Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Moving to England: My British Wedding

"So tell me, why did your marriage end?"

The elderly vicar of our local Church of England didn't beat about the bush. He wanted some answers before he was going to approve a divorcee getting married in his church.

The British love irony, and this is a very rich one. The Church of England, founded by Henry VIII so he could divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, does not approve of divorcees getting married in their churches.

I could have lied and said my ex-husband beat me and cheated on me and spent all our money. Then he might have approved the marriage. But I told the truth -- we just weren't compatible. Not good enough. So we could have a wedding blessing, but not a marriage. That would have to be done at the town hall sometime before the blessing.

I felt bad for my fiance. This was his first marriage, after all, and he wanted it to be perfect. If we'd had the wedding in the U.S., we wouldn't have encountered this attitude. We could have gotten married anywhere. But here in the UK, we had to settle for the dingy town hall. At that time there were stricter laws about what places were licensed to hold weddings. It's changed a lot since then. I decided to treat the town hall ceremony as just legal mumbo-jumbo. The big event would be the wedding blessing. Our banns were duly published. This is another quirky British custom. The vicar of the local parish church announces the banns, the declaration of two people -- one of whom lives in the parish -- to marry. It is done three times before the wedding.

Now we needed a venue for the reception, or "wedding breakfast." As we only had four months to plan the wedding, we didn't have a lot of choice. Most of the places around here had been booked the year before. We found a village hall that would serve the purpose. It wasn't fancy. In fact I was disappointed, but decided to make the best of it. We hired a DJ on the advice of one of the aunties. We found a florist through another. And the cakemaker through another.

Ah, the cake. In America this is a confection with layers of white cake covered with
mounds of sickly sweet icing. In the UK, it is fruit cake laced with brandy covered with marzipan covered with Royal icing. It's the same recipe as for Christmas cake. I don't like fruit cake or marzipan or Royal icing. But I went along with it because that's the tradition here. And the cake lady was so nice.

The printer of the wedding invitations was one of our pub buddies. I bought a second-hand wedding dress (seemed rather appropriate since I was a second-hand bride). I bought another outfit to wear to the town hall and to change into when I got tired of wearing the wedding dress. The chef from my husband's firm agreed to do the catering but we had to hire all the equipment as the village hall wasn't equipped at all. I met with him to discuss the menu. I wanted veal. Uh oh. Veal is very scarce in the UK. Something about the way they're raised and the British don't like it (why aren't they upset about chickens? Oh, that comes a few years later). Never mind, the photographer who is also a butcher agreed to supply the meat.

I sent out invitations to all my American friends and family. Only one friend and seven members of my family could come. Well, that made it easier to put them up. Our next-door neighbours housed my friend, and my family stayed with us. My parents, who had been divorced for nearly 20 years at that point, stayed next door to one another with their respective spouses. They behaved themselves impeccably. It was like a family reunion in a way. We took them on trips throughout the UK, but I was exhausted by all the emotion and behaved badly.

My future mother-in-law was still trying to separate HTB from me whenever possible. On our wedding day, she told him to come stay with her for some chill-out time. I was incensed by her implication that my family was stressing out her son. Before I moved to the UK, I told HTB I'd need support. "Don't worry," he said optimistically. "My family will support you."

I like to think he truly believed this and wasn't lying through his teeth. Sadly, my in-laws were anything but supportive for many years. I came to see that it's in their genes. My mother-in-law's family feud over the slightest nuance, miscue, forgotten thank you. The summer we got married there were three family weddings: my husband's cousin, also marrying a divorced man, us, and another cousin. At the first wedding a bust-up started to bud. One uncle said something uncouth to the cousin about her husband. By the time of our wedding, the feud was starting to bloom like crazy. The relatives all came but stayed out of each other's way. By the next wedding, it was in full force. Sides were drawn. We tried to stay out of it, but neither side speaks to us now. Not that I care.

During our wedding blessing, apparently there was a gasp across the church. We hadn't bothered to tell any of my husband's relatives that I'd been married before. It wasn't really any of their business was my view. Some of the more faithful churchgoers, however, detected a difference in the service.

