NIE number and lying through my teeth, I could breathe easier knowing that the Spanish government would come knocking on my brother-in-law’s door if I ever got in trouble. Suckers! read: Breaking Rules and Breaking Down.

Year Four

My fourth year of Spain seemed to have everything turn around: I got a steady job, I moved in with the Novio and I had a great group of friends. I was no longer an auxiliar, traveling on the weekends and botelloning around the city. Just when I began to feel comfortable, I was faced with making loads of grownup decisions about a stable future in Spain (with a pleasant surprise!). read: What a Week.

Year Five

For six years, I’ve made a living teaching people my native tongue. After three school courses as a language and culture assistant with the government, I scrambled to find a job, register for a social security number, and then learn the politics of working at a private school. While the gig provided me with the financial support I needed and a steady job, I soon realized it wasn’t for me. After two years, I had to say goodbye to a job that I enjoyed, forcing me to realize that I was an adult and I would have to make tough decisions every once in a while.

I miss my kiddos all the time, but still get some contact hours at my academy while playing the admin role as the Director of Studies (no, I do not blog full-time). read: Saying Goodbye.

Year Six

Alright, I’m a hag and I admit it. Cautiously optimistic after a few years of disappointments and setbacks in Spain, sure, but my ornery abuelita card has come out recently as I start to get annoyed with Seville. Don’t get my wrong, it is the ciudad de mi alma, but as with any city, there are things that drive me absolutely insane.

If it weren’t for wearing a tight flamenco dress once a year and the cheap beer, I’d be out. As my dear sevilliamericana la Dolan says, ‘La sevillanía me mata y me da vida.’ read: Jaded Expat: Four Things I Dislike About Living in Seville.

My Spanish life is just that: life. I pay taxes and get unemployment benefits, I have car payments, I have a house to clean (dios do I miss my señora). I’m a young professional living for the weekend, traveling when I can, and taking the good with the bad. Since the beginning, I fought to have raíces here not because I’m afraid of failing, but because I feel like it’s where I am meant to be right now.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while living abroad?  

Shooting My First Wedding: Andrea y Carlos

I’m a sucker for a good love story. Maybe it’s the midday hours watching Spain’s answer to Lifetime: Television for Women, but having been in a relationship for the last 5.5 years, I find myself seeing myself settle down, and for real this time.

I especially love the stories when people have overcome language barriers, visa issues, and the naysayers. When a fellow blogger married her gatidano boyfriend a few years ago, I loved his English vows, claiming that a bilingual relationship is twice as enriching, twice as fun. I wholeheartedly agree. How great is making Thanksgiving for your extended family or teaching one another idioms and swear words?

I’m just one of many who have fallen in love abroad and who fumbled in Spanish for love, so when my friend Andrea called me and asked if I’d be interested in photographing her wedding to her sevillano, Carlos, I jumped at the opportunity. Being another guiri-sevillano couple it was a pleasure to help them capture their special day that was full of laughs and a ton of love. Like the Novio’s family, Carlos’s relatives have really embraced Andi and their bilingual love.

The couple put together their day in just a few shorts weeks, and Andi was quick to recommend a great place to find wedding supplies at wholesale prices. I spent hours researching shots, looking for interesting places around Triana and Plaza de España to take pictures of the pair, and testing lighting in the venue. When I turned in the pen drive with 5.8GB of photos, video and touched up shots, Andrea and Carlos told me that they would be delighted if I shared them. Shooting a couple that was in love and looking forward to their new life in Maine was such a pleasure, and I was flattered that they asked me and Camarón to join in.

I had loads of fun shooting Andrea and Carlos’s wedding, from Andi’s hair appointment into the wee hours of the morning. If you’re looking for someone to shoot special events, get in contact with me at sunshineandsiestas[at]gmail.com

Seville Snapshots: Love Locks in Florence, Italy

Actions always speak louder than words, right?

I mean, I teach English and I know more idioms than I would ever need to know, but my knees goes all jelly and my heart melts when I see random acts of kindness or unnoticed displays of affection on the street.

During our recent trip to Florence and Bologna, where we chose tagliatelle over tourism, we stopped at the Ponte Vecchio, one of my favorite parts of the city. I’ve long loved bridges and the chalky colors of the jewelry shops perched on top of the stone bridge are no exception.

On my first trip to Florence four years ago, I saw the bridge at night. The cobblestone was slick with rain, and I was in a hurry to meet my couch surfing host for a glass of wine. This time around, the Novio had forgotten his sunglasses and we squinted at one another as we walked arm and arm from the Uffizi Galleries.

Like us, love locks were arm-in-arm with the wrought iron of the statue on the bridge. In a city in close proximity to the Eternal one, eternal love was scrawled in permanent marker across heart-shaped ones, small luggage ones, and the type I had on my locker in high school. Cheesy, maybe, but a testament to love in one of the most romantic places I’ve ever been to.

