Before 1999 I had never been to a wedding, but then the wedding invitations started trickling in… First it was Latvia, then England, France etc and on Saturday it is the first Belgian wedding for me. I was thinking about the different weddings I have attended and what the similarities and differences were (disclaimer, these are my impressions and maybe they are not the norm at all weddings in the different countries):
- Latvia 1999: my Latvian sister Z (she lived with my family for one year 1992-93 as an exchange student) got married to A, a Swede with Latvian roots who she meet just when she was going back home. The wedding was great, we were a small Swedish representation; my family, A’s family and some friends. In the church my family and I decided to sit with the groom’s family and friends. When the couple arrived we all stood up and then we never sat down again. It was quite long to stand up for an hour listening to a language you don’t understand… The groom, an officer & a gentleman, said a loud (och mycket skånskt) JA (yes!)! when it was his turn to answer the priest – I guess he was waiting for his cue as he didn’t speak much more Latvian than us (now he does!). After the ceremony I complained to the bride that we had to stand up the whole time, she looked very surprised and I think the explanation was that the Swedes looked at the Latvians, the Latvians looked at the Swedes and we just remained standing up!
Latvian wedding traditions are plenty, from all the female guests bringing flowers to the bride in the church, to the bride & groom breaking a glass and exchanging some money and planting a tree. The morning after the wedding you burst in on the couple (usually already awake and waiting!) to check if there happens to be an axe under the bed (hello, somebody must have put it there??), I think that it means that the first-born will be a son…
- England 2000: It was the turn of my Australian brother B (he lived with us for 6 months in 1990) to get married to his English girlfriend Z in Kent, England. My biggest priority was to find a hat for the wedding, I had of course seen “4 weddings and a funeral”! And yes, there were quite a lot of hats among the female guests…
In the church there were ushers to show us to the seats (remember the scene from the above-mentioned film where an old man is asked “bride or groom?” and he answers “don’t be ridiculous! Isn’t it obvious that I’m neither” (or something like that)??).
Speeches were made, and a toast master was in charge of introducing the speakers. During the dinner Elton John love songs were played since the singer is a cousin (I think) of the bride’s mother!
Both to the Latvian and the English wedding we brought spettekaka, a speciality from our region Skåne.
- France 2003, 2004 & 2006: I have been to three French weddings (in Alsace, Loire & Provence) – all quite different but they still had some similarities. Only the first one was in a church, and actually in France, which is a very strict secular state, religious weddings have no legal value so everybody has to have a civil wedding ceremony as well. It was a nice wedding ceremony in the church with music and singing (see below compared to Spain). As it was my first catholic wedding, I was a little surprised to see that communion is offered just like at a normal mass.
All three weddings involved a lot of eating, and before the dinner, the champagne is served with lots of finger food. The groom at the Loire wedding loves foie gras, and I have never seen such quantities before!
French wedding traditions involve speeches and activities during the dinner (such as songs, games for the couple etc). At one of the weddings the groom was Jewish so a traditional hora was danced, with the couple sitting on chairs that are lifted up in the air. The bride was half Luxembourgish so a traditional “hat game” from Luxembourg was played.
All three French weddings had themes for the decoration of the dining hall – one had old photos of the couple as children (very cute), one had a “A thousand and one nights”-theme (in the old stables of a château) and the third one had travels as a theme since the couple met in Italy before they went to live in Sweden & Portugal (separately) among other countries.
- Sweden, 2003, 2006: I have been to three Swedish weddings and none of them have taken place in a church; two of them were religious ceremonies and one was civil – but they were all three outdoor weddings! The first one was close by Kolmården, a big forest south of Stockholm, in a mansion – we had a beautiful view over the water and the sun just came out in time for the ceremony. The second one was on Haväng, a beautiful area on the eastern coast of Skåne with rolling hills (the actual name means “sea field”) overlooking the Baltic Sea. And the last one, was up on a mountain overlooking a lake (Torne träsk which is not a marsh but a real lake, even if its name means marsh in Swedish) – breathtaking! In other words, Swedish weddings with a view!
In Sweden we love making speeches during the wedding dinners, and there is always one or two toast masters who introduce the speakers. Sometimes those speeches tend to become a little too long, but many times they are very funny!
The bride’s mother at one of the weddings is Polish and she introduced some Polish wedding traditions – very similar to the Latvian ones!
The bride at the wedding in Lapland, the far north of Sweden, was Norwegian and almost all the Norwegian guests were wearing their traditional costumes!
- Italy 2003, 2006: First, an Italian/Irish wedding held by the Lago di Garda, close to Verona. Another beautiful setting for a wedding and very international! The Irish bride’s sisters live in Australia and the US, she worked in Brussels and the groom’s family comes from Calabria (the south of Italy). The second wedding was in Florence, with an American bride and an Italian groom, and they live in London.
The first wedding started at noon in the church and afterwards we ate for hours! I can’t remember how many courses the lunch/dinner consisted of but at least a few antipasti, then at least two pasta dishes, fish, meat, dessert – yummy!
In Italy you usually have an open bar (i.e the alcohol is for free) but the Irish bride said that it would be impossible in Ireland as people would drink the couple bankrupt!?
Usually there is no dancing at Italian weddings, but the foreigners at both weddings danced the night away!
- Denmark, 2004: Danish weddings are very similar to Swedish ones, except that the priest wears a very funny-looking, big round collar.
A Danish tradition which has become a Swedish one as well nowadays is the tradition to steal kisses from the bride/groom! When one of them leaves her/his seat at the table (maybe to go to the toilet or to talk to somebody), all the guests of the opposite sex will rush to steal kisses! It’s very funny and it definitely livens up the dinner!
The friends of the groom will corner him on the dance floor just after the wedding waltz and take off his shoes to cut of the toes of his socks!! (they even did it to Crown Prince Frederik at his wedding!)
- Spain, 2006: Last year we went to two Spanish weddings; one Spanish/Italian wedding in Zaragoza in July (it was 40 degrees!) and the other one in Asturias in the north of Spain. I had a feeling that I was the only none-Italian/Spanish guest at the first one but the second wedding was very international. The priest in Zaragoza both spoke Spanish and Italian during the ceremony which was a nice gesture.
Spanish weddings are interesting in many ways; in the church the parents (or just the mother of the groom and the father of the bride) of the couple usually sit next to their child up front by the altar. If the groom’s mother is traditional, she will wear the black lace scarf called mantilla on her head, held in place by a comb. There is no singing or music in the church during the wedding ceremony and no speeches made during the dinner – not even to welcome the guests!
The venues for the dinners are very often so popular in the wedding season that they have two shifts! At the first Spanish wedding in Zaragoza, we were kicked out from the hotel at 19.00 as the next wedding dinner had to be prepared. Some of the guests continued to a bar nearby but I thought that it was such an anticlimax – I expected a party until sunrise in true Spanish style!
At the wedding in Asturias bagpipes were played, actually a traditional instrument from the region! And we drank cider, which is a traditional drink from Asturias. It is drunk from special shared glasses (it’s important to leave a little bit of of the drink which you pour out of the glass at the spot where your lips were, so to clean it!), poured from high above to make some bubbles.
The best part of Spanish weddings must be the jamón!! A special ham-cutter is hired and he spends his time cutting ham and people are queuing up with plates to collect the thin, thin slices of Spanish ham – mmmm…
On Saturday I will be able to compare an Belgian wedding to these ones!