The night before my wedding I was safely in my mum’s house, slowly sipping one glass of champagne before an early night. The night before María and Seve’s wedding, however, the bride was in the bar. “Why would I be home with my family when my friends are all here?” she asked, her beautiful face suddenly frowning. I know, us guiris and our way of doing things. In the end, Ged and I left before María did - “I won’t be much longer,” she said as we left - because, well, it was my big day on Saturday and I didn’t want to look bad. My first Spanish wedding is something important, after all.
The following morning, we woke at nine - an hour after I’d arranged to meet Laura in the hairdressers to start all the beauty preparations that guests seem to need to do here. It was a beautiful morning and the sun glinted off Bilbao’s river. The perfect day for a wedding - and far too nice a morning to sit in the hairdressers. Anyway, wouldn’t Laura be finished by now?
It seemed not. I found Laura still in the hairdressers, having what seemed like the millionth hairclip put into her long, blonde tresses. “I have one more hour,” she said.
“Sí, we have to look beautiful.”
My hair was currently hidden under a hat while my face shone from recently applied moisturiser. “Perhaps you’re right,” I said, starting to pull off my coat. In response, Ged pulled me to the door. “You’ll look beautiful,” he said. Funny how quick the compliments come when I’m holding him back from breakfast . . .
My careful preparations were all in vain anyway. As soon as I saw María arrive, even more gorgeous in her white dress, tears flooded down my face. In fact, it was so bad that I didn’t notice until halfway through the ceremony that Seve’s best man was a woman. “How modern,” I whispered to my friends (although why I whispered I do not know. Those who hadn’t taken the opportunity to skip the actual service and head straight to the bar - “Sí, everyone does it in Spain. The misa can take so long” - were posing happily for photographs in their pews and giggling away). Unsurprisingly, my pals looked blank. Turns out there are no best men in Spain, only madrinas, mothers of the groom, who sit with their son, the bride and the bride’s father (phew, thank goodness somethings are done properly) on special seats on the raised altar, in full view of everyone. No bridesmaids either, only flowergirls - and very cute they were too.
It was only a short walk from the church to the hotel, where we tried to look sophisticated as we stood on the terraza, the Guggenheim as our background, and enjoyed cava and nibbles on the terrace. And more cava and more nibbles, and more, and more.“Don't eat them all! These are just aperitivos,” Jorge, the bride’s brother, informed us. “There are nine courses waiting for us for lunch. With the proper wine, of course.” NINE? “I’ll only have half of each,” I whispered to Ged. “I can’t possibly eat nine courses or drink all that wine.”
Four hours later, as I licked the last of the chocolate cake off my plate and ordered a post-lunch brandy to go with my coffee, I was as Spanish as the rest of them, happily taking over the shouts of joy that had punctuated the pause between each course.
“Viva los novios!” I called. “Viva!” came the response.
“Viva los padres de los novios.” “Viva!”
“Viva los amigos . . .” “Enough vivas,” cautioned Ged. I did a quiet one of my own, just to make sure. After all, we didn’t want the friends of the bride and groom being missed out on long life, did we?
By this time, my head was spinning - and it had nothing to do with drink. Somehow, I had become the chronicle of wedding etiquette in Britain and all day, I had been asked “Elli, in your country, do you . . .?” The idea of speeches was abhorrent. What, no role for the mother of the groom? And which friend would really think it was an honour to be dressed in a lilac meringue for the day? “Let’s disappear for a little bit,” I whispered to Ged. “My feet are killing me. We’ll come back later.”
But just as we were about to leave, a group of red-clad men with instruments burst through and, overcoming the cheers, began serenading the bride - who showed a big white frock is no impediment to bopping. “It is a tuna,” said Jorge. “They are traditional here in Bilbao.” Well, we couldn’t leave just then. After clapping and dancing along to the men, it was then the disco, and Ged and I were bundled up by our new friends - all so reticent to speak English earlier in the day - and dragged onto the floor to join the arm-waving uncles dancing to I Will Survive (I know, a strange choice for a wedding song but it was popular).
Arm-waving dancing uncles, beautiful bride, handsome groom and a room full of happiness. As we settled in for a very long night, I realised that Spanish and British weddings weren’t so different after all. Viva los novios!