How do they pay for their big fat gypsy weddings?
June 19, 2011 9:35 AM   Subscribe

How do they pay for their big fat gypsy weddings?

OK - I'll admit. I watch the TLC show "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding." It's awful. It's exploitative and an inaccurate representation of gypsies and travellers. But tell me, how do they make all that money for those crazy weddings? How are they really perceived in British society?

Please tell me more about this interesting ethnic group. (Is it really an "ethnicity?")

(Please don't jump on me if you haven't seen the TLC show. It portrays a very specific lifestyle and was created to sell advertisements.)
posted by kinsey to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Please tell me more about this interesting ethnic group. (Is it really an "ethnicity?")
I haven't seen the show. My understanding is that most of the people on the show are Irish Travellers, not Gypsies. They're two totally different groups. As I understand it, the origins of Irish Travellers are somewhat mysterious. Gypsies are descendants of people who moved to Europe from India, and they have different ancestors than the rest of the European population. That's not true of Travellers. At some point, their ancestors broke off and formed their own itinerant society. They're viewed really negatively in Ireland, but I'm not sure whether that's also true in Britain. I'm not sure how to answer the question about whether they're "really an ethnicity." That would sort of hinge on what your definition of ethnicity was! They're definitely a distinct group with their own customs and identity, and they've been around for a long time, although it's not clear exactly how long.

Pavee Point is an Irish NGO that works with the Travelling community and promotes Travellers' rights. Here's their FAQ. Here's their resource page for students.
posted by craichead at 10:02 AM on June 19, 2011

They are somewhat unpopular in Britain, mainly due to their real or imagined disruptive habits rather than ethnicity.

Their money comes from various sources, such as scrap metal, tarmacing drives and I think some are involved in horse breeding.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 10:08 AM on June 19, 2011

Just fyi, "Romani" is preferable to the often pejorative term "gypsy" when referencing the ethnic group craichead mentioned.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 10:09 AM on June 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

But tell me, how do they make all that money for those crazy weddings?

I can only assume that in these specific cases, the show pays for a substantial amount of the wedding, which is one of the reasons people agree to be on the show.
posted by hermitosis at 10:13 AM on June 19, 2011 [9 favorites]

Speaking about a different ethnic group that has similar ostentageous weddings and as a scholar of conspicuous consumption...

- displaying weath and putting on a good time for in group members is considered a logical and legitimate expense.

- taking on debt or second mortages is normal and accepted in a way that American college kids taking on student loan debt is accepted. Close family members also contribute.

- in strongly tied kinship networks, one doesn't have a lot of opportunities to stand out from the crowd. A wedding is one opportunity, although ironicly, it is really about fitting in.
posted by k8t at 10:15 AM on June 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

This is complete speculation, but I sort of wonder if weddings didn't become particularly important community events because the community was traditionally itinerant. If you're going to get everyone together in one place, you ought to provide a party big enough to make it worthwhile. And that party/event has to do a lot of work, because people are going to go their separate ways at the end of it and not necessarily see each other again until the next big event. Maybe weddings have to do less work as community-building events in settled communities where everyone is going to bump into each other at church the next Sunday anyway.
posted by craichead at 10:23 AM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is it really an "ethnicity?"

There is more than one answer to this question, but the UK government approach to ethnicity is based on how one self-defines one's ethnicity. So yes, it is an ethnicity - at least as far as the state is concerned. Many government statistics use the "16 + 1" set of categories, which is 16 common self-defined categories plus "Other" if you don't self-define as any of the 16. Gypsy or Irish Traveller isn't listed as one, so you'd have to tick the "Other" box. However, the more detailed categories used by the UK census did for the first time in 2011 list Gypsy or Irish Traveller as a category.
posted by greycap at 10:26 AM on June 19, 2011

And a personal story: I live in Epsom, where the Derby horse race is held every year. It is a big gathering point for Gypsy and Traveller families. I've only lived here for 3 years but locals who have lived here for longer get very hostile towards their arrival, claiming that crime goes up around Derby Day purely because of the Travellers. I was having my hair cut a few weeks before this year's Derby and the hairdresser - a young woman around 20 years old - launched into lots of the usual stereotypes about them when we started talking about Derby Day.

I'm not sure any evidence exists either way of who commits crime around the time of the Derby. My own experience of Derby Day is that the visible crime - fights etc - is the result of drunk white middle-class lads. But I think it's safe to say the hostility locally runs quite deep.
posted by greycap at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2011

I've been watching the episodes on YouTube, of the British documentary version. I assume it's just repackaged for TLC. How many episodes in are you? They cover the question about wedding expenses (as best as they can) in episode 3 or 4, I forget which exactly. I think a number of factors are at play-- for one, it's a major life event in the communities and families save for years for the wedding day of a daughter. Two, the men work in areas where pay is frequently on a cash-basis (meaning no taxes)-- they apparently don't use much in the way of health services either, as evidenced by the statistic given on the show that about 50% of Travellers don't make it past the age of 50. Three, without the expense of a mortgage, there's a lot of money freed up over the years to save. There's obviously more to it, and I searched online a bit yesterday with the same question, but the answers are largely bigoted and accusatory. So we'll likely never get the whole story, and that's okay.

