Wooden cakes, vodka & fake tan. A guide to weddings abroad.

I escaped pretty well this year. Just two weddings, one in Greece and one in Russia.

Don’t get me wrong, I love weddings. I love the food, the wine, the giggles, the catching up with old friends, the dressing up in heels higher than my kids.

I love the the tears of laughter, and of joy. I love the dancing for hours non stop to euro pop until my feet are blistered and the mother of the bride politely takes me aside to point out that ‘everyone has gone home, dear‘.

Foreign weddings are different from weddings in your own country though. Over the years I’ve learnt it’s best to do a little research beforehand, especially for the following:

  1. Traditions. For all their laid back bravado, in my experience the Spaniards are the most fussy about etiquette. My husband asked me to arrange a ‘little get together’ at my parents house after our engagement. It turns out that this pre wedding event is as formal as the wedding itself and I was ordered to shop for a new outfit at the last minute (not really a punishment, I know). Another tradition in parts of Asia I am rather fond of is the hiding of the groom’s shoes. Only when he has paid an acceptable sum to the bridesmaids are his shoes returned. Pay up or go barefoot, husband to be!
    wedding photo
    Throwing the bouquet. Which I forgot to do at my wedding because I was dancing.
  2. Gifts. While in the UK it’s normal to offer a thoughtful gift (no toasters, merci) or a modest contribution to a honeymoon fund, in Spain you may need to remortgage your house to offer an acceptable amount. The Spanish give big, and many expect to receive big when they marry.
  3. Beauty prep. In Belgium you’ll get by with a shower, in Spain book in for a mani, pedi and haircut, but in India allow at least a few days for threading, tweezing, plucking, henna and blow drying. Oh and don’t forget to pack decent fake tan (which you won’t find anywhere in asia I reckon).
  4. Dress code. In my experience, Belgians dress fairly casually, British women love head antennas (they call them fascinators and they truly are fascinating) and Indians require a different dress for each event over at least one week of non stop partying. Local dress, including saris and salwar kameez is encouraged, so get yourself to a tailors as soon as you touch down. Try to book the services of someone who can tie a sari for the day itself too. A sari is just a length of cloth and if it’s not tied properly it’ll be around your ankles by the time you get into some bhangra.
  5. Timings. I don’t want to reinforce stereotypes about punctual Germans and tardy Latinos. The only difference I’ve spotted is that nordic countries marry early, often around midday in the UK, while in Spain the wedding will most likely be in the late afternoon, and the party won’t get going until much later. And in India? At the wedding I went to the actual ceremony took place at around 3am and the party kept on going much later. In fact, I’m not sure it has even stopped yet.
  6. Food. In Spain they eat late but they eat well. Canapés are taken very, very seriously so should fill you up in the meantime. Wedding cake is a joke there however, including at my own wedding. I was horrified when I asked my new husband which tier to cut. ‘Not that layer,’ he said, ‘All those are made of wood, only this one is real’. Over in India it’s a sin not to overeat, so expect to be fed lots and often. If you’re not from the UK and are attending a British wedding you might want to eat a little beforehand. We Brits put drink above our food, but not our table manners. Cheers!
    wedding party photo
    Bon appetit!
  7. Drink. My Russian and Baltic friends don’t necessarily drink a lot more, but they certainly expect you to. A toast to the bride! A toast to the groom! A toast to the mother of the bride! A toast to the pet goldfish of the bride! And so it continues. If you’re lucky you might get away with sipping your shots at a more genteel pace. If you’re unlucky you might want to pack paracetamol for the morning after.
  8. Atmosphere. Unsurprisingly the latinos tend to put the most emphasis on having a good time. If you’re off to Mexico for a wedding, expect loud music, singing, dancing and a very, very late night. La Cucaracha, la cucaracha, la, la, la…
  9. Dancing. Expect to fight for dance space in parts of Spain, to have the floor to yourself in the UK (that is, until the guests fill up at the bar) and expect shamefully close body contact in Angola. African Kizomba is not for the faint hearted.
  10. Post wedding parties. Just when you thought it was all over you get a knock at your hotel door. ‘Brunch is ready! Everyone’s waiting!’  Day after the wedding breakfasts are great for one thing, however – gossip. The most inappropriate dress, dancing and drinking, complete with instagram posts sharing over croissant. Oh la la.

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