When in America, how should one refer to the weddings of different cultures?
November 15, 2012 12:54 PM   Subscribe

What is the socially acceptable way to refer to weddings of different cultures in the US? Is it non-PC to refer to 'American weddings' when distinguishing traditional white-American weddings, vs weddings of other cultures?

My girlfriend works in events. Last night we had a conversation where she was marking the differences between "Persian weddings" that she has organized (in the US), and "American weddings" (meaning traditional white American type weddings).

This struck me as potentially offensive to some. Are not all weddings that happen in America "American"? Would it be more acceptable to say 'Persian-American weddings' and 'Traditional-American weddings'?

I'm British (living in America, with American girlfriend). This sort of thing is a minefield..
posted by Conductor71 to Society & Culture (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
'Anglo-American' would work pretty well in this context.
posted by pipeski at 12:57 PM on November 15, 2012

In America, one would generally make a distinction based on either culture or religion, and the "default" depends on where you are. If you live somewhere where everyone is Catholic, the explicitly Catholic wedding is a "wedding" and everything is defined against that. If you're in a Jewish community, there's an explicit "Jewish wedding" and then there's just a wedding where Jewish people are getting married. I wouldn't say that the phrase "American Wedding" (Gogol Bordello song notwithstanding) is "offensive" as much as "meaningless." Same thing for "Traditional-American" wedding because, well, whose tradition? We have all sorts of white people, so you can't even default to that.
posted by griphus at 1:01 PM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure I'd ever use the term 'American wedding' to denote the average wedding, but I'm not sure it's particularly offensive to use shorthand when describing a wedding.

Personally, I've heard 'Catholic wedding' and 'Jewish wedding' used to let someone know what kind of ceremony it was.
Also 'Indian wedding' and 'hippie wedding'.

Without the qualifiers, I'm just going to picture the basic, generic, white wedding, so I'm not sure it needs its own term.
posted by madajb at 1:04 PM on November 15, 2012

I write and edit stories about weddings. In the context of comparison, instead of "American," one option would be to refer to the type of wedding your girlfriend is talking about as a "Western wedding"—and adding "traditional" before both would make the wording a little safer still. (And preemptively, no, I don't think "Western" is likely to be confused with "country-Western" or similar in that context.)
posted by limeonaire at 1:04 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a Filipina, I would not be offended if someone referred to my wedding as a "Filipino" wedding if I were to marry here in the USA. Most of us who come from strong cultural backgrounds will incorporate some sort of tradition from our ancestry. I'm not ashamed of who I am, my culture, or how my wedding would be a beautiful, respectful mix of the Catholic and Filipino traditions.

I say this as an unmarried single woman - LOL.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:12 PM on November 15, 2012

I don't think "Western" works as a qulifier any more than "Persian" or "American". A reformed jewish wedding in the Chicago Suburbs has as much to do with a Russian Orthodox wedding in a Pennsylvania coal town or a Court House civil marriage as a Zoroastrian service in Rasht has to do with a million-dollar blow-out in Tehran.

Incidentally, is an Iranian-American wedding in Tehrangeles not American? It's certainly not all that Persian either!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:13 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think "Western" is also one of those heavily context-dependent things because it really depends who the "other" is. If you live in a place with a bunch of white Protestant people and a large Latino community, the "Western" distinction doesn't make any sense even though the wedding cultures of the two communities are quite different. If you live in a place with a bunch of white Protestant people and a large East Asian immigrant community, then it makes a bit more sense. If you live in a place like New York, "Western wedding" defines what is going on about as well as "indoor wedding" or "outdoor wedding." It indicates a difference, but it doesn't relate what the difference is.
posted by griphus at 1:21 PM on November 15, 2012

It is colloquial among distinctive ethnic groups to call Anglo-American weddings "American weddings" to differentiate them from their own. Lots of Anglo-American traditions and folkways are referred to as "American XYZ" all the time. Heck, growing up, my family referred to the western-calendar's celebration of Easter (as opposed to our own) as "American Easter".

It's all about tone. "Are you going to have a Persian wedding or are you actually going to have a real, American wedding?" would be offensive. I wouldn't find the statement, "Wow! This is so different than an American wedding!" offensive at all, though.
posted by deanc at 1:22 PM on November 15, 2012

(And preemptively, no, I don't think "Western" is likely to be confused with "country-Western" or similar in that context.)

As someone living in Texas, I can tell you that I would absolutely expect cowboy boots and hats at a "Western" wedding. I have seen many photos of such in the society pages over the years.

I think the answer to this question is going to be very location-specific. A "Traditional" wedding ceremony could mean very different things around the world, but in your city it probably has one pretty-well-accepted meaning.
posted by CathyG at 1:23 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Around here (N. California) the right word would probably be "white," honestly.

