Weddings are big business the world over but in Calabria weddings are huge. Literally, some have 500 guests! So as wedding season is upon us I’ve put together a list of what NOT to do at an Italian wedding.
It can be difficult enough just deciding on what to wear to a wedding but there is also an unspoken etiquette that goes hand in hand with Italian weddings. As with all important life events, as a guest you want to make sure you’re behaving correctly so not to upstage the bride! Of course as local tradition dictates, in every culture there are certain things that you must do and others you must avoid in order to fit in and not do La Brutta Figura. From what to wear to how to manoueveur the buffet tables, this guide will help you to be the perfect wedding guest at an Italian wedding.
What to Wear
Do NOT wear your multi-coloured, off the shoulder, revealing number, even if you do look fabulous in it!
In England if you attend a wedding you are likely to wear a dress of some vivid, bright colour or pattern. In Italy, the colour of choice is black. Elegance is simple and understated and so black is chosen time and time again by wedding guests so they appear chic and poised, whereas in England black is a colour mainly reserved for funerals! It’s worth bearing in mind as well that the actual wedding ceremony is likely to take place in a Catholic Church so make sure that whatever outfit you choose is appropriate for church, or take a lightweight scarf or pashmina to cover up while you watch the bride and groom say “I do”.
How to tackle the buffet
Do NOT stuff your face during the starter, leave some space for the following 500 courses
Most weddings in Calabria will kick off the eating-fest, because lets face it that’s basically what a good old-fashioned Calabrese wedding is, with an antipasto buffet. At my own wedding my English guests revelled in loading their plates high with finger food; almond coated king prawns, mini parmigiana, smoked salmon mousse, fish kebabs, octopus salad… stuffed and content their jaws dropped when they were called to sit down for the meal, they hadn’t realised it was just the starter! They then had to try and get through a further two courses of pasta, two courses of fish and all the desserts! The moral of the story here is not to overindulge with the antipasto, take it slowly because there will be a LOT of food to follow. Italian weddings are famed for their food as it’s the one thing that people will talk about for years to come so be prepared to eat!
What to give as a wedding present
Do NOT buy the couple a toaster!
In Italy, the normal gift for a married couple is an envelope full of cash. The idea is to help the young couple get set up for life and help them to cover the cost of the wedding. At the end of the reception, as you give the couple your best wishes you would then give them their “busta” (envelope) and they would give you a wedding favour, normally a small gift with the obligatory confetti (sugared almonds). While the money that you leave is of course to your discretion a rule of thumb in Calabria is to leave them approximately the cost of the meal plus a little extra as a present. Of course if you prefer to give a traditional present you can but remember that lots of presents are traditionally given by members of the family, for example the dinner service and bedding is usually given to the couple by their parents.
What time an Italian wedding ends
Do NOT expect to be tucked up in bed by midnight
After saving up for years to fund it, hours upon hours of meticulous planning, the hunt for the perfect dress, deliberation over the menu and consultation after consultation with the florist, no Italian couple are going to let their wedding finish early. I’ve been at weddings where at 1 o’clock in the morning we’re still eating! Don’t expect an early night if you go to a wedding, some will carry on until dawn as party goers revel in celebrating the newly wedded couple. So bring your dancing shoes and pace yourself!