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.

How to Plan a Wedding in Spain

… or not.

If you came here looking for advice, I have none. I just wanted to tell you that planning a wedding is hard. Planning a wedding in another country/language is even harder. But, for me, planning a wedding in another country, in another language, and without my mother is the hardest. Sometimes a girl just needs her mom, ya know what I mean?

Mom and me

Mario’s mother has, of course, been there for me: taking me to find “the one” (I really hate using that phrase, as I don’t equate dresses with people), arranging manicure appointments, offering to go with me everywhere, even though she’s still working. So I’m, again, quite lucky.

I know of some American girls who have had their weddings in Spain, and they always assure me I can go to them with questions. The problem is, I don’t have any. I mean, to have questions about something, you have to have at least an intermediate-level understanding of it. And I’m not sure I get Spanish weddings yet. For example:

  • The rehearsal. In the US, there’s a rehearsal. As a bridesmaid in my friend Hilary’s wedding, I was so grateful. In Spain, where I most need it, there’s no rehearsal. How will I know where to stand and when to kneel and where to look if I don’t remember the other weddings? I didn’t exactly take notes.

  • Colors. In the US, we have wedding colors. Smirk all you want, but I love it. In Spain, there aren’t colors, and you most likely won’t be doing any decorating at the reception (here, the reception = el banquete). So relax, that’s one less thing to worry about. I guess.
  • Wedding rings. Here, wedding rings tend to look alike, whereas (from what I know), in the US, the woman’s ring is a bit more, um, feminine? Also, the band goes on the right hand, which is weird to me, no matter how much I see it. What if we move to the States sometime? Will we switch our bands to the left hand? Only time will tell.
  • Dancing. We have to dance a waltz. I am not a dancer. It is not something I’m looking forward to, to be quite honest. In the US, you can usually pick a sentimental song, a song that means something to you. Here, we’ll be dancing to a waltz, which is fine, but not exactly a song that causes me any emotional response. Also, I hope it’s okay if I count to myself the whole time (1, 2, 3 … 1, 2, 3.)

It’s true, you can do what you want. And I’m getting used to being somewhat weird. I don’t understand why every woman needs to get a new dress and go to the hairdresser, even if they’re not part of the wedding. I don’t understand why people will spend so much money, money that could be better spent elsewhere (this happens in the US too, just not as much with my friends/family/the people that I know).

So did you want advice? Here’s mine: take advantage of Spain, its food and wine and lifestyle. Don’t worry; hakuna matata. Because if anyone gives great life advice, it’s Disney.

Boda a la Española: La Prueba

I just arrived last week, and we’ve been hard at work with wedding “things.” Although it’s not as time-consuming as planning a wedding in the States, there are a lot of little errands to run, things to buy, people to see … it can get overwhelming. But yesterday was different—yesterday was “la prueba del menú.”

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Our wedding party (really, is there any other part?) is being held at nearby hotel, located about a ten-minute drive away from Zamora (the city). We received a menu, full of delicious-sounding dishes and were told to select three of each category to try: appetizers, fish, sorbets, meat, and desserts. Yes, if you are unfamiliar with Spanish weddings, there is usually a meat dish and a fish dish. Carnivores much?

Here’s what we chose to try (with our final choice having the three asterisks by its name):

Entrantes (Hors d’oeuvres)

There was no need to pick; we get them all. They were very varied, and it was hard to say which one I liked best, but it was probably the one with smoked salmon.

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Included: little cups of salmorejo (which had too much paprika), cups of yogurt with honey and walnuts, smoked salmon canapés, sausages, and so many other things I don’t even know how to name.

Aperitivo (Appetizer)

  1. Langostinos sobre lecho de cebolla caramelizada al aroma de armarnac. (Prawns on a bed of caramelized onions flavored with armarnac [type of cognac].)
  2. ***Hojaldre relleno de esparragos trigueros y salmón con salsa holandesa. (Puff pastry filled with wild asparagus and salmon with hollandaise sauce.) ***
  3. Vieira gratinada rellena de gambas, con virutas de jamon. (Scallop gratin shrimp with shavings of ham.)

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Pescado (Fish)

  1. ***Rodaballo al horno con verduritas, salsa de carbineros y patata panadera. (Baked turbot with vegetables, Carbinero sauce, and golden potato rounds.) ***
  2. Rape en salsa cántabra con almejas. (Monkfish in Cantabrian sauce with clams.) <—Apparently, this dish is very successful as of late, so the guy in charge suggested we try it.
  3. Rodaballo al horno con salsa de mostaza y cebolla caramelizada. (Baked turbot in a mustard sauce, served with caramelized onions.)
  4. Merluza rellena de txangurro en salsa de almendras y apio con gambas. (Hake stuffed with crab sauce in an almond-celery sauce with shrimp.)

