US v UK – Wedding differences and ideas

Published date: 10th May 2019

Thanks to the ubiquity of American sitcoms, and our love of their romcoms (even one in 20 of Jennifer Aniston’s), we get to see plenty of fictional American weddings. But have we noticed the differences between what they do and what our traditions dictate?

As Churchill said about the UK and USA, we are two nations separated by a common language. Some of the differences are just the words used – so before the big day in the USA he has a bachelor party, she a bachelorette party, whereas we go on a stag or hen do.

Another preliminary event, and one we don’t go for (much – yet) is the bridal shower, where the bride-to-be receives gifts from female friends and family members, the useful presents leavened with some saucier ones. Likewise the rehearsal dinner, far more common in the USA than here, perhaps because it’s in part a way to extend the event for those who have travelled very long distances to attend. Held after the wedding rehearsal it also lets the couple give tokens of gratitude to people who have helped above and beyond with wedding preparations.

When we get to the church or the registry office there are several differences to note. The groom in America waits for his bride to arrive facing the door through which she will arrive; in the UK the groom faces forward, only seeing his bride when she arrives by his side. The bride here will be followed by her bridesmaids (often carrying her train), of whom generally she will have two or three; in the USA the bridesmaids, as many as five, precede the bride into the church, and they in turn are commonly preceded by a young flower girl strewing petals for the bridal party to walk upon. The flower girl is a nice touch, and is becoming more popular here.

We can’t see British brides wanting to follow their attendants, but they may envy American counterparts whose bridesmaids get a lot more involved in the planning and preparations.

Another linguistic difference is that ushers are known as groomsmen in the USA, but their roles differ too – across the pond their duties done as guides in the church they join the party at the front, whereas here they remain at the rear of the church, or join their seated families. And the wedding party in the USA tends to stand with the couple, while we enjoy a nice sit down.

Given we Brits are far more self-conscious than our bolder friends across the water we’ve fought shy of writing our own vows as the Americans do, though the CofE is happy to accommodate this provided they’re vetted first and the legal wording is also included in the ceremony.

A style difference to note is how British women at weddings go for big hats, their transatlantic cousins rarely do. For both sets of brides, however, old, new, borrowed and blue is respected. The last part – ‘a silver sixpence in her shoe’ – is not rigidly kept to here, and rarely observed in the States (though some brides reportedly go for a 1¢ piece – a penny – minted the year they were born).

After the ceremony there’s a major difference to highlight: here we add a few more friends for the evening celebrations after what we call the wedding breakfast, in the USA if you are invited it is for the whole shebang: ceremony, dinner and dancing.

A reception line is usual here, less so in the USA, which allows for a dramatic and enthusiastically greeted arrival of the couple at the dinner, quite often the first dance immediately following their arrival (we do it after the cake). And on the subject of cakes, our tradition is for iced fruit cake in tiers, the Americans (showing better taste) opt for iced sponges stacked one atop another. And while we generally dropped the idea of the groom’s cake (an alternative, maybe chocolate- or cheese-cake) in the 19th century, it is still frequently seen in the USA, especially the South. As there is really no such thing as too much cake it seems high time we repatriated this tradition.

As those funding the events will agree, you pays your money, be it dollars or pounds, and takes your choice. Jolly good show. Or yee-haw.

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