Spanish Weddings vs. American Weddings

I’ve never had an American wedding. But I have had a wedding. And I’m American. I just got married in Spain to a Spaniard, so I suppose I might know quite a bit more about Spanish weddings than American ones. Yet there are so many wedding-related movies, and I’ve been to my share of American weddings, that I think that I can point out some of the differences.

Whenever I tell my relatives about my wedding, they always want to know the same things—Did you have bridesmaids? Where was the rehearsal dinner? Why haven’t you changed your last name on Facebook yet?

So, after relistening to this old Notes in Spanish podcast (I used to listen a lot in college), Una Boda Multicultural, about a Spanish man who got married to an American woman in Sevilla, I thought I’d write about what I found different (and the same!).

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  • Engagement rings and lack thereof. I have an engagement ring, but it’s not the norm. My husband asked me to marry him back in November 2011, and he presented me with a precious ring that I still wear on my left hand. In Spain, the engagement isn’t quite so popular; in fact, none of the married Spanish women I know had one. Surely, some women do it, but it’s certainly not popular. Don’t even get me started on women thinking that the man has to spend a certain amount on a ring just to show you he loves you. Just … no. Ugh.
  • Las arras. Loosely translated as “unity coins,” las arras are coins that the bride and groom exchange to symbolize that what was now one’s own property is now communal. It’s a nice gesture to symbolize the unification of a couple’s financial goods (and therefore debts as well).
  • No rehearsal. There is no rehearsal! I know, are you scandalized yet? I understand that the rehearsal is pretty useful if you have a large bridal party and don’t want to look a fool, but in Spain there’s none of that. It made my dad pretty nervous, though, so we met up with the priest on the Thursday before the wedding to go over what was going to happen. Naturally, my dad had never been in nor seen a Spanish wedding, and now he was playing a central role, as el padrino.
  • El padrino y la madrina. In the US, the father walks the bride down the aisle; in Spain, the mother of the groom walks him down the aisle, and the father of the bride walks her down the aisle. Then they stay up there with the bride and groom, seated beside them for the whole ceremony.

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  • No bridal party. There are no bridesmaids or groomsmen, no best man or maid of honor. This actually means a lot less stress, because bridal parties are hard to coordinate!

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As a bridesmaid in my friend Hilary’s wedding, August 2010

  • Wedding bands. From what I (thought I) knew, a woman’s wedding band was a bit thinner, more “feminine” than a man’s. In Spain, I found they often showed us two of the same wedding bands. There were usually broader and more masculine than I was expecting. In Mario’s parents’ time, a lot of wedding bands were very flat, and the jewelers presented those types of bands to us as the “traditional.”
  • Ring finger. In most of Spain, you wear your wedding band on the third finger of your right hand, not your left. (However, in Cataluña, they wear it on the left.) Yes, believe it!
  • My last name. Women do not change their last names. Shocking? I don’t know why in this day and age, but it nonetheless seems to shock people. How do last names work in Spain? Here’s how:
    • Everyone has two last names. For example, María Pérez López. María got her first last name, Pérez, from her father. (For example, Marcos Pérez Medina.) María got her second last name from her mother. (For example, Laura López Castro.)
    • Traditionally, the father’s last name has to go first, and the mother’s last name has to go second. However, they’ve recently changed the law to be more egalitarian, allowing parents to decide whose last name to put first.
    • It seems confusing at first for many, but it actually makes a lot of sense, and is a lot more egalitarian than our patriarchal naming system.

Of course, there’s also the whole after-the-wedding party that’s really different, but that’s for another post, another day.

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25 comments

  1. Yeah I’ve been to two French weddings and there are no bridesmaids, groomsmen, or rehearsal dinner in France either. Big romantic proposals are not really the norm. Both weddings I went to didn’t feature the overly fancy American wedding cakes. Instead, both couples went with smaller, more intimate desserts which I preferred! In France, you must also get a civil service done BEFORE the religious ceremony–a religious ceremony has no value if you don’t go to City Hall first. It is the norm to schedule the civil service and religious ceremony in the same day.

    Oh and the French also dance until 5 AM in the morning. The noise ordinances aren’t as strict in the USA where the reception is shut down around 11 PM/midnight. I’m going to my first American wedding in a few weeks and my friend told me she only schedules an hour and a half of dancing at the reception!! I was so shocked.

    1. Interesting about the French civil service. I think what happened in our case was the priest (yes, the priest!) took our documents to the civil registry the Monday afterwards. Of course, since I’m foreign, we had a bit more paperwork to do.

      We didn’t have a cake either. They gave us a fake cake to cut, which we did (with a sword?!), and then they served our *real *dessert, which was like a chocolate mousse.

      As far as dancing, ours was an afternoon wedding, so we danced from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. But then we had to leave! There was another wedding coming! But some of our guests continued the party in another bar. Mario and I went to sleep in our hotel room, though.

  2. My Spanish friends need to start getting married or I’m going to have to find a Spaniard to marry me so I can experience a Spanish wedding firsthand! Until then, your posts are a close second :)

  3. Very interesting to read how things work in Spain! Must’ve been strange doing those things differently from what you are “used” to. In Norway there are no rehearsals either, so I am not even quite sure what it’s about. But if it’s running through everything to be sure what to do when and where I can see the usefulness of it. I was surprised there is no maid of honor or best man! I like the idea of that (we have that in Norway too).

  4. Huh, interesting! I’ve never been to a wedding anywhere, so I have no idea about them at all. I didn’t know about the Spanish wedding rings. Did you end up getting matching ones? And which finger did you decide to wear it on?

  5. Eh, I like their way better for the most part, though I do disagree about the rings, I definitely think it looks nicer for the woman to have a thinner band with some precious stones on it.

    I’d probably be inclined to settle the naming order dispute via a vicious game of rock, paper, scissors, but that’s me :D

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  6. yes, I agree with Jessica- I want to experience a Spanish wedding. Love hearing about the differences and knowing in Spain there is a lot less emphasis on “the cost of the ring.” Looking forward to hearing more about your wedding day!

  7. Que interesante! I didn’t know a lot of the things you wrote about. I kind of like the differences. As you said, bridal parties are hard to coordinate! I forced my Armenian husband into an American style wedding and he was relieved. I went to Armenian weddings later and saw why he was relieved! Like 3 days of massive parties here, there and everywhere, massive expenses and tons of gold, etc. But the Spanish wedding seems even more pared down than the American style wedding. Who knew? I thought it would be a lot more complicated, is it Catalan style or is it like that all over Spain? How about the reception? Who is expected to be invited? Like hundreds or just the family and close friends?

    1. Ooooh the Spanish wedding ceremony is definitely pared down. But the party? It’s usually way more elaborate than what I’m used to.

      I mentioned Catalan style only for the ring fingers (they wear it on the left, like us). Mario’s not Catalan, so I don’t know anything about their traditions besides that.

      I plan on writing a post about precisely your questions!

  8. I guess you will be wondering why we Spaniards have two last names. I actually got to know it veery recently (and am in my mid 40s). In 1492 Jews (and Muslims) were expelled from Spain and there was this sort of crazyness to prove you were a real Christian,. In Jewish tradition, you’re born a jew if you’re the son of a Jewish woman, hence proving you were a real Christian you had to show both your last names. This thing goes further in Portugal, where the Mother’s last name is the first last name, so if you are called Jorge Oliveira de Melo, that means your mother’s last name is an Oliveira and your father a De Melo. So, even if it now seems a pretty egalitarian measure, it actually comes from a very discriminative one. (by the way, sorry for any mistakes made in English! )

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