What Americans Can Learn From British-Style Weddings

British-style nuptials, like Kat Slater and Alfie Moon's on 'EastEnders,' are boisterous, unpretentious affairs. (Photo: BBC)

British-style nuptials, like Kat Slater and Alfie Moon’s on ‘EastEnders,’ are boisterous, unpretentious affairs. (Photo: BBC)

Nuptials. Whichever side of the Atlantic you perform them on, they’re an excuse to dress up and throw a big, boozy party. But British weddings have a certain something — let’s go with “frugal flamboyance” — that Americans just can’t seem to replicate.

If the subject of a speech isn’t somewhat offended, it was a bad speech.
Toasts (as Americans are fond of calling them) at British weddings aren’t an excuse to gush about the happy couple like they are in the U.S. Oh no. We have a very low threshold for soppiness so we’ve usually overdosed by the time we get to the reception, where all anyone wants do is drink, gorge on mediocre nibbles and bitch about other guests’ unsightly displays of back fat. But more than anything, we want to hear from the best man. It’s his job to tell rude jokes and recount the many, many times the groom has made a complete tit of himself. Done well, it’s the joyous centerpiece of a British wedding. Ideally, the speeches by the bride’s father and anyone else who’s signed up to address the crowd won’t be quite as brutal. But neither will they descend into all-out gelatinous sop.

It’s fine — sensible, even — to have evening-only guests and a cash bar.
Cutting corners at weddings is something we Brits do very well. Call it stinginess if you must; I call it budgeting. Anyway, it’s standard practice for us to cheap out by having a two-tier guest list and making everyone pay for their own alcohol — though we’ll usually provide some wine with dinner. Knowing these cost slashing measures are socially acceptable helps take the financial pressure off cash-strapped couples. In the U.S., not providing a free bar is a bit of a faux pas. And you would never invite guests for half the event (the humanity!). Though, I’m guessing if all Yanks drank like Brits, this would quickly kill America’s all guests, all day, open bar rule.

A wedding should last for one day only. Even better, half a day.
Apparently, my biggest gift to the happy couple (as stated on every invitation I’ve ever received) is my presence at their Big Day. Fine. No problem. Happy to do it. Brits don’t bother with rehearsal dinners and rarely add subsidiary events that allow the occasion to spill over into the surrounding days. So even if I have to travel and stay overnight, it’ll be over swiftly and I can scoot off home. In the U.S., however, couples are likely to demand my company for a whole weekend, lest the celebration not reflect the enormity of the love that exists between these two people. Yes, it probably means that I get to eat and drink at their expense for 48 plus hours. But then I’m also paying for multiple outfits, babysitters and extra nights in hotels. I’ll take a short, under-funded British wedding any day.

A wedding is acceptable hat-wearing territory.
If I’m getting dressed up like a dog’s dinner, I might as well put on a hat. A hunk of gaudy head furniture at a British wedding shows that guests realize this is an important, posh occasion, like Ascot. Only instead of horses, minor royals and drunk women who work in PR, your partners in partying are hyperactive pre-schoolers, lugubrious teens and grandparents who’ve over done the sherry. Anyway, my point is, people don’t really wear anything on their heads at American weddings, and I think they’ve missed a (hat)trick.

What do you love about British weddings? Tell us below:

See more:
What to Expect If You’re in an American Wedding
How to Date in America
How to Gift in America
10 Things That Brits Don’t Realize Are Offensive to Americans

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis