We’ve spent the last two weeks looking at festivals and parties around the world, and today it’s time to take a glimpse at nuptial celebrations, with a guest post by Meagan Adele Lopez. As an American who once lived in the UK — she also has a British boyfriend — Lopez can be considered an unofficial expert on British versus American weddings.
Please don’t invite my British beau and me to a wedding unless you really want us to come — we are more than likely going to reply “yes”!
Many have made that mistake. For some reason, it is impossible for us to say “no” — perhaps we are living vicariously through the bride and groom (going to a wedding is much cheaper than throwing one, let’s be honest).
Over the course of four years we have been invited to 28 weddings, 23 of which we will attend/have attended. These weddings span four countries (Wales, England, Dominican Republic and the USA) and 14 cities.
I wish I could say I was a professional wedding guest, getting paid to attend these lavish affairs. But no, we just happen to have many friends who are getting engaged at this time of my life. Some are even going through their second weddings.
One of the many benefits of dating a British guy is being able to attend British weddings — complete with hats, fascinators, castles and tail coats. I’ve become a bit of an expert on both.
So, I’ve been keeping a running tally of the best things that British and American wedding celebrations have to offer. Right now Britain is winning, but only by one, so that could change!
4 great things about British weddings
1) Less financial outlay for bridesmaids
It’s kind of atrocious that Americans still “invite” their best friends in the world to have the “honor” of becoming a bridesmaid only to pick out the most expensive dress they can find, make their best friends pay for it, and take them on a lavish bachelorette party that they must also pay for.
The British have it right. I mean, if you’re paying £25,000 on a wedding already, why not shell out an extra thousand to make your poor bridesmaids happy? After all, they didn’t choose to get married, you did.
2) Betting on the speeches
Let’s face it — sometimes speeches at a wedding can be really, really hilarious and entertaining. They can be so entertaining and hilarious that you have no idea how much time has gone by, whether or not you’ve eaten, or if the dancing has even happened yet. But, a lot of times, they can be painful and long, and somewhat boring. So, what better way to keep the crowd entertained than by going to each table and getting the guests’ bets on how long the speeches will last?
Personally, I love speeches and find it fascinating to see how each person tackles this challenge to charm a crowd of 150 people — 20 of whom you probably know personally. However, knowing that I have the chance to win a pot of 200 quid makes it that much better!
3) The Groom’s Speech
I actually find it a travesty that American grooms aren’t made to give a speech. Perhaps it’s because a woman marrying a British man knows that this one speech might be the only time she will hear her husband tell her how gorgeous, wonderful and amazing she is, and how he is the luckiest man on the planet. After all, British men aren’t known for being overly flattering or sentimental. I blubber like an idiot, wiping the mascara from my eyes, when I hear a doting British man, for the first (and probably only) time, open up to his friends and family about why he is truly in love with this woman.
But I’m sure most brides who marry a British man will tell you that the groom’s speech is one of the best moments of their wedding night. For me, as a guest, it beats the father’s speech and even the first dance. Perhaps the vows are the only thing that trump it.
4) Romantic venues
I’ve attended weddings in a ninth-century castle, in a tenth-century church, in an old manor house in Sussex, on a farm in the West Country, in a hotel where prime ministers stay, and next to a marsh in West Wales. Something about a British wedding makes it that much more romantic. Of course, it’s every girl’s dream to get married in a castle, but in Great Britain, you actually can!
3 great things about American weddings
1) Open bar
The first time I truly found out about the horror that is a cash bar at a wedding, I was invited to just the evening part. You see, my boyfriend and I had been together for over a year, but since the groom had never met me, he didn’t think it important to invite (ah hem, “pay”) for me to come to dinner, or attend the ceremony.
Apparently, it’s quite normal in England for a significant other not to be invited to the entire evening with their partner if they have never met the girlfriend. Being an American, I was already incredibly offended — especially since we had traveled an hour to be there, stayed in a really expensive hotel (the only one in the entire town), and paid for two separate £40 cab rides to the venue from the hotel (since we weren’t leaving together). So, you can imagine my dismay when I got to the reception and had to pay for my own drinks! I understand that not everyone can afford to have an open bar, but I most certainly prefer the American mentality that when you invite a guest, they are to be treated as such.
2) The women’s speeches
In Great Britain, traditionally, the speeches include the Father of the Bride, the Groom and the Best Man. I agree with all of these choices for speeches, but I have to admit, I did find it a teeny bit sexist that no women spoke at weddings the first time I saw it happen. Most British women don’t mind since they would rather the attention be off of them for the night, but what happened to the Maid of Honor? Why can’t she throw in a speech?
Women bring a different take to speech land, and I definitely prefer the American tradition of allowing us to speak.
3) Creative venues
Where the British score points for tradition, history, elegance and romance, American weddings score points for creativity, grandiosity and variety. Obviously, America is a much bigger country with many more choices for venues, and many more options for good weather. I have been to a wedding on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, at a museum in the middle of downtown Chicago, a country club in Maryland, and by a river at a historic house in Austin, Texas. The possibilities are truly endless in America, and always keep you guessing. While many British weddings have struck me as being similar, it’s hard for me to say that any American wedding has resembled another. This is also probably due to the diversity of the American population and the variety of religions in this country.
Combining the two traditions — still working on that!
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that with all of these weddings I didn’t think about how I would like my half British, half American wedding to go…but I simply can’t admit to what I dream of just yet. Call it superstition or what have you, but until I get engaged I won’t disclose my dream wedding. My worst nightmare is having my dream wedding down on paper, and then it never happening!
In the meantime, I’ll continue to break down the weddings I go to and figure out which bits I want to keep for myself.
Editor’s note: This post is adapted from a post that appeared on Smitten by Britain: “British vs. American Weddings” (25 January 2012).
Question for readers: Have you been to weddings in the country where you live? How do they compare?
MEAGAN ADELE LOPEZ is the author of Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers, which was featured in February on The Displaced Nation. You can learn more about Lopez and her book at her author site and by following her on Twitter: @meaganadele.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with first-time novelist Martin Crosbie. (Sign up for our Dispatch to be eligible for the giveaway of his book, A Temporary Life!)
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The difference that struck me most is the positioning of bridesmaids: in England, they follow the bride and let her make a grand entrance, first, rather than the USA tradition of them preceding her (kind of like a warm up band at a concert.)
One other reason there isn’t as much variety in UK weddings is that the actual premises must be licensed for a wedding to take place, so that’s why you won’t find anyone getting married on a beach or the edge of a cliff. It’s a fairly recent development (within the last 15 years or so, I think) that you can marry in a castle or hotel – before then, your options were either church or register office.
Yes! I knew there were other reasons that I was forgetting! The bride going first is definitely an interesting statement – what do you think is better? I like saving the best for last, personally!
But then what if the maid of honor’s outfit/bum looks better than the bride’s? Though apparently Kate M didn’t mind having some of the attention diverted from her to her sister; less pressure on her! (And now dear Pippa is bringing shame to the House of Middleton with her decadent ways — but that’s another party/story!)
Probably a case of liking what you’re used to, I guess – I went with the grand entrance first, myself 🙂
The other nice thing about UK weddings is the bride’s car that takes her to the ceremony – it’s marked by the white ribbons on the bonnet (hood) of the car. I’ve never seen that over here.
The bridesmaids in the UK are supposed to be like ladies in waiting, hence they go down after the bride. The one and only time I’ve been bridesmaid in the US was a nightmare because I was the tallest and went down first. Everyone in the entire church turned all the way round to look at me, whereas in England I had been used to people waiting until the wedding procession was up to them (giving only a sideways glance, as it were).
At my wedding, partly because my dad wasn’t alive, I gave a speech which went down a storm. The best man and groom both gave speeches, then we opened it up to the floor (following American tradition). No one stood up, so I did. (The speech was prepared though!)
That’s another thing I remember from my expat days — English people asking me why in American weddings, everyone turns around and looks at the bride? They seemed to think it was in bad taste — the sideways glance, as you put it, being much more in order. Is that because the ceremony is taking place in church? I assumed it was a hold over from the more religious past — which the colonists happily let go of! 🙂
Toni – it also makes sense that Americans would want to show off each bridesmaid first before the bride. I love the fact that people crane their necks and are eager to see them!