As a seventh generation American I personally would not appreciate anyone differentiating between my Jewish wedding and an "American" wedding. I've been on the receiving end of this from people who meant no harm; and while it doesn't hurt my feelings, it does cement my impression of them as hicks.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:28 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about, "Wow! This is so different than MOST American weddingS I'VE BEEN TO!"
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:30 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a seventh generation American I personally would not appreciate anyone differentiating between my Jewish wedding and an "American" wedding.

Generally, the only time I've seen this distinction made clearly was so women knew whether they needed to dress in the Jewish definition of "modestly" (skirt below the knees, sleeves, possibly a collar) or if they could just wear whatever they wanted. Screwing that up is a giant faux pas.
posted by griphus at 1:34 PM on November 15, 2012

As a Jewish white man about to marry a Thai Buddhist (a week from this Sunday, yay!), I can say that this topic has come up several times during our planning conversations. My bride to be will often distinguish between the two parts of our ceremony by referring to the Thai ceremony and the American ceremony. Her calling the water blessing part of the ceremony the "Thai" ceremony doesn't bother me at all. It's very clearly a Thai tradition.

It does rankle me a bit referring to the rest of the ceremony as the "American" part, but I've had trouble articulating why. It will be secular with some Jewish elements, but no rabbi or prayer. We are both Americans (albeit Jewish-American and Thai-American) getting married in America in a ceremony that will be familiar to most Americans. The "American" should be implied, no? Maybe I'm feeling that by calling it an American ceremony she is implying that she's not American and that this ceremony is for me while the Thai one is for her.

I agree that the words are useful to distinguish the different parts of the ceremony, but "American", to me, feels divisive at worst. At best, it's redundant a la Human Wedding.

So, yes. A minefield.
posted by bluejayway at 1:35 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I suppose it depends on who you are having the conversation with. I have always referred it to a western style wedding or American style wedding vs. Chinese wedding, Indian wedding, Jewish wedding... Quite a mine field, my friend, everything can be offensive or not PC depending on the person on the listening end.
posted by Yellow at 1:47 PM on November 15, 2012

I would guess she was using "American" as shorthand for "the white-dress Judeo-Christian wedding as it is typically celebrated among people of my acquaintance." Is that how you understood it?

I mean, yeah, it's imprecise and potentially offensive but it's understandable and convenient and in my experience (as deanc and HeyAllie say) people who identify as [blank]-American very often say things like "American wedding" to distinguish it from their [blank] or [blank]-American wedding.

To me it's a lot less offensive than, say, "regular" wedding. (But I am an unmarried atheist who's eligible to join the DAR, so take what I say with a grain of salt.)
posted by mskyle at 1:48 PM on November 15, 2012

Anecdata: I am first-generation born Asian-American (though I would usually just call myself American). I have referred to my own wedding as an "American-style wedding" in discussion with other people. Mostly because as someone first-generation, sometimes people assume that I would have a traditionally Asian wedding.

There may be no PC way to say any of this. People make a lot of annoying assumptions in weddings. Also, people tend to merge many cultures and traditions into their weddings. With the widespread sharing of wedding-planning info (a la pinterest), who knows what really belongs to which culture anymore.
posted by watch out for turtles at 2:07 PM on November 15, 2012

As someone who is from Italy yet now lives in the US, the idea that a typical US wedding might represent "western" civilization is hilarious. Europe alone has a gajillion different kind of weddings even before we tackle the diverse subcultures in the US proper.

I don't have a better term for you, but I feel that your instincts are correct: using "American" to mean (roughly) white, middle-class, and Christian-lite is pretty damn exclusionary.
posted by lydhre at 2:11 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would probably call it a "big white dress wedding" if I wanted to informally describe a generic wedding like people have on American TV shows.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:18 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe if you use a term like "Methodist" to describe the "white, middle-class, and Christian-lite" type. As we've just seen in the election results, these folks are no longer the majority in America.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 2:33 PM on November 15, 2012

There is the term "white wedding". Not sure if it is used in the US, but it seems a simple way to refer to a typical European-style wedding with a white dress.
posted by iotic at 2:50 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Methodist" is too specific. I would presume it was going to be in a Methodist church or have a Methodist priest or Methodist vows or something, and I would wonder what the Methodist dress code was.

Note: I know nothing about Methodists -- but I am not alone in this.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:50 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Mainstream US-style wedding"? "US bridal magazine-style wedding"?
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:51 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

In the case of non-Methodist "Methodist" weddings, feel free to substitute the appropriate denomination (e.g. Lutheran, Unitarian, Episcopalian, Four-Square Baptist, etc.)
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 2:53 PM on November 15, 2012

"Mainline Protestant church wedding" is certainly a meaningful thing, but it seems like the hope is to come up with a term that captures the "bride in a white formal dress, groom in a suit or evening clothes, religious service, fancy decor, flowers, reception with cake and dancing" style of wedding that Reform Jews and Roman Catholics are just as likely to have as Methodists or Presbyterians?
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:59 PM on November 15, 2012

I think that there are enough conventions associated with "American weddings" that everyone will understand what is meant.
posted by neroli at 3:51 PM on November 15, 2012

I think her meaning might be clearer if she said "American-style wedding."
posted by HotToddy at 4:08 PM on November 15, 2012

American-style works for me. And there's a precedent.