If the TLC version is different from the British version, then maybe I'm wrong, but I have found the series thus far (I've just started episode 5) to be fascinating, fairly well balanced, and an incredible look at a very fierce people. If nothing else it becomes a jumping off place for people to want to learn more, just as you are here. The feeling I've gotten from the series so far is that it's not for anyone to judge, and that while there are some "negative" aspects to the culture ("grabbing", women's place in the community, etc.), there are just as many corollaries in British and American cultures.
posted by mireille at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2011

I don't think the production company pays for anything. The TLC show isn't new--it's the recut British TV version.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:08 AM on June 19, 2011

The Television Without Pity forum has been very helpful in satisfying my (shameful) curiosity.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 12:28 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's awful. It's exploitative and an inaccurate representation of gypsies and travellers.

if you don't know anything about them, then how are you coming to this conclusion? the show seems to me to be portraying travelers and romani in a fairly balanced way. as explained in the show, there are very big prejudices in general british society against these groups of ppl, and their self-isolation is a big contributing factor.

as for the weddings, like a few have said above, these are major life events in their communities. the girls have pretty much been dreaming and planning their weddings since they were children—and they are encouraged to do so. college isn't an option (much less secondary education), so the expense of an education is not saved for, leaving families to use that money for lavish weddings and communion parties.
posted by violetk at 12:37 PM on June 19, 2011

Coming from a culture where weddings are an important event, I can tell you that many people save up all their lives for their children's weddings, in particular their daughters. In Pakistan, you can even invest in a "wedding fund" in the same way as you can invest in a "college education fund." Paradoxically, the poorer segments of society are likely to put on incredibly lavish wedding parties.
posted by bardophile at 12:38 PM on June 19, 2011

I don't know, violetk. Did you read that Television Without Pity thread? I'm a couple of pages in, and it certainly doesn't sound like people there are getting a balanced picture of Traveller culture. I guess it's now ok to refer to entire ethnic groups as "low-down trashy morons"?
posted by craichead at 12:40 PM on June 19, 2011

This show does not feature Romani and surprised they call them Gypsies, when they aren't. The way these guys live and Romani are different. Different struggles too especially much having to do with skin color.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 1:17 PM on June 19, 2011

I haven't seen the show, but a few months ago I heard an interesting item on BBC Radio 3's excellent Night Waves programme. The presenter discussed MBFG Wedding's representation of gypsy culture and its relationship to how that culture is perceived more widely with three writers / artists of gypsy/Romany/traveller backgrounds.

It's no longer available to listen to on the BBC website, but someone has uploaded it to YouTube, so you can hear it there.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 1:17 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know a family that has Traveller tendencies. They have a LOT of money, because they live very much within their means, deal in cash and don't deal with credit. (And, sadly, when they do it is usually some kind of scam.) They are very adept at finding loopholes in society. For example, when they need to go to the hospital, they use fake names. They are in the construction business, and deal in passable levels of quality, volume and slight skimming of materials. As such, they have storage units full of unused construction materials, available for cash sale.

Things like that.
posted by gjc at 1:21 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

This show does not feature Romani and surprised they call them Gypsies, when they aren't.

Gypsy is a broad term and it certainly does include Irish Travellers. When a British person refers to gypsies they are almost always referring to Travellers, not Roma.
posted by ninebelow at 3:23 PM on June 19, 2011

The vast majority of travellers around where I grew up in England were Romani, not Irish (I just mention this as a data point).

I'm not sure why people are making such a big deal of health costs - travelers can use the NHS like anyone else. There are barriers to getting continuity of care (though there are initiatives to try and deal with this, like health records that you can carry with you rather than being lodged in one place), and there is prejudice (but there is also a word-of-mouth network among traveller communities to try and avoid it - the local maternity hospital where I grew up had lots of women from traveling communities deliberately coming there because they were known to not be nasty to them) but travelers can and do use the NHS.

I agree with things like the cash economy and saving up as well. Another thing is that traditionally Romani and other traveling families kept their savings in the form of gold jewelry (banking not being readily accessible) - which has the advantage of being able to be 'liquidated' for something like a wedding very easily, unlike for example money tied in a mortgage.
posted by Coobeastie at 3:53 PM on June 19, 2011

One of the largest settlements of Travellers in the US is near where I live and they are very much a fixture locally. In terms of just learning more about them, typical views are put forth in this movie and this article from Time. More sympathetic viewpoints can be found here and here. The most of the local ones are actually quite affluent; the men still spend much of the warmer months traveling, but in very nice work trucks, while the rest of the family stays home and tools around in Lexuses and Cadillacs. These homes should give you an idea of their financial status.
posted by TedW at 4:01 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

[folks, can we not make this into a derail about the TV show? I know it's sort of a weird question, please either answer or move on, thank you]
posted by jessamyn at 6:24 AM on June 20, 2011

These links tell you about the culture that enables them to circumvent traditional, more public displays of income which would reveal how much the gowns, venue etc. are worth..
posted by ~Sushma~ at 8:53 AM on June 20, 2011

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