In my short time here in Lima I have seen and experienced many things that have been completely new. New foods, a new family, learning how to navigate the most populated city I have ever visited. However, one of the ones that sticks out the most to me was one that I didn’t even see coming: a marriage proposal.
On my first Sunday with my family, we hosted a number of tias, tios, sobrinos, and other family members for a feast of arroz con pollo. After everyone had eaten, most people were just sitting around, chatting with each other. I had noticed that the woman that I had been sharing pictures and some English with earlier was now standing beside her boyfriend whom I had figured out was a cousin/nephew. At first I thought that they were just on their way out of the house, but suddenly that chatter desisted and the nephew began to make some kind of speech.
Obviously I couldn’t understand everything that he was saying, so I tried to assess the situation based on other people’s body language, which appeared to be solemn. No one was crying or angry, but no one was happy or congratulatory either. A thought occurred to me; maybe they are expecting! I whispered my question to my host sister Veronica, and thankfully she just laughed. After some digging in my Spanish dictionary app, I discovered that the nephew was actually asking his family’s permission to ask for his novia’s hand in marriage. How exciting!
Once I knew what was going on, the rest was interesting to watch. After the nephew was done speaking, he asked for the opinions of every one of his aunts, uncles, and mother. One by one they stood up to speak, all with more serious tones of voice and what seemed to be words of advice. Even though I couldn’t understand the words, it was obvious that the people that could were deeply moved. Everyone listened intently, and it struck me how tightly knit families and communities are in this culture. This couple had taken the time to hear from both families, to receive blessings and advice and any other pieces of wisdom passed along before taking the next step towards marriage. Something that would have been personal in the US was intimately public in Peru.
However, this style of proposing was almost better than the American version. Once the mother had spoken, the blessing was given and everyone cheered and toasted to the couple with shot glasses of champagne. Only then did the engagement ring make an appearance; casually making its way from a pocket to its final destination on the soon-to-be-bride’s right hand ring finger. With a kiss and another toast, it was done. Such a different tradition, yet so meaningful nevertheless.