Brazilian vs. American wedding etiquette

Wedding etiquette is complicated. I haven’t even been to that many weddings, so I don’t know much about how things are “supposed” to be done. But there were two major differences I noticed between Brazilian wedding guests and American wedding guests.

Difference #1: Brazilians do not RSVP. Our invitations included a line requesting confirmation by 2 weeks before the wedding date, listing both of our cell phone numbers as well as an e-mail address. Out of 70 non-family guests, guess how many RSVP’d? Five. This drove me nuts. Didn’t they understand that receptions cost money and we needed a headcount? Was I supposed to start calling people and demanding answers?

“It’s SO inconsiderate!” I ranted. “In my culture, it’s considered extremely rude not to RSVP for a wedding; in fact, if you don’t RSVP and then show up anyway, the couple is perfectly entitled not to reserve a place for you at the reception.”

Christian would patiently remind me that we are not in my culture, and that most Brazilians don’t decide whether or not they’re going to the wedding until the day of, when they wake up and then decide whether or not they feel like it.

“But how are we supposed to know whether to order food for 60 people or 100 people???” I would huff.

“Chuta,” he would say. Guess. (We booked the caterer for 80)

The day before the wedding there were still only 5 RSVPs in my inbox – so we ended up having to print out a list of ALL the invitees for the security guy at the door.

Difference #2: Brazilians pitch in. In the days leading up to the wedding, I was overwhelmed by all the things still on the to-do list. But I was amazed by how many people dedicated time, effort, and resources to help get everything done.

From cleaning the reception space… to setting up and tearing down… to giving rides and offering to let us borrow their cars… to staying up till midnight making all the decorations from scratch… to getting blisters from tying several hundred balloons… to hosting and feeding and entertaining my family for two nights despite the language barrier – people who I’m not even that close to poured their energy into helping as though it was their own daughter’s or sister’s wedding.

Rather than coming with an attitude of “I’m a guest – entertain me,” they came asking, “What can I do to help?” Thanks to them, our wedding day was a lovely time of celebration and community – and Christian and I were spared the agony of running around completely stressed out.

Their generosity inspires me, and I hope I have opportunities to return it!

“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”
– Proverbs 11:24-25

  • Great post! I was teaching a wedding theme to some of my classes this week, so I got to hear from my students some of the differences in wedding traditions. I’d love to hear more on the etiquette thing, as now that I’m here in Brazil, my lack of “manners” is something that plagues me daily!

    • I LOVE that verse from Proverbs. It was such FUN helping you with the wedding preparations – and having great conversations with your Brazilian friends (language was no barrier).

  • Debbie

    I am so sorry that I was not there in body the day of your wedding. However, I was there in spirit, wishing both of you the best that life has to offer~ I too would have gone crazy not knowing an actual count of people that I needed to feed. Just thinking of the gatherings over the years that our families have had and the preparation that goes into a single meal is CRAZY and without an actual head count is INSANE! I must say that from the looks of everything in those gorgeous pictures you have posted, everything worked out extremely well. Look forward to more postings~

    • Shayna

      Thanks, Debbie!

      For the headcount, I researched online and the general stat seemed to be that on average, 75-80% of the invited guests show up – so out of 100 total invitees, we planned for 80 – and 76 showed up, so it was perfect 🙂