Cultural Differences: How We Wedding

I’ve made it back from Ireland after an amazing time, plenty of travel and my first ever grown up wedding. Getting prepared for this wedding without making a total fool out of myself was interesting, as weddings around the world go down in very, very different ways. I found myself asking everyone I knew about the typical wedding in their countries, and trying to piece together common threads.

For example, do you give gifts, or cash, or both? Is it considered weird to give cash if you’re not a close relative, like it is at a birthday? In Greece the answer is yes, no cash in hand unless you’re an uncle, the couple will usually provide a bank account for any monetary gifts. In the States the answer is don’t just give cash, that’s a bit tacky, give a nice present along with it at least. In Italy the answer is hell no, and don’t go cluttering the couple up with useless presents they don’t need, just give them more cash.

What does one wear at a wedding? We can all agree on no white dresses, but is black also frowned upon? What about the length? In some places, anything above the knee is tacky. In others, no such modesty is expected outside of the church. And what about the men? In Romania, the answer is white shirt and black pants. Elsewhere, any dress shirt will suffice. For some, a tie is absolutely necessary, for others, not so much.

And how long do weddings normally last, seeing as we have to decide whether to take the 1:20AM or 4:20AM bus back? In Italy, they are usually late afternoon weddings which will most likely end around 11PM or midnight. In Romania and Greece, it is inconceivable that the party ends before 6AM. So, which is the Irish more likely to be?

In the end, there were only three things that all the cultures I questioned seemed to agree on: no white dresses, you should show up early rather than late, and you will eat far too much, so don’t wear anything that’s overly tight.

So we set off, not eating a thing, and took a nice early bus across the country which was to get us there a good 45 minutes early, time for me to change, fix myself up, and watch the bride and groom arrive.

Only the bus meandered, and brought us there a good hour late, so finding me getting changed in the bus toilet, trying desperately not to touch anything as I banged off the sides with the jolting. We scamper up to the wedding and luckily find the bride and groom still greeting guests in the foyer, phew we’re not that late, and so we sit at a random table and wait for the party to start.

And that’s when we realize there is no food at this wedding, beyond a tiny plate of canapes near the welcome prosecco, and cake. We pretended to go for a cigarette, and scoffed down a sneaky burger in the hotel pub instead. We popped back in having missed cake, but at least with something in our bellies to absorb the alcohol which, incidentally, you do have to pay for at Irish weddings, so good thing we saw someone do just that before walking away from the hotel bar and making someone chase after us!

In the end we had a great time, chatting and dancing and drinking until our 4:20AM bus. It looks like Irish weddings are somewhere in between the Italian and Romanian ones, which suited us just fine. We managed to not make total fools of ourselves, they were delighted we came, and our cash gift seems to have erred strongly on the side of generous rather than meager, which is the best kind of mistake to make.

So, where does your culture stand on things like black dresses, cash gifts, late night partying, free booze, overstuffing with food, and fun traditions? Let’s make this comments section the how-to-wedding guide across the world, so that the next time you go to a wedding in a different country, you have a reference guide!


  1. says

    I think it also really depends on the couple. We skipped about all “traditions” and decided that our wedding was OUR DAY and we’d be damned if we wasted any of it on things we didn’t enjoy. No church, obviously, red dress, handsown by me, no silly games and we told people before that yes, we’d like to buy our plates ourselves so please give us money.
    Some people decided to pack that creatively like my aunt in law who gave us a spaghetti jar full with coins.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      Of course it depends on the couple, but as you said, you informed your guests beforehand what you wanted. This post was not to suggest that every couple in a given country will have the exact same wedding. The fact that you had a different sort of wedding, and informed your guests accordingly, suggests that there existed a standard to deviate from. So, if you’re invited to a wedding in a different country, and no such instructions on dress, gifts etc. are provided, what should you do? How do you comport yourself to not offend, or be tacky, in a culture that is different from yours?
      For example, if you are invited to a wedding in a church in Italy, and you show up with a dress above the knee and/or with exposed shoulders, you’ll create a kerfuffle and will most likely not be allowed in the church at all. That’s not the sort of scene you want to make at a friend’s wedding, I think!

