While politicians might make a lot of the so-called ‘special relationship’ – yes, even now with Bush and Blair long consigned to history, this happens – between the United Kingdom and the United States, citizens of the two countries will often find that there aren’t actually that many similarities between the countries.
Many a UK citizen has travelled across the Atlantic and arrived back in awe of the size of food portions and the majesty afforded to some shops and restaurants. At the same time, many head in the opposite direction and simply cannot comprehend the reserved nature of most UK citizens, or the weather, as is legendary in a selection of commentaries.
To many, the differences between life in the UK and US are striking. However, if you start to look deeper into specific aspects of life and culture, you start to find that there are more similarities than you thought. One of the areas where both similarities and difference stand out strongly is weddings.
Is This Remarkable
What should we expect in terms of the relationship between weddings in the US and the UK?
Perhaps the biggest obvious similarity is that both countries are predominantly Christian, so the similarities regarding the traditional side of church weddings are to be expected. However, the general differences in way of life between UK and American residents are vast, and we would expect this to manifest itself in at least some areas of the wedding ceremony.
Number of Marriages
In general, less people around the world are getting married now than they were 10 and 20 years ago. This trend is also visible in both of the countries we are looking at here, despite the latest marriage statistics from the US indicating that there are still 2million marriages taking place every year.
Divorce and separation rates are also increasing in both countries, even becoming more ‘popular’ in the southern American states where religion is a huge influence in lifestyle, and we would perhaps expect the opposite to be happening.
Before we start to look at some of the similarities and differences in more depth, especially some of the bigger quirks, let us take a snapshot of some easy to view areas.
There is some similar numbers there, but the big difference that really sticks out is the average cost of an engagement ring.
Digesting the Data
There’s nothing else we can say, but wow.
Men in the United States, on average, spend over $3,000 more on an engagement ring in comparison to their UK counterparts. This data is supported by website Mens Tungsten Online. Women all across the UK are about to stop reading this article and begin finding out how to emigrate across the Atlantic!
We’re not sure why this trend occurs. If the cost of the wedding was reversed between the two, we might have been able to deduce that in the UK more couples tend to contribute towards their own wedding, so an engagement ring tends to be cheaper to compensate for that.
The only real conclusion we can make is that, with the average salary higher in the United States, more people can afford to shop at the top end of the market. It is still fair to say that people in the UK put a lot of effort and commit a lot of finance to their wedding. After all, the monetary gap between the engagement ring and the wedding actually closes slightly rather than increases.
It is also estimated that the average cost of a wedding, per guest, is around $750 when you take everything into account including the venue, dresses, entertainment, food, and so on. However, based on our numbers that would only allow for around 40 guests at every wedding, yet the typical guest list will feature nearer to 150 names.
This shows us that what people spend on their weddings varies wildly. Based on our experience of weddings, we would suggest that there is no in between in terms of party size. Yes, weddings might meet the average status quo of around 40 guests from time to time, but there will be a large proportion of weddings that are either small, private affairs, or huge, everyone is invited parties. Of course, people will change things in order to accommodate guests, too – they might remove a course from the menu if it means they can invite 10 more people, for example.
That gets some of the numbers out of the way, but what about many of the intangibles, such as bridesmaids and other wedding staples.
What We Wear
Weddings are traditionally viewed as very formal occasions when everyone should look their best. However, if we apply standard dress code and etiquette rules, as few as 20% of weddings in both countries are now deemed black or white tie occasions.
Today, business formal, or even business casual dress, is widely seen on both sides of the Atlantic, especially in respect of guests, and even what bride and groom’s wear is becoming less ‘traditional.’
If a wedding invitation lands on your doorstep in the coming weeks, at least you can be reasonably satisfied you won’t have a dress code to navigate!
The Wedding Rehearsal
This has been a staple of US culture for many years. In recent times, more Brits have started to take part in wedding rehearsal events.
In both countries, it isn’t just the wedding ceremony itself that is rehearsed. Everything from the vows through to the route back to the reception venue, the food, and even the speeches tend to be practiced more than once these days.
We’d understand if people wanted to make sure they’re not going to make a fool of themselves during the first dance, but everything else starts to make a wedding seem like something of a contrived performance rather than a once in a lifetime, memorable event.
Walking Down the Aisle
Watching a wedding on television or in a movie can be a strange experience when the fiction is happening in the country you aren’t from. Walking down the aisle is one of the most subtle yet significant differences across the US and UK.
The UK is a staunch follower of tradition in this respect, with The Wedding March typically blasted out on a church organ – or equivalent instrument in other venues – and the bride being led down the aisle with the bridesmaids behind her. The groom, best man, and any groomsmen (ushers in the UK, but not a role that is particularly big) are sat at the front of the venue, awaiting the arrival of the bride.
Roles reversed in a big way in the US. The groom remains at the front, but the groomsmen tend to accompany the bridesmaids down the aisle – for this reason, the numbers of bridesmaids and groomsmen will typically be the same in a US wedding – with the bride following last.
Speaking of Bridesmaids
The role of bridesmaids in both countries gives a big clue to who they usually are. In the US, the bridesmaids tend to be close friends of the bride herself, or family members of the same age, mirroring the groomsmen who tend to be the grooms friends.
In a UK wedding, the bridesmaid plays much more of a passive role rather than actually having a large part to play in the ceremony itself. This is why you tend to see a wider age range of bridesmaids in the UK, with the majority of them being younger relatives or children of friends. This trend could well be driven, at least partially, by the self-aware nature of UK citizens; although some women are happy to ‘dress up’ and be bridesmaids, they are in the minority. The ‘fairytale’ element attached to the role of a bridesmaid in the UK means it is perfect for the younger girl.
That Trend is Old Hat!
Is there anything more instantly recognizable when it comes to UK weddings than women wearing big, over the top hats? Although this is a dying trend, it is still great to see older generations of women trying to outdo each other with ever more daring and outrageous pieces of headwear during a wedding.
In the United States, hats are rarely seen at weddings, and if they are, it is usually only the bride wearing one.
The Wedding Reception
There aren’t any real differences between the post-wedding activities, other than the term ‘wedding breakfast’ occasionally being used in the UK. Commonly, weddings will take place at lunchtime or in the early part of the afternoon, so the meal and refreshments provided will always be suited to the time of day.
The only concern is allowing certain friends and relatives – we’re sure you know who we mean – aren’t allowed too much access to alcohol, especially if they’re to be making a speech later!
A Wedding Taboo: Inviting Your Ex
Would you invite an ex-partner to your wedding? It’s likely that you wouldn’t be the one to bring it up, so it would only happen if your partner suggested it to you. Even then, you might need to ensure you don’t let slip the fact that you’ve been considering it.
There aren’t any real similarities or differences here, although US couples will tend to stick to just one ex each, if any at all. This is understandable, you wouldn’t want to make a speech, or have your best man stand up, and talk about how you’re both made for each other and never wanted anyone else, all while there are five ex-partners each in the room!
Is a Wedding Just a Wedding?
The falling number of marriages in these countries is partially down to the attitude of people that it is “just a wedding,” or that marriage is just a piece of paper and doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things, count for a great deal.
While those are open to personal opinion, what cannot be doubted is the great experience that getting married actually is. Whether you plan to get married in the US, the UK, or anywhere else around the world, it is something that you will never forget.
Nidia Guerra loves weddings, especially when the happy couple have opted to go against tradition and do things differently, such as having tungsten bands instead of gold or silver ones, or choose to get married in an unconventional venue.