Cultural confusion: Minnesotan marries Muscovite maidel

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Up until very recently, Russian wedding rituals were considered state secrets and remained a mystery to most Americans.

Let's face it: the only Russian couple we had ever seen sharing and caring together was Natasha Fatale and Boris Badinov, the animated archrivals of Bullwinkle the Moose.

So when I turned the Cold War into a Warm Thaw by falling in love with a native of Moscow, I knew I was in for an education. A godless, dehumanized Commie-inspired education, but an education nonetheless.

The Russian mindset cannot comprehend the lavish and often gaudy rituals that accompany modern American weddings. My beloved Julia's Leninist indoctrination was affecting our wedding plans from the very beginning.

"What's the whole point of making our parents spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a big party? We could use that money to rent an apartment," she said, citing Russian newlyweds' most cherished goal. "Or buy a house."

These crazy foreign ideas had to be kept in check.

"Sweetheart, it's the only time in our lives when we'll see such a lovely dessert table set up in our honor," I logically replied. "Besides, it gives you a chance to see a bunch of people you haven't talked to for years."

"Maybe we could have an intimate ceremony at your parents' home," she suggested.

"The home! That's craziness!" I replied. "A wedding is special. There's a lot of symbolism. It must be performed in an atmosphere of warmth and welcoming as the new couple enters this holy phase of their life. The kind of warmth that only a large synagogue we've never attended as a couple can provide."

Unable to argue with that logic, my beloved could not understand why a meal from a caterer would cost more than a dinner at the finest restaurant in town.

"Well, because caterers make their meals in bulk, so…it costs more. Look, the price includes tablecloths on every table, OK?"

She was not convinced. She wanted friends and relatives to bring dishes to the wedding celebration — herring, potatoes, borscht and that godawful hard, greasy meat substance that passes for sausage in some parts of Eastern Europe. No dice. The Conservative synagogue's kosher kitchen would not allow us to bring in strange potatoes.

"But it's considered a delicacy in Russia," Julia pleaded.

"Honey, they have no food distribution system in Russia. People wait six hours in line for a blackened banana," I argued. "Any food source that can be swallowed is considered a delicacy."

But Russian blood runs hot. She tore up my bag of Doritos right then and there.

Besides the differences between American and Russian customs, there were Jewish rituals that had to be explained. Living in the Evil Empire for the first 20 years of her life, the only more or less Jewish expression she was allowed to learn was, "Oy vey, it looks like some kind of pogrom." Thus, most Judaic things provide an instant learning opportunity.

After the Jewish wedding ceremony comes a ritual called yichud, where the couple goes off to a separate room for awhile. At one time, the couple used this respite to consummate their marriage. Today, as I tried to explain to my new wife, it serves to shield us from the annoying task of mingling with our guests.

The chair dance during the evening's festivities was a truly frightening concept to her. "If you want me to go on a ride, take me to Disney World!" was her protestation. The beauty of the ritual and its symbolism were lost on my future wife.

"It symbolizes that as a new couple we will be getting new furniture," I explained. I could actually see a question mark popping above her head.

At the wedding we danced a tango instead.

At the end of it all, there was detente. There are still many issues that need to be hammered-and-sickled out. But in the interests of a beautiful wedding and a beautiful day, East met West and agreed to become international ambassadors of love.