I am American and my husband is British. Over the years, Extraordinary Days has come to specialise in wedding planning for American-British couples getting married in London and the UK because I have personal experience with this group and because, let’s face it, I love these type of cross-cultural weddings!

I began planning my wedding to my British husband before I was a wedding planner. As soon as we were engaged, I excitedly set about the business of planning and designing a beautiful day for our family and friends. However, as time went on, I quickly began to realise that my Mr. Extraordinary and I had different ideas about what made the perfect wedding. From the cake to the entertainment (and definitely on the open v. cash bar), we had different ideas of just how the perfect wedding should be thrown.

It’s not uncommon for people to underestimate the differences between America and Britain. After all, we do all speak the same language. However, when it comes to planning weddings, differences in terminology and tradition do abound.

As I have planned throughout the years, I have seen many of these differences pop up between different cultures. For example, Brazilian-English couples also have many of the same differences.  What is always beautiful to see is that couples learn more about each other as they plan their weddings and undoubtedly compromise to accommodate one another’s dreams for their wedding as well as their family’s traditions.

 

American Wedding Planner

{The Talent: 217 Photography}

BEGINNING CONSIDERATIONS

Terminology

There are several terms that are different in the UK and the US. Here is a quick reference guide.

Drinks Reception = Cocktail Hour

Wedding Breakfast = The wedding dinner

Page Boy = Ring Bearer

Ushers = Groomsmen

Hen Do or Hen Party = Bachelorette Party

Stag Do or Stag Party = Bachelor party

Chief Bridesmaid = Maid of Honor

Choosing Your Venue

There are hundreds and hundreds of absolutely stunning wedding venues in the UK. From English manors perfect for a weekend wedding in the country to the most luxurious hotels in London offering impeccable service and Michelin-starred food, there is a dream venue for each couple. However, in general, venues in the U.K. tend to be more restrictive than venues in the U.S. Thus, Americans dreaming of an English wedding can become disheartened when they first begin looking for their wedding venue.

Knowing some of the commonly objected-to regulations can make your venue search much easier because you will know what to ask about on the phone before adding a venue to your shortlist. Thus, saving you hours (and perhaps days!) driving to far-away venues that aren’t suited for you.

There are three regulations that can be particularly frustrating for brides and grooms traveling from abroad. First, many venues require an event end time of 12 midnight or earlier. For those dreaming of an all-night party, this can be a real let-down. There are two ways to get around this. First, you can hire a venue exclusively (known as “exclusive use”). In an exclusive use agreement, an entire venue is hired only for your wedding. As a result, many times venues allow a later end time because there are no other residents that would be bothered by the noise of an on-going party. Alternatively, some venues may extend the end time for an additional fee. So, ask your venue if this is an option.

The second restriction that can sometimes be frustrating (and was a sticking point even for my own wedding) is that many venues do not allow guests to choose from menu options on their RSVP card. In Britain it is customary for the couple to have a menu tasting and to choose one starter, main course, and dessert. Then, each guest will be served those same dishes (dietary restrictions are the exception). On the other hand, in the US it is customary for guests to receive a wedding invitation, along with an RSVP card asking for, e.g., a selection of either a beef or chicken main course. Then, all guests would receive the same starter and dessert but they would receive the main course of their choosing.

Many excellent caterers in the UK insist that giving guests options ultimately diminishes the quality of service because of inevitable mix-ups. A very few can be persuaded to provide guests with main-course options, at an extra cost, and with the assurance the selections will be provided far in advance of the wedding date.

Finally, many of the most beautiful wedding venues are nationally protected buildings. As a result there may be restrictions on the types of decorations that can be used or the suppliers a bride and groom can hire. They may even go so far as to say you may not drink red wine in the venue! They may also require suppliers to be chosen off of a pre-approved list. So, do ask thorough questions about what restrictions your venue has.

 Kathryn Hopkins Photography

{The Talent: Kathryn Hopkins Photography}

Pre-Wedding Celebrations

In the UK, it is customary to have an engagement party, a hen party, and a stag party but not a bridal shower. What American brides in the UK often opt to do is throw a hen party in the UK and a bridal shower in the US so that they don’t miss out on this tradition. In addition, it offers the opportunity to celebrate with American friends who could not attend the UK hen party. Brides who live in the UK can register with a gift registry in UK (that accepts international payments) for their bridal shower. When opening gifts at the shower, photos of the gifts may be open, avoiding the shipment of gifts between countries.

Where to Buy Your Wedding Dress

For American brides getting married in the UK, choosing where to buy a wedding dress is as much an emotional decision as it is a logistical one. The benefits of purchasing a dress where you live is that dress fittings can be done without the need to fly home and the last alteration can be completed close to the wedding day, ensuring the perfect fit. In addition, having the boutique nearby in case emergency alterations are needed gives peace of mind.

The benefits to purchasing a dress at home is that a strong exchange rate can mean lower prices. Additionally, American designers such as Vera Wang and Monique Lhullier can mean considerable savings if purchasing their dresses in the US. In addition, having a wedding dress be a “piece of home” with you on your wedding day can be invaluable.

In some circumstances you may be able to claim VAT back on your wedding dress.

In part 2 of American-British Brides & Grooms I’ll be back talking about everything you need to know about invitations, guest organisation, and the tricky world of transatlantic dress codes!

Happy Planning!

xx