Weddings abroad: local traditions
Getting married abroad is more accessible than ever before – thank you Internet, package deals, currency fluctuations, the rising competition between airlines…
Not only do destination weddings offer great weather and barefoot-beach ceremonies we’ve only ever dreamed of, tying the knot abroad also gets you bang for your wedding-budget buck. And for that reason, they’re rising in popularity among Brits.
In fact, in 2014 alone over 1.5 million Britons travelled abroad either as a guest or as part of a wedding party, which works out to be 1 in 4 couples who marry abroad.
Now, if you’re like me and you get conscious of our ‘ignorant Brits abroad’ reputation tarnishing the magic of destination weddings, worry not. Because this week, I spoke to three couples who married (or are marrying) abroad and did (or will) incorporate local traditions into their big day. How cultured!
Meet the destination weddingers
Stephanie and her husband had their wedding in Sri Lanka in 2011. Paul married his wife in a tiny little village on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand in 2014. And Vicky and her husband-to-be are getting married in an Italian castle in Siena very very soon. So without further ado…
Why did you choose to get married there?
Vicky: We have always wanted to get married abroad and Italy was not too far to travel – there are lots of children coming. Plus, it is one of the most beautiful places and the castle where we’re getting married is just amazing with spectacular views. The weather plays another major factor too.
Paul: My wife’s family had a history of visiting Koh Samui and Thailand, plus I was adamant that I wasn’t going to get married in England. It’s too expensive, you don’t know when it’s going to rain, and why would you have a wedding in England when you can get married on a beach on a tropical island?
Stephanie: Getting married abroad was always our dream and we had been to Sri Lanka on holiday prior to our wedding. We loved the country (and the venue) so much, we chose to get married in the same spot. Also, Sri Lanka is very close to the Maldives. So we thought we’ll get married in Sri Lanka and then spend a week together on our own in the Maldives.
What local wedding traditions did you incorporate into your big day, and how did you find out about them?
Vicky: Our wedding planner put forward lots of ideas, such as a confetti table (which is actually a table of Italian sweets), and a traditional Italian wedding cake. We’ve gone for a UK cake instead, but we are having rice cones for guests to throw at us, rather than confetti, which is a real tradition in Italy. And our ceremony will be in Italian too.
Paul: Because we didn’t have any special requests other than a colour scheme, we let our wedding planner go to town, knowing our budget.
Our wedding was conducted by a German fellow who seemed to make a lot of it up as he went along. I’m not sure there was anything inherently Thai about our wedding, other than a xylophone player playing traditional Thai music as my wife-to-be walked down the sandy aisle. (We opted for the traditional Thai music over a CD player because we thought that would be a bit pants.)
Stephanie: We had a traditional Sinhalese wedding on the beach, which is a blend of Buddhist, Hindu and Sinhala traditions that have been passed down for centuries. We worked with the wedding planner from the hotel to achieve this.
We’re not too religious, and we didn’t choose Sri Lanka for any other reason than to get married on a beautiful beach. But it was nice to incorporate different traditions and our families loved it!
The ceremony started with me meeting my dad and stepdad (who both walked me down the aisle). We then had a procession of traditionally dressed drummers, and girls carrying big decorations and leaves. When I got to the beach, Josh and I walked side by side to the Poruwa, which is a decorated wooden platform where we did traditional offerings to the gods before getting married.
How did your guests react to them?
Vicky: Don’t know yet, but hopefully it will go down a treat!
Paul: Some felt the music was a bit odd. But no one really said anything. I think they were generally content with how the rest of the wedding went.
Stephanie: The dancers and singers were completely different to anything we’d ever get in England, but it didn’t feel weird – everyone loved it. And because our guests were there out of choice, we didn’t have to try to please everyone or put up with ‘moany’ people. However, because our hotel had holidaymakers staying there, we had an audience sometimes. One of the funniest things is a photo of me walking to the beach with this guy in a pair of budgie smugglers taking photos of us!
What one bit of advice would you give to those who plan to get married where you did?
Vicky: Be patient! The Italians are very laid back, but will absolutely deliver on the day. And if you are getting a wedding planner, make sure they speak English. Just be careful of the language barrier – confetti to the Italians means a table of sweets, not confetti as us Brits know it. So these little mix-ups were challenging at times!
Paul: Leave plenty of time to get all the paperwork done. We had to spend a whole day in the British Embassy in Bangkok sorting out the paperwork to make our wedding official before we could even head down to the islands. We did this a week in advance so that they had plenty of time to arrange it all. (Read Paul’s helpful article about his wedding in Thailand here.)
Stephanie: Speak to the hotel directly, even if you have a wedding planner. At our hotel, there was a buffet restaurant as well as an a la carte restaurant, which we found out we could hire exclusively. We also worked with the chefs to come up with our menu. And the hotel let us play our own music at the reception and have access to a private room to practice speeches before the big day. These were arrangements we wouldn’t have known were available had we not spoken to the hotel.
Also, if you’re getting married in a resort like we did and you don’t want to see your partner before the wedding, have a plan. On the day of our wedding, our friends and family had walkie-talkies to help guide Josh and I through the hotel without seeing each another – it was like a covert operation!
If you’re getting married abroad or you’ve been there and done that, share your insights in the comments box below. And if you still haven’t decided whether you want to tie the knot at home or abroad, prepare to be inspired by our blog series on unique wedding destinations.