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Picture of the merluza at the left and the monkfish at the right.

Sorbete (Sorbet)

  1. Limón. (Lemon.)
  2. ***Mango. (Mango.) ***
  3. Mandarina. (Mandarin orange.)

Carne (Meat)

  1. ***Lechazo asado con ensalada. (Roast lamb with salad.) ***
  2. Milhojas de solomillo y foie gratinado con salsa holandesa, hongos y verduras. (Steak tenderloin millefeuille and foie gras, served with hollandaise sauce, mushrooms, and vegetables.)
  3. Solomillo de ternera alistana al Pedro Ximénez. (Tenderloin steak with Pedro Ximénez.)

Postre (Dessert)

  1. Tarta de las monjas y helado de tulipa nata nuez. (The nuns’ cake with walnut ice cream.)
  2. Tarta del convento y helado de tulipa nata nuez. (The convent cake with walnut ice cream.)
  3. ***Texturas de tres chocolates con helado de toffee. (Cake with three chocolate layers, served with toffee ice cream.) ***

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Picture of the tarta de las monjas.

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And of course, it was accompanied by wine. Cheers to July 7, 2012!

Wedding…¡a la española!

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This was not my first wedding. No, that already happened (actually, about a year ago). This was one, as deemed by one of Mario’s relatives, “de mucha etiqueta,” meaning fancy. Fancy as in top of the line food, with the reception in a beautiful country winery, lots of drinks, food, and dancing. Good stuff.

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Oh yeah, and they rented a Rolls Royce to take them to and from the wedding/reception. No big deal.

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Here’s where we were: Bodegas Monte la Reina, a relatively new winery located in Toro, Zamora, Spain. In case you didn’t know, Spain has turned me into a bit of a wine snob (at least when it comes to red wine), and Toro wine, while relatively unknown due to the immensity or Rioja and Ribera wines, is amazing. Do not miss it, especially a little wine that is one of my favorites for quality and bang for you buck: Elias Mora.

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After the wedding, held – of course – in a Catholic church, comes the cocktail party, wherein everyone dutifully waits for the bride and groom to arrive. Luckily, food and drink is always involved, and where there’s food in Spain there’s probably ham. This wedding just happened to involve top-of-the-line jamón ibérico, so moutherwateringly good that you can’t eat just one (slice).


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Say hello to Mario’s parents, Pepita (Josefa) and Jesús. They’re probably two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, always willing to lend a hand or cook for you until your stomach threatens to burst the seam of your pants, not that I would know anything about that sort of thing. Pepita works for the government of Castilla Leon and Jesús is a schoolteacher (geography and history). When I say schoolteacher, I mean it. I don’t think anything makes him happier than teaching, even if he has to settle for teaching an American girl how to properly speak Spanish.

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This is Mario’s mother and me after we were given our parasols (sombrilla in Spanish) to block the sun. It was such a nice detalle (detail) as they say here. Isn’t it nice how they match our outfits rather well?

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After the cocktail party with lots and lots of delicious food comes more food. Are your surprised? First, we ate a refreshing salad of crab-stuffed monkfish, accompanied by fresh lettuce, tartar sauce, and shrimp. Next came a lemon mint sorbet, followed by the main plate, a huge tenderloin ox steak, cooked to perfection with a mushroom foie sauce. Last but not least, a hazelnut cream dessert accompanied by chocolate ice cream. Lest you think we were thirsty, no worries. There was lots and lots of water, wine (white and red), and Moet Chandon to finish off. Mmmm.

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As I’ve heard my American (girl) friends say, we weren’t mad. No siree.

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What’s that, friends? Open bar. I’ll say nothing except – gin and tonic. Classy, delicious, and a hint of lemon. No objections here.

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Then, after imbibing a bit, comes the dancing. Spaniards young and old know how to get down on the dance floor. No shame here, and I love it. Mario’s parents also love a good dance, and I love them for it.

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(L-R: Me, Mario, Víctor (brother), Manu (groom), Gema (bride), Pepita, Jesús)

Spanish weddings are quite different from the American weddings I’ve attended. They have theirs ups and downs, goods and bads, but who can say no to good friends, good food, and unlimited beverages? Not I. Not I.