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How I Survived a Polish Wedding
Conformity Through Persuasion: My story of Polish culture.
If you're ever invited to a Polish wedding, be prepared for a huge commitment and a lot of fun.
I plan to explore and describe how I was influenced, coerced, persuaded, and pressured (come on, you know I loved it!) until I adhered to the prevailing cultural norms. I want to know how and why it happened. I'll likely conclude that I can't entirely blame others for influencing me. So, a Polish wedding is an enormous commitment simply because you feel like you must adhere to their cultural norm. But then, why not?
Polish Wedding Tradition
Before I begin my discussion, I'd like to say that I had a wonderful experience encountering Polish culture. The rich heritage, customs, and the country itself were amazing. I didn't have to be persuaded to participate in the pre-ceremony parental blessing, (Strybel 2001). In the home of my new in-laws, we honored our children with a polish wedding prayer granting them happiness in their life together. They asked me if I wanted to recite a prayer. I eagerly laid my Pentecostal hands upon their heads and prayed down showers of blessings in the name of Jesus Christ. I gladly participated in this tradition. It was the beginning of my cultural journey through Poland.
European Style and Culture
How did it start? It started with a little subtle coercion. What is coercion? "Coercion signifies, in general, the imposition of external regulation and control upon persons, by threat or use of force and power" (Pennock 1972:1). In my mental dictionary, it means to drive, oblige, or enforce an idea on someone by using a burden of outer control to influence the person. So what was the method of coercion? To start with, I felt like I should wear high heeled shoes because I knew all the other women would be wearing heels. I chose the lowest heel I could find that could still be classified as a "high heel." My feet hurt the whole time, but I managed to slip them off under the table. I wanted to fit the European fashion trend. Second, when we first arrived at the reception, I felt obligated to take a glass of champagne, even though I don't drink. I politely refused the glass of bubbly, at first, but when the waiter raised his eye brows and pushed the tray toward me again, I promptly took the glass anyway. I didn't know how to say, "I'm an alcoholic" in Polish! When I realized the champagne was for the toast to my son and his new wife, I lifted my glass with the others. After the toast, I set my glass on the tray and nobody noticed I hadn't taken a drink, although I was tempted. Finally, I convinced myself into sampling every kind of food on the table. There were at least forty choices and, of course, I didn't want to be rude. Fat city, here I come! I found the actual method of coercion was subconsciously inflicted by me, not others. Because we're human, it's possible to coerce ourselves into conformity, but not deliberately. I was willingly forced into the "logic of the situation." So, some coercion may be "human, but not deliberate" (Pennock 1972:3).
Food At A Polish Wedding
After my self-inflicted coercion experience, I was persuaded to eat more food than I could hold. How could I have been persuaded to eat more? I was completely full! What manner of communication was inflicted on me to convince me to gorge myself into a state of sinful gluttony? The answer was simple. One word, "EAT!" The word was forcefully directed at me! It wasn't a suggestion, it was a command! It was the only thing that was said to me in English. And of course, I obliged. My new daughter in law's mother was absolutely wonderful! And she wanted me to EAT! This manner of persuasion was in agreement with the text Social Psychology, 3rd edition(Franzoi 2003:214): When a woman attempts to convince another woman, a powerful (forceful) speaking style is more effective. But if a woman uses the same forcible style with a man, it's not as effective. Men tend to receive a powerless (less intensive) speaking style, more readily, from a woman. Wow! She definitely used authority in her words to get her point across. I gave her credit for adopting a speech style that boosted her persuasion ability. I still chuckle about it today and look forward to the day she can come and visit me here in Arkansas where I can tell her, "Eva....EAT!"
As the night progressed, I continued to eat very slowly. I remember thinking to myself, "Is this what the Epicureans did?" I laughed at the thought of asking the waiter to please direct me to the vomitorium so I could purge. Later, I found information that contradicted the myth that Epicureans used vomitoriums to throw up from overeating. It didn't matter to me, it was a funny thought!
Games Played At A Polish Wedding
Later in the evening, I tried to hold my eyes open. Why was I still sitting there? I was past the point of no return and could barely hold my eyes open. My brother was still there, too. We were both exhausted. About that time, someone came by our table and said, "Come on!" The next thing I knew, we were playing an adult form of Crack the Whip to Polish music...and I was the end of the whip! They got us involved in a round of extreme physical activity. Even though I was wearing heels, I managed to keep my place at the end of the "whip", yelling and hamming it up for the video operator (it's available on DVD). Once the song ended, everyone was fired up for another round. I walked back to my table and sat quietly. My brother confirmed the idea (about why they insisted we take part in Crack the Whip). He, too, believed it was to make everyone wake up. Good idea! It sounded rational, but I wondered if it was logical. Logical verses illogical behavior? Human beings don't always behave in a logical manner. If that were true, most human actions would be as predictable as this: Beliefs influence attitudes. Attitudes influence opinions. Opinions influence relevant behavior or action (Gordon 1971:246). Because we are human, in this case, it appears I was deceived by my own fear of not conforming to the social order. My brother and I were operating under tension with two forces opposing each other: rational and irrational. So, our behavior was illogical! But we had fun anyway!
What a Party!
