I am no expert on British weddings, as—aside from my own, which was held in a registry office—I have only attended one.
Even so, I am aware of how they differ from America weddings.
First, there is the cost. Now I’m not saying a British wedding can’t be extravagant, but none I have heard of has rivalled the ones I attended in the States. One of my friends claimed to have spent $30,000 on his wedding. It was a hugely lavish affair with hundreds of guests, a fleet of limos, champagne bar, gourmet food and free drinks. I remember it as a riotous night and a great, though expensive, send off for the happy couple. They divorced four years later.
The wedding ceremony itself is not a lot different, but the events leading up to it, and the reception afterward, are definitely culture-specific. Bridal Showers are unheard of here. Instead, they have a Hen Night, which I won’t go too deeply into (the phenomenon deserves its own post) except to say they raucous, raunchy affairs that often require police intervention.
Likewise, the bachelor party is a bit more, shall we say, exuberant than the American counterpart, and make can make a prison riot seen tame by comparison.
The reception, especially a lavish one (e.g. $30,000) runs a bit differently as well. First, there is the announcing of the Bridal Party where everyone and anyone associated with the family is required to march in two-by-two as the MC calls out their names. Then the series of first dances, the money dance, and the circulation of the bride to all of her guest, ostensibly to say “Hi, thanks for coming” but in reality is providing you with the opportunity to hand over more cash.
That’s the other thing about American receptions; they may cost a bundle, but it’s not as if there isn’t a return on the investment. My friend never told me how much income was derived from his big bash, but I know my erstwhile partner and I handed over a grand, so if you do the math, that 30K might not have been such a bad investment after all.
But the tradition that leaves my British friends shaking their head in wonder is the cutting of the cake. When an American couple cuts the cake, they feed each other the first piece. Ahhhh, you say, but the tradition almost insists that this be used as an excuse to smash wedding cake into each other’s faces. Really, the crowd expects it and would be disappointed if it didn’t happen.
So if you’re a Brit invited to an American wedding and see the two main participants grinding cake into their partner’s face, it is NOT the signal to start a food fight.
Being “part of a wedding” in the US is often a huge commitment both of time and money. If the couple has moved since their childhood, guests often have to travel thousands of miles and book an hotel, bridesmaids regularly pay for their own dresses and someone has to host (and finance) a shower. The groom’s parents don’t get off Scot-free either, as there’s a rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding for which they cough up.
In the UK although hen and stag parties are big, there are no showers, bridesmaids’ breakfasts or rehearsal dinners. There’s also a lot less fussing around before the wedding takes place too - the bride gets out of the car and walks straight up the aisle. Remember the state of Diana's gown when she emerged from the Royal carriage? Even she didn't have the opportunity to nip into a side room to straighten it out. About ten years ago I was a bridesmaid in a big fancy wedding here and we were at the church literally hours before the wedding ceremony. We dressed at the church, had hair and make-up done, then photos. Oh and, being the tallest bridesmaid I went down the aisle first. On my own. Before the bride and her father. Eek. In the UK, the bride and her escort walk down the aisle first, followed by the bridesmaids.
Bridesmaids don’t usually number more than a handful and there isn’t a corresponding number of groomsmen standing up at the altar waiting for them. American "wedding parties" sometimes look like sports teams there are so many of them up on the altar. Once the wedding is over, it’s a bit of a free for all in the UK with people exiting from their pews whenever they fell like it. In the States there’s a certain etiquette to who walks down the after the bride and groom (usually bridesmaids and groomsmen in pairs, the parents of the bride, parents of the groom etc.).
One of the funniest differences to me is the significance of clinking glasses at the reception. While in the UK it is a call for someone to make a speech, in the US it’s a call for the newlyweds to kiss. First time I saw an American wedding I was very confused.
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