I have a new idea for a PhD dissertation that would compare the etiquette expectations of my wedding guests in Israel versus those in the United States. Far beyond manners, the differences between my Israeli and American friends and family seem to resemble the vast ocean separating the two countries.
Most American weddings that I’ve attended have had a fairly predictable rhythm of invitation and present-buying protocol. First, a save-the-date, either in paper or electronic form, is sent to all guests anywhere from six months to one year prior to the actual wedding. On the save-the-date, guests are often directed to a wedding website, which should be filled with useful information for guests and planning advice.
About two to three months prior to the wedding, a formal invitation is sent by post to all guests. With the invitation, RSVP information - often in the form of a card - is given, and invitees are requested to advise what meal they would like to be served at the wedding - usually a choice of chicken, fish, or something vegetarian.
Most guests then choose to purchase a present off the couple’s wedding registry. A registry in the United States is a list of items at a specific store that the couple chooses, allowing guests the convenience of buying a gift that they are certain the couple will enjoy, from the comfort of their own home. After the wedding, the couple is expected to send a thank you card in the mail (or email, depending on the couple’s preferences) as promptly as possible. For many of my friends, particularly ones who are more traditional, or have grown up in the American South, giving cash is not an option, and it is in fact considered rude.
When I give my Israeli guests-to-be this example of what many of my American friends expect, I’m met with a combination of laughter and disbelief. My future in-laws broke out in tears of laughter when they heard that for weddings I’ve attended in the past I had to choose my entrée for the dinner three months before the wedding, as they have only attended weddings where guests choose their dish at the wedding itself.
So far, the cross-cultural differences in etiquette have proved to be only minor hiccups in our wedding planning process.
We sent out electronic save-the-dates six months before the wedding. My friends and family in Israel didn’t understand what this save-the-date email was, and my American friends, having received the email six months before the wedding, were confused, thinking it was in fact the invitation, and not just a save-the-date.
While I was keen to send out the invitations straight away, my Israeli friends warned me not to do so more than a three to four weeks ahead of the wedding, lest “people forget to come.” This wasn’t going to work with our American guests. Furthermore, Israelis weren’t likely to respond to an RSVP date, but my American friends would likely think there was a printing mistake if we left off an RSVP date. To accommodate both types of guests, we chose a very late date for our RSVP – so that we could send the invitations out only a month before the wedding to our Israeli guests and so that our American guests would not get confused.
Save-the-dates and RSVP aside, the whopper problem was ultimately the registry. My Israeli friends would find the prospect of giving a present instead of cash inappropriate, while some of my American friends would think giving cash is rude. In the end, my fiancé and I determined that a honeymoon fund would be the easiest way to bridge this barrier: American guests could “buy” experiences for our honeymoon while the Israelis could either opt in or out, while still maintaining their cash-is-best policy.
Save-the-dates and invitations leave the guests with their first impression of the upcoming wedding, so it was important for us to put our best foot forward: if our invitation seemed gauche, our guests might expect a weird wedding. With that in mind, we invested time and effort in navigating the etiquette sea, to ensure our guests were left with the right impression, and that, together, we’d safely dock at the wedding.
Yael Miller is an International Affairs professional in Washington, DC.