An Open Bar isn't Everything, but...

By Nynne Riis Jensen

This is a humorist exploration of the lived experience of English weddings by a Danish migrant who lives in London and really loves booze.

Some girls grow up imagining their wedding, dreaming about their perfect day. I didn’t (although I did try, honestly, and got bored after about ten minutes). So when I moved to the UK I was shocked to discover that I have pretty strong feelings about what makes a wedding good. It mostly has to do with alcohol, which makes me seem very shallow when I gripe to my friends and colleagues about it.

If you don’t drink or are from a culture where alcohol isn’t an integral part of celebrations, know that you are completely exempt from this tirade. Feel free to skip the whole thing actually. Or stay and read on if you want to hear more about just how awful Brits are and why they’re wrong about everything wedding-related.Three and a half years in the UK, and a native partner, has gotten me into a few of these quintessentially British weddings and all I have been able to conclude is that Brits don’t actually know what a wedding is meant to be.

I first caught on to this British shared delusion after living here for a year. The location of my first British wedding was hard to get to (in London terms: no tube stop, outrageous) and I was confused to be invited for nine PM. Interesting, as every other experience with UK nightlife has been an adjustment for the opposite. You start drinking right after work and then go home at ten or at the very latest eleven when the pub closes. Reasonable, but the complete opposite of what I was used to in Denmark, where we get drunk at home, go out after midnight and don’t leave the bar until the sun has come up.

This wedding promised to be different however. Excited as I was, I hiked up my heels and teetered down south for nine PM. As a group of colleagues and I entered the venue, dinner was in full swing. A bit odd, but there was a standing buffet in an adjoining room, so we headed for that. One of the grooms spotted us and came over to apologise for how delayed the dinner had gotten. Of course, no problem, that is bound to happen at a wedding. Seeing as me and the groom weren’t close it made sense that only close friends and family were invited to the sit down dinner. Food in hand we headed towards the bar, where I encountered my main gripe, the seed of my wedding-shaming. 

‘That’s four pounds, please,’ the barman said.

The bar was not ‘open’. You might say it was very closed unless you’ve been inducted into the reality of British weddings and knew to hit an ATM before arriving. My (British) colleague saved the bartender from a very awkward stand off with me and paid for my four pound bottle of Corona, which I immediately regretted ordering. But the bartender had already popped the cap off and my colleague was walking away, both seemingly ignorant to the great injustice of the exchange they had just participated in.

We awkwardly hovered around the edges of the dinner party until I decided I needed more alcohol. There was an ATM in the building – how considerate of them – so I kept drinking until the tables were cleared and dancing began.

The playlist was ordered by year and contained just the right amount of Beyonce, so I was having a blast. Right up until midnight when the lights came on and the music stopped. Maybe another speech, a fun game, a late-night snack? No, the wedding was over. Please leave. The happy couple, who were very much standing and not slurring their words at all, started packing up the tables and taking down the decorations. Once again everyone around me was participating in this elaborate prank as if it was totally normal. My colleagues gathered up our stuff and we left. At midnight. After three hours and four overpriced drinks. It can only be described as a realistic Cinderella moment, where at the stroke of midnight – poof – you’re left sitting in the middle of the street with nothing but pumpkin.

If by the end of this you think I’m being harsh I can only apologise and say ‘You’ve never been to a good wedding’.

The average British wedding costs a mind-boggling £30.000, three times more than in Denmark – and I am very curious as to where that money goes. I’m joking, I’m pretty sure I know where it goes: to the venues. For extortionate prices you get to have your wedding at the venue of your choice (in two and half years when their first available date is, unless you want to get married on a Tuesday) and they get to dictate the sub-par menu, how much alcohol you can bring, what kind of decorations you can have, whether you can bring children, and when you have to leave. Oh, and they also get to set the prices for the ‘open’ bar.