Group Influence In Polish Culture
I'm not sure when I actually conformed to the group influence. I suppose I was in a constant state of conformity during the whole festivity. Keisler (1969:2) describes conformity as a "change in behavior or belief toward a group as a result of real or imagined group pressure." In this instance, the pressure was indeed real. Changes in my belief and conduct occurred when I felt psychological pressure on me to believe and act the way they expected me to . But, of course, I wanted to! The most significant result was "social facilitation: the effect of the presence of others" (Keisler 1969:25). I was concerned about what the others would think if I didn't join them. It was a true example of pressure, an underlying force to fulfill everyone's expectation of how I should have behaved. The idea of my expectancy was to fulfill the role of the cultural norms of the group. I was afraid not to conform to their idea of the proper social role because I wanted to maintain the image of living up to their expectations (my own little insecurity). I had a need to be understood by the group. I subconsciously looked to them for the support, or push, I needed to participate. It doesn't over-ride what I felt was a need for acceptance, or normative social influence (Pendry and Carrick 2001).
Preconditioning For A Polish Wedding
Another interesting effect, which I didn't realize until much later, was priming, also known as pre-conditioning (Pendry and Carrick 2001). I'd already been exposed to the culture of Poland for two days before the wedding ceremony. We went sight-seeing in town and mingled with the people. I observed, listened, and learned a lot about their culture. Plus, my son had been conditioning me for the last year about the social roles and customs of the country to help prepare me for the visit. I was more accepting of the unfamiliar customs due partly to the prime-induced influence I was previously exposed to, although I wasn't aware of the link at the time.
Could I have been the victim of subliminal persuasion? "Subliminal persuasion refers to the use of subliminally presented stimuli, or messages presented to individuals beneath their level of conscious awareness, that are intended to influence their attitudes, choices, or actions" (Epley, Savitsky, and Kachelski 1999). After reading about the subject, I decided that I was more than likely NOT the victim of subliminal persuasion. I tried to identify all the subliminal stimuli, then ascertained what I believed to be the non-subliminal stimuli. After a mental calculation, I concluded that the dominant stimulus of the whole experience was obvious, yet it was subliminal (and, of course, I wanted it!)! Let me explain.
The Ideology of a Polish Wedding
The ideology of a Polish wedding is to over-eat, dance yourself to exhaustion, and stay awake as long as your eyes will remain open when you attend. Ideology is a theory that a group has about itself. It generates a reality that encourages a distinctive way of life within a particular group or culture (Franzoi 2003:16). These beliefs explain the culture to themselves and other groups. This is related to another assumption. I believe the Polish society has roots in collectivism (Franzoi 2003:17), which is a good thing. They have a philosophy of life based on group needs, with close, personal relationships and a willingness to surrender to the influence of the group and depend on each other, which creates a special closeness to one another. So, the ideology of the group was actually the subliminal stimulus.
Among the non-subliminal stimuli, I decided that the statement directed at me , "EAT!" was a verbal command. Nothing subliminal about it, as previously discussed. There were a few more commands that I haven't mentioned. "You CAN'T leave early!". "You have to eat as much as possible" (directed at me by my son). In my opinion, this was another direct command to abide by the cultural norm, or else! Then, there was "DANCE!" Just one little word and I was out of my chair and on the dance floor. Help! As far as I was concerned, it was direct persuasion that influenced me, except for the fact that the ideology of the group culture was the DOMINANT factor of my persuasion, yet it was primarily subliminal! How's that for confusion?
A Polish Wedding Is A Cultural Journey
Let this be my story of how to survive a Polish wedding. Now you know why Polish weddings are such a huge commitment. It takes physical and emotional stamina to conform to a new culture. I can't blame others for influencing me because, in my case, the coercion was partially self-induced. Come on, you know I wanted it all! When I combined all the elements of coercion, persuasion, influence, and group pressure, then added it to my preconceived idea of how I was supposed to behave in a different social/cultural setting, it enabled my conformity. It didn't matter whether it was logical or irrational. It was inevitable and necessary for me to reach inside my self-consciousness and use the coping skills I've learned to adapt to the situation. I know if I'm ever invited to another Polish wedding, I will gladly accept and definitely be prepared for it!
Epley, Nicholas, Kenneth Savitsky, and Robert A. Kachelski.
1999. "What Every Skeptic Should Know About Subliminal
Persuasion." SKEPTICAL INQUIRER. Sept-Oct, 1999, 23,5;
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Franzoi, Stephen L. 2003. SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY 3RD EDITION. New
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Gordon, George N. 1971. PERSUASION. New York, NY: Hastings House
Kiesler, Charles A. And Sara B. Kiesler. 1969. CONFORMITY.
Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.
Pendry, Louise and Rachael Carrick. 2001. "Doing What the Mob Do."
Article 27. Pp. 253-262 in READINGS IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY:
GENERAL, CLASSIC, AND CONTEMPORARY SELECTIONS, 5TH
EDITION, compiled by Wayne A. Lesko. Boston, MA: Pearson Education,
Pennock, Roland J. And John W. Chapman. 1972. COERCION. Chicago/
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Strybel, Robert. 2001. "Polish Traditions at Your Next Family
Wedding," POLISH NEWS INTERNET ISSUE (1), June 2001.
Retrieved August 29, 2004.