16 March 2018

How to be an Expat in Saudi Arabia: Weddings

I love weddings – not only are they a celebration of the start of a life together etc etc but they are also a fantastic insight into the character of the people celebrating the marriage and the culture from which they hail.  We were lucky enough to be invited to weddings in Kazakhstan, Turkey and Malaysia and we have, of course, also attended weddings in our home countries of the UK and Ireland and I have celebrated, from afar, the weddings of many more friends around the world that I could not manage to get to in person.   

No event in Saudi is complete without coffee
Most weddings involve a ceremony and a party and guests do not, of course, always attend all parts of the event.  Here in Saudi Arabia things are slightly different in that there are two wedding celebrations – the bride’s celebration and the groom’s celebration.  A few months ago I was invited to a bride’s party – the daughter of a friend of a friend was getting married and the mother of the bride very kindly extended an invite to me. 

I was a little concerned about what to wear – wedding etiquette is a minefield wherever you are.  My friend told me the usual dress code was anything you liked but preferably black tie over cocktail and no need for white tie.  Most of my black tie dresses were bought when we lived in Kazakhstan and so are definitely not demure, I would not wear them in mixed company here in Saudi Arabia or indeed in any Gulf country.  I sent some photos to my friend and, to my very great surprise, was told they were perfect. 

Some things seem universal - confetti everywhere!
Weddings here are very much a late night affair.  My friends and I arrived at the wedding at about 11:30pm – some of the first to turn up.  Having walked past the modesty screens that stand behind all doors to womens only areas here we discarded our abayas at the concierge and walked into a room full of women dressed to kill and dancing the night away.  All the staff, from the DJ to the waitresses were female.  Having given our congratulations to the mother of the bride we settled down to people watch.  Women were socialising, dancing and generally having fun, none of us were really keen on dancing so we spent the time comparing wedding traditions from our respective home countries.  I must admit that I still don't have a real understanding of how weddings work here - from what my friends describe a process by which the parties set out the rules of their married life and the protections and rights of the parties.  The bride and groom must marry in court although there is also a religious blessing/wedding as well.  

The tables set up for the meal - A friend grabbed
this photo just before everyone else came through.
About an hour later we got the call to cover if we wanted to as the groom was coming (the groom attends the bride’s celebration for a short while but the bride does not attend the groom’s).  A long ululating cry sounded as the bride in a beautiful white dress and groom in formal traditional dress started their slow walk from the entrance to a double chair set on a stage at the front of the room; guests threw silver confetti on the couple.  There was time for photographs of the couple with female family members and the bride and groom cut the cake and had a quick dance before he left.  

Apparently cake and a first dance are not traditional but are becoming more and more popular amongst families who spend time abroad.  We were served cake and then, invited into the gardens to enjoy a meal outside, by this time it was past 2 in the morning and I must admit that I struggled to eat very much, for most other people, however, the party continued in earnest.  It was a wonderful evening and a fascinating insight into an aspect of life and culture here that I had not yet experienced.  As I said I love weddings and I wish the couple every happiness.

Click on the photo below for more posts about expat life in Saudi Arabia

Ersatz Expat


  1. Ah, foreign weddings! Yes, very interesting cultural experiences. My first was my own in Kenya (very bizar!). I've sat through an entire day at an Indonesian wedding, and have also attended weddings in Moldova and Ghana. What was the most fun was the Ghanaian pre-wedding meeting between the parents of the bride and groom to discuss if the gifts/trousseau/payment from the groom's family to the bride's family was sufficient and accepted. I loved living in Ghana, with its fun-loving, generous people.


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