cultural sensitivity at events

I had a couple of recent experiences that reminded me how important it is to be sensitive to other people’s cultures when working at an event.

One was a wedding with a very diverse attendance, with a professional officiant (that is, a hired officiant that was not from either the bride or groom’s religious, personal, or cultural tradition). This officiant went on to give a speech about marriage and the bride and groom that mentioned (I kid you not) how marriage is like Chinese food — (I paraphrase): ‘It tastes wonderful, but you don’t want to know what’s going into it or see the kitchen where they prepare it’.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I had, as someone of Asian heritage, standing in the back of that ceremony thinking, “Whaaaat?” as part of my ethnic background was used as a punchline for a joke. And I was just part of the staff. Imagine being a guest at the wedding, and the feeling of exclusion and isolation they must have had, when a wedding is supposed to be a day of good feelings and coming together.

So that just reminded me how important it is to use vetted professionals for every aspect of your wedding. I had actually recommended several officiants for this client but they had chosen someone else, I think on the basis of his website. A website can’t tell you everything about a vendor; it’s important to receive trusted recommendations from those who have firsthand experience, such as your event planner.

The other experience I had, was that I attended an educational luncheon given by the International Special Events Society called “Cultural Spotlight”. Fittingly, it was held at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, and the speakers were an event planner from MJCC as well as a writer who identified himself as a “Spanish-speaking Asian Muslim”.

Both panelists had a lot of wisdom to share about Jewish, Muslim, and Asian events, but the most important takeaway I got was that you can’t assume you know a cultural group. Within Judaism, within Islam, as well as any ethnic or cultural tradition, there are so many flavors and variations. It’s best to ask the main contacts and planners what their preference is, before assuming that you can or can’t play “White Christmas” at a holiday party, or that certain colors or themes are a no-go.

If you’re interested in a list of bullet points from the MJCC talk, please feel free to email me.

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