A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to India for work with two co-workers, Mike and Henry. I was so excited to experience the Indian culture, enjoy the food, and make new friends. Plus, one of our Indian co-workers would be getting married while we were there, and he graciously invited the three of us to attend the wedding. Little did I know that this would end up being one of the most embarrassing nights of my life.
When we were invited to the wedding, I did what I always do when I receive a wedding invitation — start thinking about what to wear. Usually I start digging through my dresses looking for something I haven’t work recently, but of course those dresses usually no longer fit.
In this case it was, how do I dress so that I’m inconspicuous and don’t look like a douchey American tourist.
Let me repeat for emphasis.
I wanted to look sophisticated and culturally aware. Fortunately, I had a co-worker in the U.S. who was from India, so I asked him what we should wear to fit in. He said that I should wear a “Sari” and the guys should wear a “Kurta”. In case you don’t know, a sari is a super-long piece of fabric that you wrap around your body six ways from Sunday until you look like a glamorous Bollywood movie star.
A Kurta is much less glamorous. It’s like a long nightshirt over MC Hammer pants. But I pleaded with Mike and Henry, explaining to them how important it was that we fit in.
I went to a local Indian clothing boutique and got myself a gorgeous sari. Truly beautiful. Royal blue with gold threading. I also splurged on some bangle gold jewelry because when you are that dressed up, accessorizing is paramount. I felt like a beautiful Indian princess.
We walk into the reception hall and…
Where were the Saris?
The guys are all wearing jeans or khakis with button-down shirts. The girls are wearing traditional Indian clothes, but not saris. My eyes adjust outwards, slowly taking in the whole room. No shiny fabrics, no gold or silver thread. In fact, everything looked exactly as it had earlier in the day, except the groom had changed — into a suit!!!
My heart was beating so hard I could feel it in my ears. It seemed as though the entire room had frozen and everyone was looking at us. I was horrified. Imagine in the U.S. if someone from another country showed up to a party dressed like Cinderella, only to find out everyone else wore a sundress.
Yeah, it was like that.
I slowly made my way across the reception hall, towards the chairs that I hoped would swallow me whole when I sat down. The girls were afraid I would trip in my sari, so they helped me hold my skirt up as I walked. They also said I looked too glamorous to be carrying a purse and camera, so they insisted on carrying it for me. I looked like some sort of crazy celebrity with my entourage. Mike and Henry, in their matchy-matchy Kurtas, looked like my bodyguards. Not to mention, in my heels, I was several inches taller than everyone else there. Needless to say, we stood out. The wedding photographer kept taking pictures of us. And the videographer kept filming us with a huge bright light shining in our faces. Evidently they thought I was a celebrity, too.
Gradually people stopped staring and returned to their conversations. The three of us decided we could either leave or embrace the situation and just go with it. So, Henry and Mike flanked me all evening like my bodyguards, carrying my purse and camera, while I flashed my best Bollywood smile.