As I step out of my car and hand the key to the valet, I curse myself for wearing uncomfortable heels as one snags the hem of my chiffon gown threatening to leave a hole.
Fortunately I'm able to come out of the car with my dress, and dignity intact, and follow the other hotel guests who appear to be attending the same wedding that I am.
I quickly notice, however, that I'm slightly under-dressed compared to some of the other women here – despite wearing an outfit I had worn to one of my own wedding functions.
Bouquets of pink peonies interspersed with red roses and baby’s breath are displayed in tall glass vases at the entrance of the ballroom where the wedding reception is to be held.
White lanterns housing tea candles are placed nearby, and a waiter dressed in a tuxedo stands with a tray of fresh juices.
I'm at a friend's wedding in Dubai, and while the decor is beautiful, it's emblematic of a typical wedding here.
It’s mid-November, which means it’s now officially winter wedding season. If you’re new to the region, and have been invited to your first Middle Eastern or Asian wedding, this should serve as a brief introduction to what you’re about to experience.
Few here opt for low-key, intimate wedding functions. In Eastern cultures, weddings are opportunities to showcase a family’s wealth in its entirety – from the types of centrepieces to the musical performer booked for the evening.
Every detail is planned to a T, more often than not with the help of a professional wedding planner.
Guests are often equally aware of the smallest details – some will even point out a host’s use of cheaper silk flowers over real flowers, which I find to be both bizarre and ungracious. Costs can be exorbitant: a wedding event at a five-star hotel in Dubai can cost around Dh300 per head – and that’s just the food.
Decor, stages, giveaways and other details come at extra cost. In addition, the price of a wedding cake for an extravagant wedding usually starts at around Dh20,000, or so I am told by a Dubai-based baker.
You do the math. Suffice it to say, nuptials in this region are an investment, and often take years of financial planning.
As a guest at such an occasion, once you’ve taken in the beauty of the entrance and had your welcome drink, you may decide it’s time to enter the ballroom.
As you do, expect stares from other guests analysing your outfit and jewellery. It should go without saying that jewellery is a must – weddings in the UAE are occasions for you to wear whatever diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires you might own.
And clothing simply must be couture. Ready-to-wear gowns from Mango or Monsoon just won’t do. But that doesn’t mean you need to break the bank – head to the souks, pick out some fancy fabrics and a handful of embellishments and give your neighbourhood tailor an idea of what to create.
After you’ve mingled a bit, and found your seat in the ballroom, you may assume you’ve witnessed all the glamour of the evening. But, at this point, the show hasn’t even started.
As the bride and groom make their own entrances to the decorative stage, more theatrics ensue. Music, smoke machines, fireworks – you name it. And after the happy couple has settled together, guests will start lining up to take professional photos with the bride and groom.
Once dinner is served, you’ll exit the ballroom, where a diverse buffet of tasty salads, mains and desserts awaits you.
Then, it will be time for the cake-cutting ceremony. Don’t be surprised if you see a sword with a blade measuring more than a metre long – this is a ceremonious tool and may be what the bride and groom will use to make the first cut into the cake.
The actual cutting of the cake will take place in a back room, since often times, the top tiers of the cake are in fact false, or dummy cakes.
Perhaps, the cake-cutting will be followed by a musical performance or dancing. And afterwards, as you exit the ballroom and head back to retrieve your car from the valet at the end of the night, you may wonder: amid all the glamour and grandeur, did you witness the joining of two souls in love, or did it all feel like an elaborately-produced show?
Welcome to a typical Dubai wedding.
Read more from Hafsa: