EDIT: Since the publishing of this post, I recently have found myself planning my very own Spanish wedding, (with an American twist, of course!) Because I have sent this post to guests in order for them to have a vague idea of what to expect at a Spanish wedding, I thought I should make somethings very clear. These “rules” are simply protocols and each bride and groom have different expectations for their wedding. That being said, at our wedding you are welcome exactly as you are, whether that means in your finest dress or your favorite jeans. We are just glad you can celebrate with us. However–the Spanish party side of this wedding will. not. be. spared. Consider yourself warned!! 🙂
One of the best parts about living in Spain for almost a decade is that at some point, you start to blend more and more in to the culture. This means having Spanish friends, with Spanish boyfriends, that at some point turn into Spanish weddings. I went to my first Spanish wedding about five years ago, and committed a handful of faux-pas that could have been saved by a blog post like this one. If you have found yourself with a Spanish wedding invite in your hand, this post is for you. You’re about to learn everything you need to know about being the perfect Spanish wedding guest.
Sorry, guys. Spanish weddings are no casual affair. (And yes, I’ve seen jeans worn to plenty of American weddings. No judgement if there were jeans at your wedding. Jeans are comfy and versatile, they just can’t be seen at a wedding in España.)
Guys: Men are expected to wear a full suit and tie or even a tuxedo to weddings. At some weddings, men, (especially family of the bride or groom), may be seen wearing tuxedos with cumber-bunts and tails and the whole shebang. Bottomline–men: do not show up to ANY Spanish wedding without a tie and a jacket. Yes, even if the wedding is in the middle of the day in Sevilla and its over 100 degrees. It should be noted that at a very formal wedding, men should actually NEVER take off their jacket. (As a side note, I will never force this cruel and unusual punishment upon any of my guests, but to each his own). If everyone seems to be doing so, and the groom has as well, it is generally accepted that you can also take yours off, but it should be worn as much as possible.
Women, on the other hand, have a little bit more variety to choose from but more “rules” to adhere to. First of all, some clarifications:
Day wedding: A wedding with the ceremony starting around 12pm, serving lunch around 2 or 3, and reception ending between 1-3am.
Night wedding: A wedding with the ceremony starting somewhere between 5-7, serving dinner around 9 or 10, and reception ending….the next day?
Ladies wedding wear:
If your first reaction to this is to laugh and think that these “rules” are more of a guideline, you would be wrong, and you will be the only one wearing a long dress to that day wedding you have, or a short dress to the night one. People get very serious about their weddings, and some take these rules quite seriously. I had a friend who even said that if she saw someone at her daytime wedding in a long dress, she would not let them into the reception. Keeping this in mind, cue me at my first night wedding:
EDIT: After reading this, a Spanish friend of mine said that although these are technical “rules” or guidelines for attire at a wedding here, it should be noted that many families would not be as picky about their guests’ attire. This is certainly true and your best bet is to talk to the bride or groom and ask them about the dress code they want to uphold.
In the States, it is common place for the bride and her bridesmaids to get their hair and makeup done for the wedding. In Spain, it is common place for all of the women going to the wedding to do so. I personally have never made a hair or makeup appointment, and usually have ended up trying to fix the hairstyles of other friends of mine going to the wedding, but you should know going in that people do not take their hair and make up lightly. Manicures and pedicures are also a must for most women attending a Spanish wedding. (If you are scrambling to try and add up all the costs on the wedding, wait for the final price tag at the end of the post.)
In addition, you will notice that for day weddings, I mentioned that “tocados” and “pamelas” are common to wear. A tocado can range from a simple barrette with colorful dried flowers to clip on your updo or a flower crown for a spring or summer wedding, to a turban with dried flowers for a winter wedding. Personally, I absolutely love this. Here are some examples from a very talented friend of mine who makes dried handmade “tocados” in Barcelona. (She ships everywhere!)
As you can see, her tocados are DOPE, and she even has some accessories available for rent, if you want to rock the look for a smaller price tag. She sends to all over Spain, so if you have a day wedding coming up, shoot her an email.
At an American wedding, your meal is always included in your wedding experience. But what is included in that meal can range anywhere from an informal buffet style dinner to a three course meal. There may be a cocktail hour with snacks, there may not. There may be free beer and wine, there may be an open bar, or you might have to pay for every drink you have. Weddings are expensive and the bride and groom have to decide what’s best for their budget. In Spain, you will never need to bring your wallet to a wedding. (To find out why, see #4) At a typical wedding you can expect:
- 1-2 hours before lunch or dinner (ie my FAVORITE part of any wedding): A full spread of appetizers–usually highly elaborate tapas, cheese, ham, and other typical dishes from the area, brought to you by waiters and waitresses. Also on hand is beer, wine, cava, and any soda you might want. PRO TIP: The food here is usually awesome, but fight with everything in you to NOT overdo it because you have a three or four course meal waiting for you. (Last wedding I was at had SEVEN). Save room.
- Lunch or dinner: Usually a three or four course meal possibly including other appetizers like shrimp, ham, cheese, etc, then an entree which is usually fish or meat (sometimes BOTH), sorbet, and dessert. You will also be given as much wine, beer, or other beverages you like. You will not be able to finish your food. Do not even try.
- A coffee bar. You’ll need it.
- The second dinner around 3am–after you’ve had a gin and tonic (or three), and have danced your heart out to “Despacito”.
My advice? Take. It. Slow. If you are anything like me, the first time at a wedding like this you might make the mistake of going all out at the cocktail and appetizer hour. But just be patient, the best is yet to come.
Above I mentioned that to find out why you never need to bring your wallet to a Spanish wedding, read number 4. Seem a little incongruent? Let me explain. At a Spanish wedding you will never have a gift registry where you are able to buy a gift the couple wants at a price you can afford. You should know straight away that the only gift for a Spanish wedding is money, and you usually give it even before you go. It is typical and accepted for a wedding invitation to include the couples’ bank account number so that this process is faster and easier. The reason is quite self explanatory and logical, but totally threw me off guard the first time I saw it. Weddings are expensive, and a lot of the things that need to be paid for have big deposits or need to be paid for out right, so getting your wedding gift early is helpful. Depending on how well you know them and how far you have to travel, you should be giving from 75-200+ per person. (75 assuming you have to take an airplane, stay at a hotel, and the person getting married is your partner’s friend, not yours, and 200+ being a family member or very close friend to whose wedding you needn’t travel far or make extra accommodations for.) These numbers nearly gave me a heart attack the first time I heard them. But they allow for a very helpful benefit to the couple, and another HUGE difference between American and Spanish weddings–Spanish couples expect to break even or possibly MAKE MONEY on their wedding. I have it on good authority that a couple who recently got married made 13,000 euros after paying everything off at their ALL INCLUDED AND OPEN BAR wedding. (It should be mentioned that it is customary for both partners’ parents to chip in to the wedding, which can significantly bring down costs. And perhaps I shouldn’t imply that making money on your wedding is normal, but breaking even definitely is. Much different from the US, however, the bride’s family is not expected to bare all of the expenses.)
Are you signing up for Tinder in Spain yet?
I don’t care who you are, all weddings can be classified as a show to a certain extent, and some more than others. No judgements, only truth. But in Spain, that show looks a little different.
In Spain you can expect:
- To be able to clink your glass at dinner and make the couple kiss
- To see the bride and groom go to every single person and give a gift and say thanks for coming. The gifts I’ve seen range from a cigar or small bottle of wine to an Ipod shuffle.
- To see them give special gifts to their family members during dinner as well–usually a bouquet of flowers for mom and maybe a watch for dad.
- To watch a slideshow of the couple
- To see the bouquet thrown
- To receive a special gift from the couple (in front of everyone at dinner) if you’re going to get married soon, or if they would like you to.
- To spend a good 1.5-2.5 hours at the lunch or dinner table.
- To hear at least one Sevillana
In Spain you should NOT expect:
- Bridesmaids or groomsmen
- Drunken (or not drunken) speeches about stupid things you did in high school, (or at your bachelor party), at dinner.
No one, and I mean NO ONE, knows how to party like the Spanish. And it isn’t an all-out shit show with people tossing up their lobster at 11pm and passing out a half an hour into the dance party. No, Spaniards take their time. They pace themselves. Weddings for them aren’t a race, they are a marathon, and they are in it for the long haul. And sometimes the long haul means still singing flamenco at 9:30am the next morning. Watch the locals, don’t go crazy right away, and take advantage of the post meal coffee bar, and you should be fine.
You might be asking yourself, after all of this, what you can expect to spend at your average Spanish wedding. Or maybe not if you have been following along with this post and your calculator, and you can already see these costs getting out of hand. Please refer to my very gender normative graphic below. Of course costs can vary, and there’s almost always an option to spend more (possibly less) in most of these categories, but I’ve taken the average prices a person might spend. Keep in mind, your Spanish friends probably have dresses, ties, tuxes, purses, and shoes that you can borrow and help keep these prices down. There are also many websites such as La Más Mona where you can rent dresses and tocados and have a million dollar look for a fraction of the cost.\
EDIT: Another Spanish friend commented that I forgot about the bachelor and bachelorette parties in the cost analysis of a wedding. If you are “fortunate” enough to be invited to one, you can guarantee and extra 100-300 euros added to your costs.
Maybe after all of this, instead of making you feel more comfortable, I’ve actually just made you more anxious about making your debut as the “guiri” (foreigner) at your first Spanish boda. Hopefully that isn’t the case, but if it is, just remember, every country, (and every couple), is different. These rules I’ve laid out are really more like guidelines, and it is completely okay to pull your friend aside and ask about what is appropriate for his/her wedding. The important thing is to know what a couple expects on their big day, and be respectful to that, while also having as much fun as possible.
I would love to know about your experiences at international weddings and what stood out to you! Shoot me a message or comment below!