  2. Ice Swimmer says

    Finland, in my experience (there are many ways to do it, this is sort of stereotypical modern practice): The couple can decide if they want money or stuff. Free booze has been the norm if the wedding reception isn’t held in a restaurant. Serving coffee and cake is the minimum. There may be a lot of food, there may be cold cuts and fish first, then hot courses and then dessert. Coffee may come after the first meal and some program. Booze can be e.g.: Sparkling wine (welcoming toast/aperitif). Wine or beer with warm foods (maybe shots of vodka or aquavit with fish), cognac or liqueur with coffee. Drinking may continue after eating.

    There will be dancing in the wedding (starting with a waltz by the couple), usually waltzes, tangos, jenkkas and now also modern popular dance music (pop and rock). Sometime after the first waltz, groom’s or bride’s friends may “kidnap” on of them and make the other partner do some tasks to get their loved one back. The dancing may stop when the couple withdraws to their bed or it may not.

    • Ice Swimmer says


      After the priest or judge, people may throw rice on the couple and the couple is usually driven in a “special”* car to the reception. Bouquet and garter throwing are usually done.

      As for the dress code, a suit for men and similar level for women.

      * = Anything from a PT Cruiser to an old rear-engined Renault to a 50s American car.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      I have confirmed through talking to my Irish friends though that paying for drinks at Irish weddings is a standard, in fact they had never heard of a wedding in which you didnt pay for drinks! There is also no such thing as open bar parties. It seems that no hotel would even give you an open bar per person price, you would have to simply pick up the tab for the entire wedding party, and few are rich enough to make such a gesture…

  3. anat says

    Jewish weddings in Israel: Can take place either Sunday to Thursday evening or Friday in the early afternoon (in which case everything would need to be over before sundown). There are also plenty of times of the year when a Jewish wedding will not take place (religious holidays, fast days, several weeks in spring and 3 weeks in summer). On Sunday-Thursday weddings many of the guests will be going to work the following day, so people won’t stay past 23:00 or so.

    The preferred gift is a check, with higher sums from close adult relatives, others are generally expected to give a sum that is at least roughly the cost of their share of the wedding expenses. Though I have seen some really thoughtful wedding gifts. There will be plenty of food and booze. If the couple is from a secular family a broad range of clothing would be acceptable, if they are religious there might be modesty standards, specific items such as ties are entirely optional.

    • anat says

      Forgot to mention: If the couple is religious, expect women and men to dance separately – there will be a circle of men and a circle of women. The couple will be carried around on chairs in the men’s circle.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    My cultural expectations of a wedding in the UK would be that guests could expect a ceremony requiring smart dress, followed by a sit-down meal with drinks, followed by some kind of entertainment involving a dance floor (DJ, singer/band or both) with a bar, possibly with a buffet later. Significant events away from the ceremony would include throwing the bouquet, cutting the cake and the couple’s first dance.

    I’d expect, as a guest, to have to pay for drinks from the bar, but not for dinner/drinks or the buffet. In return, I’d expect the couple to EITHER have publicised ahead of time a list of the presents they would like across a range of prices, organised so that there were no duplications (most major department stores will run this list for you), OR ask for money “to help pay for” the honeymoon. The former is common if the couple is young and just setting up a home, and the latter more common if one or both is older and already has a fully functional house with all the stuff.

  5. Jake Harban says

    The last wedding I went to was American (since I actually haven’t left the country since becoming disabled and I’m not sure I’ll ever manage to leave the country again) but it was also Jewish which is sort of its own thing.

    And this was highly unusual even by Jewish American standards, so I wouldn’t recommend taking much advice from it. In this case, it was the wedding of two friends of my family who were together since I was a child and who finally got officially married shortly after Obergefell v. Hodges.

    Dress code was nonexistent; just be presentable. Neither bride wore white, so “don’t wear white” would have seemed a bit silly. Gifts were not expected; I don’t know if anybody brought any. Late night partying was out of the question; the ceremony and reception was conducted entirely over the course of a Sunday afternoon. Overstuffing on food was optional; there were canapes followed by salmon in some sort of avocado-based “cream” sauce followed by cake. All the food was kosher pareve; none of it was all that great. (In my experience, kosher food is usually lousy, but pareve cake is the worst by far.) Other than white wine, there was no alcohol available.