@Meagan @Kate @Toni
What about the cake?! The English wedding cake is traditionally a dark fruit cake (aa descendent of the dense, highly spiced cakes of the Renaissance). For me, that took some getting used to! If you’re a cake lover, then an American cake made specially to the bride’s tastes (at my first wedding, I had alternating layers of chocolate and carrot cakes; at my second, some kind of amazing chocolate confection) easily wins imho!
I believe the sickly American confections are gradually having their wicked way over there now. Sigh. You’ve got no chance of saving a fluffy coconut cream cake for the christening.
Yes indeed they must be! Cakes are yummy on both sides of the pond.
“Sickly” — well, that takes the cake!!!
But you are aware of the old tradition of saving the top layer of the English wedding cake for the first baby’s christening, right? Heck, those fruit cakes are built to last! You try saving carrot cake and buttercream, and all you’ll get for your pains nine months later is freezer burn.
Well, I did like the tradition of giving guests small pieces of fruitcake to take away and sending same to those who couldn’t make it… The problem was, the taste. It’s an acquired taste, as we’re fond of saying here on TDN. I finally acquired it, though, before I left. I always buy some fruitcake to eat at Christmas time now, though I still wouldn’t choose it for a wedding!
There’s good fruitcake and bad fruitcake. If you get the bad stuff, it’s dry, bitter, and not very nice at all. I can thoroughly recommend making your own, though, using Delia’s Traditional Christmas Cake recipe…now that fruitcake is to die for.
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We’re getting married in New York in a few months. I recently moved to the US in 2010 and my fiancée moved when she was a little girl. We have tried to take the best bits of English and American weddings. We wanted somewhere that looked English, and we found a lovely Castle in upstate New York that is perfect. Our venue offers a “European style”. I’m still not sure what is European about it. Dinner in one room and dancing in another?
So far I see the big difference is cost. Cost of the venue, cost per guest and the cost of gifts our guests are expected to buy us. Fortunately I have a very generous father-in-law!
We have tried to incorporate a bit of everyones’ country and culture. We have English, Italian and American guests. The food plays a big part in this. Dishes that everyone is familiar with including a dessert table full of American treats, British Cadbury’s chocolate and Italian bombonieres. Although, my favo(u)rite part is a wish cards. We decided to use postcards from all three countries. I bought a vintage postcard spinner from New York and we flew over an scale model Red Pillar Postbox from England. It will definitely be a feature of the wedding.
I love the idea of a wedding combining the best of both. That’s what I did for my wedding 2.5 years ago. I even incorporated a Thomas Hardy-style procession through Lower Manhattan afterwards… The entire wedding party & guests strolled along the Hudson to the building where the reception was held — the India House Club. Once a headquarters for foreign trade, the atmosphere is very English or European. I felt completely “at home” there despite being an American — due to having spent my formative years in the UK!
But you’re right, customizing these events does take time and money. You are lucky in your future FIL!
Your dessert table sounds fantastic, btw!
(Say, Meagan, are you taking notes?)
Just one Q: What exactly are “wish cards,” and whose tradition is that?
That sounds like a lovely day. We are just off the Hudson, maybe some nice photo opportunities there.
I think wish cards are an English tradition.
Guestbooks are more common in the US I think. Wish cards are a different format of writing a message or wish for the happy couple. I see more and more people coming up with creative ways of doing the wish cards. Wedding post boxes are very popular, where you mail the card into a box. This normally ties in with the theme of the wedding.
People then use/display these in different ways. My sister had her guests pin them onto decorative branches to create a wish tree. We still haven’t decided if we should display our postcards in a frame or on the spinning carousel. Any suggestions greatly appreciated.
Well, I never heard of wish cards before, but somehow they fit my image of an English celebration. Thanks to living in England for so many years, I am in the habit of sending out good old-fashioned Christmas cards every year, and postcards to friends and family when I go on trips — can you imagine?! I think I may be the only one in the US doing the latter any more… LOL
This is a great post! I am in the process of planning a British-American wedding.. and will definitely be taking the best of both traditions.