Algerian weddings: unique, expensive and highly competitive
While some Algerians prefer to break free from wedding traditions, others are happy to drain their pockets for the happiest day of their lives.
By Mouna Sadek for Magharebia in Algiers - 29/08/08
“Love is madness. It makes huge dents in your wallet.” This is how 30-year-old Nabil sums up the situation of engaged couples in Algeria.
Before they can be married, Algerian brides and grooms go through traditional steps…and spend a great deal of money.
First, the suitor asks for the girl’s hand, which happens in a gathering of the two families in the girl’s house; both families negotiate the dowry and discuss what and how many “gifts” the groom will bring his wife-to-be. Then, after the business-style negotiations are over and both parties are satisfied, the couple is considered engaged.
Before the wedding is over, both families will have stretched their finances to the limit.
“Marriage costs an arm and a leg,” said Lila, who will soon be a new bride. She has already spent 400,000 dinars [about 40,000 euros] for her wedding. “I’ve done my best to cut down on expenses and avoid wasting money,” she added, “but it’s an impossible task. Families put a lot of pressure on you.”
She spent 100,000 dinars to hire a wedding venue and 150,000 dinars to buy six traditional outfits to wear for the party, plus cakes and dinner for 200 people. She has also set aside a tidy sum for her trousseau of blankets, sheets, bedspreads, curtains, pyjamas and lingerie.
Traditionally, the clothes were made and embroidered by the bride herself as a sign of commitment to her new life. Now, it’s easier to buy everything.
“It’s a case of keeping up appearances”, Lila said, “a kind of competition to outdo others by making everything bigger, better and more expensive. That’s still the most exciting part of wedding preparations. People enjoy buying all these things.”
Modern life has made many Algerian wedding traditions obsolete. In the old days, guests gathered at the family home of the bride or the groom. Now, with guest lists often running over 200 people and with no time to make home-made desserts and food, caterers and wedding halls have come to the rescue.
There are now shops renting out traditional apparel such as the karakou, traditionally worn in Constantine, or the chedda of Tlemcen. Couples no longer have to make or buy traditional outfits.
Traditions vary from one region to the next. The most lavish ceremonies are to be found in Tlemcen, the capital of the Zianids, where weddings can cost up to half a million dinars. It is customary for the groom to give the bride an item of jewellery that can cost up to 100,000 dinars. The bride’s family gives presents to the groom’s parents.
In Kabylia, on the other hand, the dowry is usually symbolic and there is no tradition of asking the husband-to-be for expensive gifts.
“I know weddings cost a lot of money,” said 28-year-old Mokrane, who is getting married within days. “But the wonderful memories stay with you for life. You only get married once.”
“Algerian weddings are an expression of the generosity characteristic of this country,” Mokrane added. “People like to share their happiness with everyone.”