    As for fun traditions? Dancing and parading from the temple to the reception was both fun and traditional, as was carrying the couple on chairs while dancing. The ceremony itself technically met all the requirements for a traditional Jewish wedding while trying to put a fun spin on them. The rabbi wore a rainbow tie to celebrate the temple’s very first same-sex wedding which was fun, but not exactly traditional.

  6. katybe says

    Aah, typed something long and lost it! So further UK perspective here (I’ve been to 3 weddings just this summer, and about 10 in the last 6-7 years, so have this down pat now!)

    Clothing – women
    Not solid white, or solid black, although either colour is fine in combination, either as colour blocks or a mixed pattern. Any other colour is fine as a solid or pattern, although avoid floor length solid satin unless you want to look like you were offended not to be asked to be a bridesmaid. Usually dresses, but coloured trouser suit or skirt/top is acceptable. If the wedding’s taking place in some religious orthodox community, I’d ask the bride for guidance, but otherwise there are no particular rules on how much or little the outfit exposes, so long as it looks smart. A little bit formal, but err on party rather than job interview levels of smartness. If some or all of the reception is taking place outdoors, don’t wear stillettos. It’s impossible to feel elegant when you’re being tipped backwards as your heels sink several inches into the damp ground, and this is Britain so I can practically guarantee the ground is going to be damp. We still joke about buying a hat when someone’s relationship starts getting serious, but in practice most people are bareheaded now. In my experience, older relatives of the bride or groom may wear a full hat, and really close young female friends of the bride may wear a fascinator (also actually women who are always several notches of stylishness and fashionability above the rest of the party even in their daily life), but most people now seem to take the view that they’re spending enough on the wedding without buying something expensive that will only be worn once.

    Clothing – men
    Men’s outfits seem to be getting less formal, at least for those under about 40. I’ve increasingly noticed people seem to choose either a jacket or a tie, rather than both, and even that gets taken off either before or during the meal. Plain, dark trousers, or at least a very subtle pattern – definitely not a brash pinstripe – unless you can claim Scottish ancestry and feel like braving a kilt. It’s always good to get a few Scots brightening up the sea of dark legs.

    People usually provide an online gift list now, with a range of prices and also the option of gift vouchers to any value you like. If they’ve created a gift list, it’s sort of considered better to stick to it because it gets delivered together on a day that’s convenient for them to receive it, and in general, store vouchers are considered better than money, unless the bride and groom specifically requested money for something. Asking for cash is usually considered a little bit off, particularly by more traditional guests, but where I have heard it to be met with approval is when they ask for physical currency for the country where they are honeymooning – people are more appreciative of helping them buy a lovely souvenir or memory of the honeymoon, then paying for them to have a more expensive wedding than they can afford. The list is usually household stuff, with a couple of fun things like boardgames. One of the weddings I went to this year expressly asked us to stick to the list because they weren’t going to have a secure area to store gifts at the venue overnight, so they only wanted to receive cards which the bride’s mother could take back to her hotel in a carrier bag at the end of the night, but most places will allow for stuff to be stored overnight and the newly married couple or their close friends/family to collect it the next day, so there’s generally a table for you to put whatever you’ve brought, rather than pushing it into someone’s hands in the receiving line.

