If you’ve lived in a place long enough, it’s inevitable: you’ll meet friends who will want you to come to their weddings! However, going to a wedding or other major celebration in Spain—or any new country—can be overwhelming. While Spanish weddings are, on the surface, not super different from those I’ve attended back in the US, there are definitely some things to keep in mind in order to respect their tradition and culture. Here’s how not to look (or act) like a guiri at your first Spanish wedding.
1. Don’t look for the RSVP card—there most likely isn’t one
Back in the US, every wedding invitation that myself or my family received included a small card with instructions for how to RSVP. Many times it involved physically mailing our response to the bride and groom, although in recent years I saw a few that had set up an online RSVP system. No such thing here in Spain. Instead, most people will simply contact the bride and groom directly to let them know that they’re coming. At most, you may see the couple’s phone numbers printed on the invitation for RSVP purposes, but you won’t have to worry about mailing your response.
2. You won’t get to pick your meal, either
On that same note of Things Your Spanish Wedding Invitation Won’t Include, a meal choice card is another. In the US it’s common for the couple to provide two or three different meal options for their guests, but that’s not the case here in Spain, where everyone eats the same things. Generally the first course is seafood, then there’s some kind of palate cleanser before the second, which is meat. And then there’s a whole separate dessert before the wedding cake itself! Exceptions can be made in the case of food allergies, in which case you’ll have to let the couple know ahead of time so they can make arrangements, but generally speaking you’ll be eating whatever they pick out.
3. Dress to impress
If you ever spot a group of impossibly fashionable Spaniards lingering outside of a church on a Saturday morning or afternoon, chances are they’re wedding guests. And if you ever had any doubt regarding their impeccable style, it’ll all go away when you see how they dress to the nines for weddings.
While most Americans got their introduction to fascinators thanks to the Royal Wedding, here in Spain you’d look out of place (if you’re a woman) if you’re not wearing one of the tiny, chic hats (or at the very least, a large decorative hairpiece, which is what I usually go for). Another rule of thumb for the chicas comes in regard to dress length. In general, short dresses are for daytime weddings and long dresses are for evening weddings. You can wear a short dress to an evening wedding (I’ve done so when said wedding took place in the sweltering Andalusian summer), but a long dress at a daytime wedding would look strange. If you’re not a fan of dresses, I’ve also seen women dressed in gorgeously chic pantsuit-type outfits at weddings.
If you’re a guy, you have it easier. I haven’t noticed much difference between Spanish men’s wedding attire and what I saw back home. As long as you have a nice suit, you’re good. The most effort you’ll have to make is simply color-coordinating your tie to match your date’s outfit.
4. Ladies, that includes hair
Before sliding your fancy fascinator into place, go get your hair done! Here, most women get their hair professionally styled before weddings. It’s not just reserved for the wedding party. In fact…
5. There is no wedding party
Spanish brides and grooms are complete strangers to the American custom (which may be a thing in other cultures too) of having a handful of your closest friends stand up at the altar the whole time with you. Instead, the only two people who accompany the bride and groom at the front of the ceremony space are the padrinos. That literally translates to “godparents,” but in the context of weddings, they’re usually the bride and groom’s actual parents. Other than that, at most, you may see a little flower girl and/or ring bearer, but not always.
6. No wedding party = no rehearsal
Really, there’s no need to coordinate and practice where everyone needs to go and when, considering there are only a few people involved. That means no rehearsal dinner, either. I’ve been asked by Spanish people why, in American wedding movies, they always have a big dinner the night before the wedding. When I explain, they usually chuckle and ask, “But what is there to rehearse?”
7. Money, money, money
Like any good guest, you’ll probably want to give the special couple a gift. However, no need to scour their registry—they won’t have one. Instead, gifts for weddings in Spain are almost always money. A polite amount is generally enough to cover your food, and then some. Close friends and family members usually give more than distant relatives and casual acquaintances.
As for how to get the money to the happy couple, that depends. Some invitations will include their joint bank account number in the hopes that you’ll simply make a transfer before the big day. (As a side note, bank account numbers are not nearly as top-secret in Spain as they are in the US, and are safe to use and give away for purchases and transfers. Anyone who wants to get into your account and have actual access to your money would need a whole lot more information.) In other cases, you can simply put cash into an envelope and discreetly hand it to the novios at the reception when they come around to greet everyone.
8. Brush up on your Spanish
At least enough to participate in the ubiquitous cry that will ring out often over the course of the day. When someone calls out “Vivan los novios!” (“Long live the bride and groom!”), everyone else yells back “Viva!” (You only have to learn one word! How easy is that?)
9. Get ready to stay late
After the ceremony itself, guests enjoy a convite (cocktail hour with plenty of Spanish appetizers) before dinner. Finally, the dance floor opens up, and usually there’s an open bar. Even daytime weddings can often stretch into the early hours of the next day. Needless to say, Spanish weddings are exhausting but fun!
10. Yes, you can throw rice
In fact, you’ll be encouraged to do so, and possibly even handed a little sachet of it.
Have you ever been to a wedding in Spain, or will you go to one soon? What Spanish wedding traditions have taken you by surprise?
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