The main misunderstanding in my mind is this: the venue is not that important. The best wedding I’ve been to was in a rowing club house. Don’t think the Oxbridge kind, it’s not at all that glamorous in a Danish rowing club. But it had just enough character to be spruced up by the homemade decorations. Whatever budget the bride and groom had was spent on delicious food and copious amounts of alcohol. There was no live band, just a playlist and a lot of joyful people. Most important was the happy couple. This was not a day that had to be perfect, or just so, or live up to any sky high expectations of how it was going to look on Instagram. It was a day to be enjoyed and shared with everyone. The speeches were heartfelt, we shed some tears, they were funny and we shed some more tears. Not once did anyone have to take out their wallet or leave to go ATM hunting.

At this point you probably either know exactly what I’m talking about or you are thinking ‘this lady has a fixation with alcohol’. Obviously while the bar is the seed of my wedding hate, it is just one aspect of my experience with British matrimonial gloom. There is absolutely no reason why you cannot enjoy a wedding with no alcohol, but for several of these weddings even soft drinks were PYOB (“Pay for Your Own, Bitch”). Also, this curious custom doesn’t really seem to make Brits drink any less. It just means that they get it all at the pre-dinner drinks, and we all know getting trashed on cheap Prosecco is a bad, sad idea. 

The last wedding I went to coughed up one middle-aged woman confiding in me that she never consummated her third marriage and my boyfriend’s mother asking me if I thought she and her ex-husband had ruined the idea of marriage for her son —the answer is yes, Barbara. No surprise that the median age at our table that night was around 48 with me and my boyfriend seriously dragging that calculation down from the mid-sixties.

Who knew that I would ever pine to be the butt of that age old joke about the single friend at the kids table. Because one thing British seating charts do not do is mix it up. No one wants a lackluster seating arrangement, but in this country that seems to mean that you are not allowed to meet anyone you are not already acquainted with. The last thing we want is for people to get to know each other at this love fest of the merging of two families. Now I’m perhaps being a bit unfair, because my boyfriend and I were invited to go sailing with the commodore of a yacht club at the last wedding, and my target audience have always been people in my grandmother’s generation.

Chatting to the commodore and his wife was ultimately a lot more entertaining than the previous wedding I went to where my boyfriend and I were actually seated with some of our friends. Those ‘friends’ only stuck around for about 15 minutes. We were not seated at the kids table or the retiree table, but the young parents table (we don’t have kids), meaning that one mouthful into the first course my boyfriend and I were the only ones left. I am not exaggerating. The best man and I (we actually knew and cared about this couple) spent a lovely dinner all by ourselves, while our friends gave up on trying to feed their spawn, took them to the play room and no doubt had a grand old time with all the other parents. I’m not blaming the parents, I’m blaming the seating chart.

While writing this it has occurred to me that I might just have bad wedding karma. The seating chart hates me, I’ve been preconditioned by Danish society to value an open bar over anything else, and I will most likely never get married myself. During the last wedding, I leaned over to my boyfriend and said ‘we’re never getting married until we can afford an open bar’, but as we know from his own mother, he does not believe in the sanctity and sanity of marriage, so fat chance. 

And yet… I think I’m right and everyone else is wrong, and my favourite way of bolstering this idea is to share my British wedding troubles with other foreigners. It is almost always unanimous: weddings here have nothing on the weddings at home – wherever that may be. So I think that there is a lesson to be learnt here, a lesson of letting go of sky high expectations, of ridiculous budgets and boring speeches. I am personally taking on the challenge to convert my British friends with a mind-blowing wedding, where everyone gets trashed and stays up until 5am dancing and at least three babies are conceived on the premises – as soon as I find a new boyfriend whose parents didn’t divorce.

My name is Riis. I came to London, UK by way of Vancouver, Canada four years ago, but I’m actually Danish (hence the flag in the picture – purely a birthday celebration thing and not a nationalist thing I promise)

I have many hobbies, I promise consuming alcohol is not the only one, and a large infatuation towards my cat Neil.