    Eat first. After the ceremony, there will be photos (pay attention to the photographer – you’ll probably be needed for at least 2 posed group shots at different times), glasses of fizzy alcohol, lots of milling around, and potentially a journey of up to about 15 miles between the ceremony and reception venues if they aren’t using the same place for each (check in advance if they’re laying on transport, or if there’s enough time in the program for you to get back to your hotel and check in/leave a vehicle and still get to the right place before your presence is needed), and if you’re lucky you might get a couple of small canapes but it’s going to take longer than you expect before you get food. Most weddings take place in the afternoon, and in my experience there’s invariably 3 hours from the time the ceremony is due to start to the point you sit down for food. Have a light lunch first, or you’ll end up drunk and hangry by the time they finish all the messing about. You can be invited to some or all of the ceremony, wedding breakfast, and party combination, depending on space and budget, so if you’re not invited to the meal, make sure you figure out where you can go for food in the time you’ll have available. And yes, it’s called breakfast even if you don’t get it until 5pm! Drinks with the meal are usually provided – generally bottles of red and white wine for the table to share, plus something for toasts, and after that you usually expect to have to buy drinks at the bar. If the bar can’t take card payments, it’s good practice for the bride and groom to warn their guests that it’s a cash bar only. Sometimes people will put a certain amount behind the bar – when it’s spent, that’s it – sometimes they’ll try to make sure everyone gets their first drink, sometimes it lasts longer. The father of the groom at one wedding this year was aiming to buy a drink for everyone personally, having gone to the bank specially to get enough bank notes (that one was a cash only bar), and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer! After/during the meal there’ll be various toasts and speeches (it’s still a rarity for the bride to speak, usually it’s her father, the groom and the best man, but sometimes other people will be added to this, and some brides are now making the decision that they want to say something on their own account rather than being spoken for, and one this year adopted a Swedish tradition of anyone in the audience being able to speak for 2-3 minutes, so we had about a dozen quick speeches instead of 3 long ones) followed by a party – sometimes a dj, sometimes a live band, usually a dance floor, sometimes other bits of entertainment like a photo booth, or a magician wandering the tables. Most venues want the party to finish some time between 11.30 and 1, some couples break it up a bit early by making their escape at a certain point in the dancing, leaving the guests to keep partying, but people tend to start drifting off and saying goodbyes once the bride and groom leave. If the reception is in a hotel and most guests are staying on site, or within walking distance, it usually keeps going until the last possible song, if drivers/taxis are needed it starts breaking up earlier. The last few I’ve been invited to have all informed us of the end time in advance, so people could book taxis – we actually left the last one just before 11, because we knew taxis were going to be in really short supply (we were out in the country) and wanted to make sure we’d got it before the pubs closed for the night.

    And I think this is long enough! It’s still actually more concise than version 1!

    • Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

      Wow, weddings only last until 1 am?
      That sounds so weird. Over here (Croatia), only really small weddings where only closes family and friends are invited to the ceremony and later dinner at a restaurant can be expected to be that short.
      The rest- any wedding where the whole venue is reserved – lasts until 3 or 4am. I’ve heard of weddings lasting until morning.
      Only older people leave early, and leaving before the cake is cut makes you look like an ass. The cake usually gets cut around midnight.
      There’s food all through the night, with pauses for dancing and/or silly games in between. Or pauses for food in between the dancing, depending on how you look at it. Usually, there’s little snacks and cold cuts, then soup, then the main meal (various meats with sides), more little cakes, The Cake ), lamb and/or pork (as the second main meal) and then goulash or sarma (depends on the region the celebrants are from ) sometime around 3 or 4am. After the goulash, you’re expected to pick up your drunks and start heading home. I think – I never lasted that long.

      • Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

        Oh, and it’s also kinda rude to leave before the gift giving which is usually after the cake (around 1am).

        As for traditional exchanges. I’ve been to one wedding where the bride’s family did the “fake bride” traditional silliness: I was a guest on groom’s side and we went to pick up the bride. He and his friends went to the door, but the bride’s family wouldn’t let her out. They tried to “trick” the groom by sending out different women like her maid of honor, then her mother; with groom’s friends dismissing each one with comments like “no, this one’s too old”, “no, this one’s too ugly” … To the groom’s father’s credit, he was a bit upset by the whole thing which wasn’t helped by quite sexist and crude jokes during celebratory speeches at dinner – I like to believe that’s because he thought more of his son than crude suggestions about how he should “handle” his new wife.

        On the other hand, I was at another wedding where they also made the groom work to get to the bride, but it was far from sexist : he had to learn a poem in her native tongue in advance and recite it to prove his worth. I thought it was a nice spin on things.

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