Do you like love locks, or are you against them? Where have you seen them around the world?

Romantic Ideas for Valentine’s Day in Seville

If my children ever ask me how their father and I met, I won’t have much to tell (drunken exchange in a bar).

The real romance is how we fell in love and where we did it.

Take a dashing Spanish hombre with a job as a fighter pilot and impeccable English, and set the story against Spain’s most romantic city, Seville, and it’s easy to see why I felt trapped in a fairytale with acento andalú and no talking animals. Truth be told, we fell in love over beers at a typical Spanish tavern, sharing a plate of stewed bull’s tail, but our first year of dating felt romantic given the beauty of Seville and it’s most famous lover, Don Juan Tenorio.

As a city marked by bandoleros, kings, Moors and Christians, Seville is architectural eye candy for even the most hardened heart. Quaint plazas are hidden away under the shade of orange trees, sidled up to soaring churches from the 16th century. There’s a steady hum of chatter spilling out of bars as sevillanos have their afternoon glass of fino, a dry sherry that matches well with brine-soaked olives. Sunlight glints off of fountains during the day. whereas the twilight affords a dressing up of monuments, flooded with light.

But southern Spain’s capital is all feeling and less seeing: haunting flamenco chords echo through empty cobblestone streets, the smell of orange blossoms and incense rife in early Spring, the viscous liquid gold of the olive oil that graces every plate. Seville captivates the senses and makes falling in love easy – with the city, with its people, with the perfect caña and the chico who stole your heart.

My top picks for a romantic day in Seville:

Take a dip in the Baños Arabes: The Moorish reign of Seville have left a stamp on the cozy Santa Cruz quarter, which nuzzles the Alcázar palace. After having breakfast (try La Cachererría on Calle Regina for toast kissed with olive oil and crushed tomato), relax in the low lights and pools of the Arabic Baths. Located on an alleyway so slim you can touch both sides, the restored building offers a thermal bath circuit and massages for upwards of 58€. (Calle del Aire, 15).

Horse Carriage Ride through María Luisa Park: Seville’s city center is clogged with pedestrians, tourists and an eye sore of a light rail, but the green lung is located just past the university. The park, crowned by the half-moon Plaza de España,  was built to commemorate the 1929 Iberoamerican Expositin held partly on its grounds. The leafy refuge, with tiled fountains and plenty of grass for a picnic, is best seen from a carriage, which are available for rent in the park.

source: flickr

Stop by the monument dedicated to Gustavo Adolfo Béquer, a Sevillian poet of the romantic period. His most famous work, Rimas, is the inspiration for a marble statue situated at the north end of the park. It depicts Cupid throwing arrows at three women.

When your stomach rumbles, have dinner on the Guadalquivir: Known for its tapeo, or tapas hopping, Seville also boasts world-class restaurants. Among the most romantic are those that line the Guadalquivir river on the Triana side of town, particularly on Calle Betis. From here, the bullring, Masetranza theatre and Torre del Oro are the protagonists of the riverfront, with the Giralda Tower and the spires of the cathedral in the forground. Go all out at Abades Triana (Calle Betis, 69), or try Kiosco de las Flores (Calle Betis, s/n) or El Faro de Triana (at the end of the Triana bridge) for budget options with unparalleled views.

Following dinner, have a cocktail at one of the terraces in the city center. Hotel EME’s bar has a hip vibe, while ROOF’s views include the Metropol, a mushroom-like wooden structure that has taken over Plaza de la Encarnación. If that’s not your style, you can tuck into a peña flamenco and cozy up to cantaores while drinking Agua de Sevilla.

What is Spain’s most romantic city, in your opinion? How would you spend a romantic day in a city?

This is my entry to the February 2013 Carnival of Europe hosted by Aleah Taboclaon of Solitary Wanderer with the theme “Most Romantic Places in Europe

 

Seville Snapshots: When in Rome…

I have to admit that Seville has been less-than-inspiring lately. Between the master’s and work, plus rainy weather and holing up with a recently-returned Novio, I’ve barely even been in the center!

So we escaped la vida sevillana and swapped tapas for heaping plates of pasta this weekend in Bella Italia. Our Cruzcampo became half liters of Moretti; potato chips, crostini.  The Novio even parked his car and chose to hoof it as we explored Florence’s piazzas and Bologna’s jumble of churches and towers.

We spent the weekend looking for the little bits of sun on a cold Saturday in Florence, ducking in and out of bars for espressos and seeking out cheap grappas at old man bars.

In short…we ate. And drank. And ate more.

But you have to wait… I have driving school to attend en español and finish writing about Barcelona.

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