I had a second cousin who married an Indian-American, and they had a Hindu ceremony in the morning and a Methodist ceremony in the afternoon. It was a long time ago, but I'm pretty sure the invitation specified that everyone was welcome at either or both, indicating clearly that each would be a traditional wedding in that religion and culture.
posted by dhartung at 4:39 PM on November 15, 2012

Generally, the only time I've seen this distinction made clearly was so women knew whether they needed to dress in the Jewish definition of "modestly" (skirt below the knees, sleeves, possibly a collar) or if they could just wear whatever they wanted.

None of these elements have ever been a part of any of the many Jewish weddings I've ever attended, including my own. So there you go. Even "Jewish" doesn't describe the same thing to two different MeFi readers, much less "American." For OP, in addition to my previous recommendation of "white", I'd add "mainstream" to try to get to what I think his gf is describing. But again, even that is going to mean a lot of different things... what's mainstream to some (money dances and money trees for example) would be wildly unacceptable to others, even without religious and ethnic differences.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:41 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, my son is getting married in January, and he is having a Greek Orthodox wedding in contrast to mine which was a Protestant wedding.

See how that works?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:35 PM on November 15, 2012

I would refer to the "American" wedding as a Christian wedding - perhaps specify what denomination if that makes a difference.
posted by echo0720 at 5:49 PM on November 15, 2012

Amongst my group of Asian friends, we refer to the traditional "American" wedding as the "White Gown" ceremony. As in "We're doing the Chinese wedding in the morning, and having the White Gown ceremony at 6." People always seem to get the idea.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:32 PM on November 15, 2012

To call a Christian wedding simply 'American' honestly never even occurred to me before I read all the responses to this post. I typically refer to weddings according to religion or the ceremony performed (for example, I'd say Russell Brand and Katy Perry had a Hindu wedding). My parents didn't have a religious ceremony at their wedding - just threw a big shindig and signed some papers. When people ask I just say they had a registered wedding. Makes it easier I think :)
posted by 9000condiments at 8:48 PM on November 15, 2012

I am not American, but if someone referred to a 'Christian wedding', I'd not know if we were talking Catholic, Orthodox or some brand of Protestant - each of which would mean fairly different things (and which could each probably be also called 'European style weddings').

If they said 'American wedding' I'd have no idea what they meant.
posted by pompomtom at 9:23 PM on November 15, 2012

I've been to at least as many US-bridal-magazine-style weddings that were Reform Jewish as any flavor of Christian, so.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:40 PM on November 15, 2012

Yeah I recently attended a combination Modern Orthodox/Reform wedding and save for the Hebrew and a bit of other ceremonial stuff, it was basically indistinguishable from both the secular/non-theist and overtly Christian weddings I've been to. None of them were any less American than the rest. I'd say that calling it a "Christian wedding" across the board would be offensive.
posted by griphus at 9:50 PM on November 15, 2012

I would use "Euro-American", which is a word that has emerged in history writing in recent years to refer to the culture of early European settlers in North America (in comparison to Native American, African American), many of whom were Anglo, but many were also Scottish, German, Dutch, French, etc. The wedding traditions of the US have grown out of that culture. You could use "Anglo-American," in the English-speaking rather than actually English (aka from England) culture sense, but I would would tend to reserve that for weddings with hats and fruitcake (proper wedding cake ought to be like a brick and savable for years).
posted by jb at 8:02 AM on November 16, 2012

I've been to completely secular US-bridal-magazine-style weddings as well. "Christian wedding" and "White [as in people] wedding" and even "Euro-American" all fail to capture the fact that American people of many religions (or nonreligions) and races often include a lot of the same elements in their weddings.

I would have a pretty clear I idea of what you meant if you said, "American-style wedding." It probably wouldn't be exactly the same as your idea of an American-style wedding. But I bet it would overlap a lot, enough for us to have a starting point for our conversation.

The concept of Americanness (in weddings or elsewhere) is fundamentally fraught. But I'm not sure whether there's a better way of referring to this concept (bridal-magazine-style sounds so judgy!).
posted by mskyle at 8:59 AM on November 16, 2012

mskyle -- you're right, it's not just Euro-Americans who have the traditions.

"White Dress Wedding" would be a better fit, or just "American-style", with the recognitions that many customs are shared across religions - bride in a white dress, suits/tuxes for the groom, ceremony followed by dinner/reception, speeches, etc.
posted by jb at 11:21 AM on November 16, 2012

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