We arrived at our reception after the photos had been taken. In the rain. With an umbrella over my head. The ground was so sodden, I sank two inches. My lovely satin shoes were ruined. I was given a glass of sherry upon arrival. I put it down to stand in the reception line. When I reached for it again, it was gone. My husband's grandmother had quaffed it. I got another glass, put it down, same thing happened. I gave up on the sherry. I danced and danced and danced. One of my husband's cousins complained that I wasn't making the rounds of the guests. I retorted that I barely knew most of the guests. And so it went until it was over. Then we had to clean up and make sure all the houseguests made it back to our house. We were staying the night in a nearby hotel. After dancing all night in shoes a half size too small, my feet were feeling a bit delicate. But we had wedding presents in the car and had to pass them through the window into our room. What a sight that must have been.

Our wedding was probably my family's finest hour or hours. Both of my parents desperately wanted me to have a good day and in their way tried to make sure it happened. They did this by behaving like adults and not like the warring infants they had been over the past 20 years. My sister and brother also were troupers. It was an uncommon show of support which I appreciate to this day.

Next I shall write of the media, a very important way of familiarising oneself with a new country.


Annie said...

I totally lucked out on the wedding cake deal by having my wedding here in the states. I don't like that fruit cake either - but my husband LOVES it - so his 'Grooms Cake' was a Marks and Spencer Christmas Cake that my Mum brought over ha ha!

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us - I'm loving it!

jenny said...

Good Grief!! Poor you for having to suffer with the new in-laws!! AT least your own family behaved themselves while there. How tough it was for you, expecting support from his family and not getting it.

Don't they make regular cakes for weddings? Couldn't you have ordered one instead of the fruit cake? I never knew there were so many differences!! Always seemed like it would be easy to fall into place there, but I can see it's harder than I thought!!

My cousin moved to Australia and married an Aussie there. Then gave up his American citizenship. He complains that the people there are not as open about Deafness as they are here and has found it difficult to find work there.

Did you give up your American citizenship when you got married?

Kaycie said...

I think I would have been tempted to elope in your situation. Hell, I eloped just to avoid the damned reception.

My first wedding was a nightmare. My ex MIL and mother HATE each other. They both behaved very badly. There was no way in hell I was doing that again.

Hubby and I ran off to Eureka Springs, MO, and were married there in a lovely chapel. I wore white, there were flowers and cake and champagne and just the two of us. It was wonderful.

I'm looking forward to your piece about the media. I was fascinated by the programs while I was there. The views on American politics were particularly interesting. Oh, and the comedies were divine.

Queeny said...

Weddings tend to bring out the best in people (well, some people). I'm sure you were relieved that YOUR parents behaved like proper adults. Great story.

Flowerpot said...

oh my god wakeup - I'm amazed you went through it all. Sounds hellish. But then by the time I got married, I didnt have any in-laws to deal with so I got lucky there.

softinthehead said...

All weddings have a little touch of that don't they? Glad your's behaved. Are you getting spam bloggers??

ChrisB said...

Being English I find this hilariously true of many families~ look how many of Wayne Rooney's family have been banned from the wedding~ that's if one can believe the media!!

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

annie: Wish I'd been stronger and told everyone I hate fruit cake. But love makes you blind.

jenny: No, I'm still an American citizen. I have toyed with the idea of getting British citizenship too recently. I always thought deep down that I'd be returning to the States, but I don't think that's going to happen.

kaycie: Your wedding sounds divine. Wish I'd done that.

Queeny: Sometimes people can surprise you both pleasantly and not so.

softinthehead: Yes, I am getting spam bloggers. I just deleted a load from some chap named Jason.

chrisb: God, wouldn't Wayne Rooney's family be the family from hell? Makes my husband's look positively chummy.

Candy said...

Weddings bring out the worst in people. My sister asked me to change the date of my wedding, so it would coincide with an already planned vacation of hers, making it easier for her to attend. I declined.