Middle East Marriages: A foreigner’s guide to surviving the wedding, and ever after

If you live in the Middle East long enough, love may eventually find you here. But soon enough, you’ll realize that relationships are potential minefields, from meeting the family for the first time, to navigating delicate political and religious discussions, to good old fashioned drama. The upside is, when 10 family members show up at your door unannounced, it usually just means they care about you, and they’re not intentionally trying to give you a nervous breakdown. It’s all about learning how to ride out the craziness! At least you can rest assured knowing your marriage can survive just about anything.

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gossiping girls

Small-talk is designed to find out your work, your education, any Google-able facts about you - and then rapidly spread the intel to the rest of the family. I chatted with someone as we left the airport together for a wedding, and less than an hour later, strangers were approaching me saying “Ahh, you must be the journalist! Welcome!”

Bring out the bling! If you tell relatives you want a small wedding reception, they will look at you and say “but this is not a wedding.” Weddings are a chance to see and be seen, and for aunties to do matchmaking. If you can’t throw a party fancy enough for the wealthier relatives, your reception might get cancelled.

Bring out the bling! If you tell relatives you want a small wedding reception, they will look at you and say “but this is not a wedding.” Weddings are a chance to see and be seen, and for aunties to do matchmaking. If you can’t throw a party fancy enough for the wealthier relatives, your reception might get cancelled.

learning Arabic

Family members will make fun of your accent if you speak Arabic with them, and they’ll make fun of you if you don’t speak Arabic with them. Five years of studying the language and I still get aunties telling me “‘Marhaba’ means hello!”

tea cups

You will get a minimum of 4 sets of teacups and Turkish coffee cups as housewarming/wedding gifts. Delicate little glass cups, sometimes with gold or silver designs (inevitably something that doesn’t match your decor), these little things will consume roughly half of your kitchen storage space.

christmas tree

They’ve seen you binge watch Christmas movies, but all it takes is one person to think you’re secretly part of the Zionist plot to cause a meltdown. They’ll ask to see “papers” proving you’re not - and saying that 1) it shouldn’t matter, and 2) your country doesn’t have “Jew papers” will get you nowhere.

gold jewelry

Nosy bureaucrats want to know all about this foreign bride, so before they’ll tell you which forms to fill, they’ll ask, “why doesn’t she just convert? Islam is better.” Also, if you look Mediterranean, officials will worry that you might be half Arab and your father should be giving permission.

gold jewelry

In the marriage contract, you can list conditions like how much you’ll be paid in a divorce. When we did our katb al-kitab, we didn’t really expect to finish it in one day. When the sheikh asked how much gold I had received, I stammered. The sheikh scowled and said, “you better go buy your wife a necklace today.”

Arab meal

Family will actually get mad if they show up and find your house locked, and don’t be surprised if you return from vacation to find your whole house redecorated. Be prepared to find little lacy doilies on absolutely every surface, from coffee tables to on top of your computer and DVD player.

Arab meal

You might think you defined your family obligations in the katb al-kitab, but before you know it, you wake up to Jedo standing in your bedroom at 5 am, and family showing up expecting food at any time. If khalto comes over and runs out of gas mid-sfiha baking marathon, your husband will get berated for not having extra gas handy.

gossiping girls
Bring out the bling! If you tell relatives you want a small wedding reception, they will look at you and say “but this is not a wedding.” Weddings are a chance to see and be seen, and for aunties to do matchmaking. If you can’t throw a party fancy enough for the wealthier relatives, your reception might get cancelled.
learning Arabic
tea cups
christmas tree
gold jewelry
gold jewelry
Arab meal
Arab meal
gossiping girls
Small-talk is designed to find out your work, your education, any Google-able facts about you - and then rapidly spread the intel to the rest of the family. I chatted with someone as we left the airport together for a wedding, and less than an hour later, strangers were approaching me saying “Ahh, you must be the journalist! Welcome!”
Bring out the bling! If you tell relatives you want a small wedding reception, they will look at you and say “but this is not a wedding.” Weddings are a chance to see and be seen, and for aunties to do matchmaking. If you can’t throw a party fancy enough for the wealthier relatives, your reception might get cancelled.
Bring out the bling! If you tell relatives you want a small wedding reception, they will look at you and say “but this is not a wedding.” Weddings are a chance to see and be seen, and for aunties to do matchmaking. If you can’t throw a party fancy enough for the wealthier relatives, your reception might get cancelled.
learning Arabic
Family members will make fun of your accent if you speak Arabic with them, and they’ll make fun of you if you don’t speak Arabic with them. Five years of studying the language and I still get aunties telling me “‘Marhaba’ means hello!”
tea cups
You will get a minimum of 4 sets of teacups and Turkish coffee cups as housewarming/wedding gifts. Delicate little glass cups, sometimes with gold or silver designs (inevitably something that doesn’t match your decor), these little things will consume roughly half of your kitchen storage space.
christmas tree
They’ve seen you binge watch Christmas movies, but all it takes is one person to think you’re secretly part of the Zionist plot to cause a meltdown. They’ll ask to see “papers” proving you’re not - and saying that 1) it shouldn’t matter, and 2) your country doesn’t have “Jew papers” will get you nowhere.
gold jewelry
Nosy bureaucrats want to know all about this foreign bride, so before they’ll tell you which forms to fill, they’ll ask, “why doesn’t she just convert? Islam is better.” Also, if you look Mediterranean, officials will worry that you might be half Arab and your father should be giving permission.
gold jewelry
In the marriage contract, you can list conditions like how much you’ll be paid in a divorce. When we did our katb al-kitab, we didn’t really expect to finish it in one day. When the sheikh asked how much gold I had received, I stammered. The sheikh scowled and said, “you better go buy your wife a necklace today.”
Arab meal
Family will actually get mad if they show up and find your house locked, and don’t be surprised if you return from vacation to find your whole house redecorated. Be prepared to find little lacy doilies on absolutely every surface, from coffee tables to on top of your computer and DVD player.
Arab meal
You might think you defined your family obligations in the katb al-kitab, but before you know it, you wake up to Jedo standing in your bedroom at 5 am, and family showing up expecting food at any time. If khalto comes over and runs out of gas mid-sfiha baking marathon, your husband will get berated for not having extra gas handy.