6 simple tips for a cringe-free wedding ceremony - etiquette made easy
Updated: Mar 8
Last updated 8 March 2023
Manage your consumption of alcohol
Be contactable by phone
Choose your attendants wisely
Arrive on time
Bring the Kleenex
A real-life wedding story
If the list sounds sensible and boring, there's a reason.
Here's a rundown of a wedding I officiated years ago.
Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
It is like you're having a bad dream. But it is not a dream. It is terrifyingly real. A nightmare. You want to scream, sob and stamp your feet. Finally, you are the bride and it is your day to shine. And so far, nothing is sparkling.
The nightmare goes something like this:
It is your wedding day. By mid-morning your best man realises he has lost your fiance during their pre-wedding celebrations. He spends the best part of the day desperately searching for your fiance in the Hoi An, Old Town (the destination elopement location). Ultimately your best man has no choice but to arrive at the venue at the appointed time and hope for the best.
In the meantime, the rain starts so the wedding is moved to a covered "plan b" area.
Your guests arrive and enjoy awkward pre-ceremony drinks - confident your fiance would appear - maybe. He finally arrives an hour after the ceremony was due to start. He is not dressed. He's unspeakably drunk. Royally pickled.
You have already patiently waited an hour in a hot anteroom anticipating his arrival. You then need to wait while he showers and puts on his wedding attire (and tries to sober up).
Your dad is not happy. Your daughter, who has been couped up with you waiting, is getting tetchy. She is only three. It's raining. And no one has any Kleenex (or tissues as they are known where I come from.)
That is exactly how the very first wedding I officiated in Vietnam panned out. That is only the start. Talk about a baptism of fire!
The couple were heterosexual, we will call them "Paul" and "Jane", Hence the bride and groom references. Wedding ceremony etiquette generally applies to all couples - unless you are having a very unconventional wedding - which I support wholeheartedly.
"Paul" and "Jane's" elopement in Vietnam is a living breathing example of just about all the "do's and don'ts" on your wedding day. I'm not going to get all judgy about anything that happened to Paul and Jane's wedding day. It all worked out in the end and they had a ball. This is a guide only.
Some couples get all caught up in wedding etiquette. Others, like Paul and Jane: the wanderlusts, were casual about it all. That is why they chose to elope in Vietnam and have the wedding the way they wanted.
Here's what happened:
Paul and Jane and their little girl were seasoned adventure lovers. They were en route to teaching jobs in China and decided to elope in Vietnam on the way. Intimate and personal: parents and a couple of friends.
When I met them, Paul was extremely emotional about finally making his marriage to Jane official. He loved a beer. (No crime in that). They were super relaxed about the whole wedding and looking forward to embarking on the next stage of their lives in China as a married couple.
Here's where things went a little pear-shaped on their wedding day.
6 simple steps for a stress-free wedding day
1. Manage your alcohol consumption
No matter how excited you are.
Paul and his best man decided to have a day spa and then a couple of beers. Hoi An is a spa city and it is a lovely way to start your wedding day preparations. Afterwards, they went for a couple of beers. As we know, Paul loved beer. He was so excited to be marrying the woman of his dreams he wanted to celebrate. Somehow, Paul became separated from his best man. So many people wanted to buy him a celebratory drink he lost track of time and his best man.
2. Have access to a phone
I recommend giving your phone to a trusted friend so you can soak up the atmosphere. Otherwise, you'll spend the day like every other day - on your phone.
In this case, Paul lost his phone. Refer to guidelines about drinking too much. And choosing attendants wisely.
3. Choose your wedding attendants wisely
This one is a little harsh for Paul's best man, and oldest friend. He was mortified he had lost Paul. He spent hours looking for him and was completely sober when he arrived. He had the wedding kit for himself and Paul. Paul and Jane eloped, so they didn't have the full wedding squad to keep everything relaxed and under control. If you have the full she-bang, your attendants should understand their role on the day is to keep both of you calm, happy and out of mischief! (I always run through this with everyone at the rehearsal.)
4. Arrive on time - ideally before your guests
Sure there is some lee-way here as we know. These days one or both of the couple are present to welcome guests and set the vibe for the wedding. Paul and Jane's guests were their closest friends and family - and knew how emotional Paul was. So there was a lot of joking about once everyone realised he was lost - with no way to contact him. Jane was non-plussed. She knew he would come. They'd been together a long time.
Her folks were not as impressed. He arrived eventually and we all breathed out.
Arrive wearing your wedding attire unless you plan on dressing at the venue. If that's the case, arrive with ample time to doll yourself up.
Sounds like a no-brainer. Vietnam is a tropical country and it's not uncommon for couples to prepare at the venue so they are fresh. Paul arrived looking like he'd just stepped out of a resort pool bar. It was a very funny moment. His friends understood immediately and the laughter and tears started. The best man whisked him off to make him look beautiful.
5. Bring Kleenex, tissues, and handkerchiefs
This one is super important and one I stress to every, single couple.
Paul and his best man took their places (finally) and it was time for Jane to make her entrance. I had stressed the importance of the Kleenex at the rehearsal. No one ever thinks they will need Kleenex - trust me - bring some.
When Paul saw Jane he completely lost it. An emotional wreck. He could barely stand. He was crying inconsolably. When I asked him if he wanted a breather he reassured me he was ok and wanted to get married.
So we started the ceremony.
Well, the tears. THE TEARS. THE TEARS. They did not stop. I motioned to the best man for the Kleenex. In all the excitement he had remembered the rings and forgot the Kleenex. I asked the guests if they had any. Nope. By this time, Paul's nose was a disgusting mess of ugly crying. I won't describe it because I'm not here to make you gag. But it was about as bad as it can get. We finally managed to procure a serviette from the restaurant and clean him up.
Seriously, folks, that experience has left an indelible imprint on my professional career. I grill all the attendants about carrying Kleenex. I even keep clean Kleenex stuffed in my bra for every wedding. That is a desperate last resort. It is not a good look when the celebrant starts pulling Kleenex from her bra like a magician performing a magic act. But weddings are emotional and people do cry. Even the people you'd never expect.
That nose event was the most bizarre and funny wedding moment I have witnessed in all the ceremonies I have performed.
Kleenex people. You do not want your guests gagging during your ceremony.
Gagging guests. Not a wedding highlight.
How did it all go?
The ceremony was beautiful for Jane and Paul and they were very happy. Yes, Paul arrived drunk. Jane being her calm self, knew it would all be ok. They got married. They had their meal and their party. Everyone had a ball. Then they flew to China to start the next phase of their journey.
They are still married. Just goes to show one person's idea of a potential deal-breaker, is another's lovely fond memory. Don't take it all too seriously. Smile.
Leanne Summers is a destination wedding celebrant in Hoi An, Vietnam. Leanne specializes in wedding ceremonies, elopements, and wedding vow renewal ceremonies. If you're having a small wedding of fewer than 15 people, Leanne can help you plan the celebration too.
A recovering corporate lawyer from Australia, Leanne had lost her sense of humour and soul. She sought more meaning in life. Her adventures lead her to Vietnam where she found her sense of humour and humanity. Now she creates wedding ceremonies and officiates for couples from all over the world. She's celebrated weddings with over 400 couples (and counting). A Vietnam "local" for over 10 years, Vietnam is her spirit country.
Leanne is also an SEO Consultant and Copywriter.
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