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!).
- 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.
- 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!
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.