While the main elements of a wedding can be easily identified, there are many things that can still surprise, shock, disappoint or confuse you, if you are a first-timer guest to a Spanish wedding. In this article, I analyse 15 Spanish weddings curiosities to help you understand them and avoid cultural faux pas, whether a friend of yours is getting married in Spain or you’re planning your own bilingual wedding.
NOTE: times change, and weddings change too. What used to be a given years ago may not be so today. It all depends on the couple’s personal style, budget and preferences. Moreover, some Spanish wedding traditions (especially food) may differ from region to region. This article aims to cover only elements associated with more traditional weddings.
Proposal and engagement
The bride-to-be is the first one to know about the engagement
Asking the bride-to-be’s father for his permission/blessing to marry their daughter seems to be still quite popular in the UK. In Spain, this tradition is completely out of place. Have that in mind if you are planning to propose to your Spanish partner because he/she will be deeply offended. Getting married is something that concerns the couple involved, and only them. Asking for permission/blessing (be it to someone’s father, mother or both) is considered disrespectful to your partner. The idea of your dad finding out about the proposal before you do will drive him/her nuts.
No change of status (no ‘fiancé’/‘fiancée’)
The terms ‘fiancé’ and ‘fiancée’ exist in Spanish (prometido for him and prometida for her), but nobody uses them. Those words remind me of American films because that’s how they translate them into Spanish.
People in Spain don’t refer to their partners as ‘my fiancé/fiancée’. In Spanish, you talk about your novio (‘boyfriend’) and novia (‘girlfriend’) right until you marry. In fact, these terms are even used to refer to ‘bride’ (novia) and ‘groom’ (novio).
Invitations and commitments
Personal commitments still have a big influence on Spanish weddings. Many people postpone their big day until they can afford to invite everyone they ‘need to’ invite. You are generally expected to invite all your first-degree relatives and many of your second-degree relatives (at least those who you have contact with or your parents have a good relationship with). It’s very unusual for people to invite only certain cousins, for example. If you invite one, you ‘need to’ invite them all, as they all are your cousins.
Your parents contributing towards your weddings means you’ll ‘have to’ invite people you’ll generally wouldn’t, such as your father’s colleagues or your mother’s friends. If those people invited them to their son’s or daughter’s wedding, they’ll expect an invitation to your wedding.
No evening guests
Something that shocked me about UK weddings was evening guests, as this concept doesn’t exist in Spain. If you’re invited to a Spanish wedding, you’re invited to the whole event, not to only part of it. Either you’re a guest, or you’re not. Nobody likes to be someone’s second choice, and being an evening guest is something that would certainly not go down well for a Spaniard.
If you invite couples with children, it’s generally assumed the children are also invited. Not inviting children is perceived as offensive and something you’d never write on an invitation. I once helped a British friend translate her wedding invitation into Spanish for a friend of hers. The text in English included one of those ‘Unfortunately we cannot accommodate children’ sentences, which was very problematic. Due to the cultural differences and the fact that her friend, as a Spaniard, would expect to take their children to the wedding, I didn’t translate that bit. No matter how polite you tried to be, it would still sound offensive. Instead, I advised my friend to meet her in person and explain her decision over a coffee.
Weddings usually take place in the bride’s hometown
Although nowadays this is not always the norm, it’s still a tradition followed by many couples. Getting married somewhere different to the couple’s hometowns is very rare and marrying abroad is alien to Spanish culture, and almost unheard of.
No bridesmaids and no best men
Bridesmaids and best men are strange to Spanish culture, although bridesmaids have started to appear on wedding magazines, and I wouldn’t be surprised if having bridesmaids got popular to a certain extent. So far, this wasn’t the case with any wedding I’ve attended so far, where bridesmaids and best men were nowhere to be seen.
No master of ceremonies and no programme
Talking from personal experience, Spanish weddings lack organisation in general. The detailed programmes you receive at UK weddings are non-existent. As a guest, you only know the time and place of the ceremony and a vague idea of when dinner is expected, but that’s it. Invitations tend to include only the time and the venue for the ceremony and the meal (although anything rarely starts on time). I’ve often seen invitations reading ‘the ceremony will take place at [place] at [time] AND THEN, we’ll celebrate it at [restaurant]’.
No master of ceremonies means, when the ceremony is over, there’s always a bit of confusion. Shall we go directly to the restaurant? Who’s driving? Who’s coming with you?
Food is a big deal in Spanish weddings and expectations are set very high compared to the UK weddings (at least, to the ones I’ve been to so far), both in quantity and quality. The meal is called banquete (‘banquet’) for a reason. Soups and chicken are considered cheap everyday dishes, and are never served. Instead, expect prime cuts of meat and big seafood platters. It’s not just a 3-course meal, but a meal made of a selection of starters to share, two main courses, dessert and cake. Most weddings also a have a buffet-style reception before the main meal.
…and big expense!
Guests expect lots of good food but are also expected to cover the meal with their contributions to the married couple. This is something nobody says but everyone knows. The average price of the meal per person is around €100-125, and contributions should always exceed that amount.
No formal speeches
In Spain, things are generally more informal in that sense. Usually, the father of the bride would stand up and say a few words to the guests (and maybe some spontaneous jokes) during the meal, but nothing formal or prepared in advance.
Weddings finish late
Spaniards are famously known for partying all night long, and weddings aren’t an exception. Evening weddings may start as early as 6-7 pm, but things will probably finish no sooner than 5-6 am. There is no finishing time. Weddings finish when you want them to, when the last one leaves (people continue to party even after the married couple leaves). To give you an example, last year I left a wedding after 5 am and the next day I found out most of my friends only left at 8 am.
Remember what I mentioned above about children being invited? Spanish children take part in most adult social events, be it going out for dinner or for a drink or two (note I said, ‘a drink or two’), be it attending weddings. Although parents with children will go home earlier than other guests, it’s normal and acceptable for children to be up until past midnight and dance with the other guests.
Unlike UK newlyweds, Spanish married people generally wear their bands on the right hand (on the left only in a few regions).
After the wedding
Both spouses keep their names after getting married
Maiden names don’t exist in Spain. By law, every person has two surnames (one from your father, and one from your mother), but there are exceptions. Nobody gives up any of their surnames and take their spouse’s. To know more, read my article on Spanish naming customs.
Paid marriage holidays
Under Spain’s Workers’ Statute (Estatuto de los Trabajadores), employees are entitled to an extra 15 days of paid holidays when they get married, subject to previous notification to the employer and submitting proof of marriage.
IRENE CORCHADO RESMELLA is a Spanish translator based in Oxford. A Chartered Linguist and member of the CIOL, she is also an English-Spanish sworn translator appointed by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Irene specialises in sworn and legal translation (particularly in wills and succession) and is an Affiliate member of STEP. ICR Translations is registered with the Information Commissioner's Office and has professional indemnity insurance.