How to Survive a Wedding in Argentina


First of all take a rest. Sleep. Have a siesta – a big one. It’s going to be a long night. Stamina is key to surviving an Argentinian boda (wedding). But before we dissect the mixture of the tradition, syncretism and the frankly bizarre moments of an Argentinian wedding, we need to roll back the time to when the two lovers were, well, just that.

To take a Churchill quote wildly out of context, dating a girl or boy in Argentina is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Sure, Churchill was talking about the Russian forces during World War II, but you get the idea. There are unspoken rules about dating in every society, it’s just that gringos and gringas are ill-equipped to deal with the Argentinian ones. Don’t be surprised if you are invited back to the folks on date two for an asado – yep, things move quickly here.

One myth is that Argentinians, of both sexes, are obsessed with marriage. It’s perhaps not an obsession, just more important institution in the country than in the UK or US. Ninety-two per cent of the country claim to be Catholic, although only 20 per cent practise regularly. For this reason and, more importantly, simple economics, most Argentinian boys and girls live at home until they are married. (Hence the popularity of the Telo – Argentinian sex hotels). No wonder they want to get the hell out and married so quickly. The average age for a man to get married is 25.6 and 23.3 for a woman according to a UN survey; in the UK it’s 30.7 and 28.5 respectively.

Argentine Wedding
Argentine Wedding – Photograph by Emiliano Horcada

Once you have plied your father-in-law with Fernet and promised him you’ll live in Buenos Aires forever, you can then offer the wedding ring to your beloved. No engagement rings here (bloody sensible if you ask me), but they are worn on the right hand until the wedding day. Next up is the Wedding Shower – basically an engagement party.

Before the wedding day, often precariously close, is the despedida de soltero and soltera – stag and hen nights, which basically consist of ritual humiliation, nudity, strippers and dressing up as a bunny. In fact, the only difference between a stag do in Bournemouth and Buenos Aires is being paraded around Palermo in the back of your mate’s car in a noisy midnight procession.

If the groom and bride are still alive/talking to one another/in the country, a low-key formal ceremony takes place at the registry office with close family in tow. The next day, however, is the big day.

Stamina, I reiterate, is needed. More than likely the service won’t begin until 9pm. PM! The service is mercifully brief. The couple walk down the aisle together with the groom’s mother, and bride’s father (well in need of a Quilmes by now) standing beside. There are no bridesmaids or best men. The priest blessing the rings and that’s it. Well, there’s the mother of all parties to get to, after all.

En masse, the wedding party descends to, if you are lucky, a golf club, country quinta (country house) or a rich uncle’s house. If you not so lucky, you could end up in a salon de fiesta. I’m sure some are upmarket affairs, with professional waiting staff and a well-stocked bar, but I’ve never seen one.

The glowing couple start the evening off with a waltz. Guests line up either side – men on one side, women on the other, and at some point, the couple will part and grab another dance partner. Here ensues a painful two minutes, akin to the last slow dance at a school disco whereby you seek a partner, or are sought by someone.

By now, famished and in desperate need of booze, you are shown to a table, where the feast commences. It is, needless to say, mostly a meal of meat, with side portions of meat and, for vegetarians, chicken. Thus ensues a long night of eating, dancing, meat, dancing, drinking Fernet & cola, doing the conga, meat, the conga again. Then to break up the conga, there’s the bit where you dance around with someone in the middle. The thump in the back signifies it’s your turn in the middle – but after two-thirds of a bottle of Malbec and three Fernets, the caterpillar seems like a good idea (it’s not, trust me). Then the one where you do the can-can. Then bride is spun around to within an inch of her life.

At 3am things will look like this:

By 5.45am things will look like this:

At some point in the evening, the bride’s single friends will pull ribbons out of the cake – the one with a ring on it suggesting who will get married.

Thankfully at around 6am, breakfast is brought out, usually accompanied by whisky, at which point I suggest you skip the whisky, and skip to the taxi.

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Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson is a freelance writer and photographer, and lived in Buenos Aires for five years eating too much meat, going hoarse at football games and thoroughly failing to learn a step of tango. He edited Time Out’s Buenos Aires guidebook and has contributed words and photos to a variety of publications about Argentina for Four Four Two, The Wire, CNN Traveller, Real Travel, Adventure Travel and the Observer among others. He now spends his days drinking imported mate and planning his return journey.
Daniel Neilson

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12 responses to “How to Survive a Wedding in Argentina

  1. I so wish I'd read this eight years ago…

  2. I love weddings! great writing here, witty and entertaining:)

  3. Glad you enjoyed Daniel's post. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Daniel Neilson says:

    i so wish i was at your wedding matt.

  5. Interesting to know how the marriages survive in Argentina.. Thanks for sharing the information.. I am glad that I came here and come to know about it.. I really appreciate every bit of information you have shared..
    wedding bands for men

  6. davidcristinn says:

    Wedding day is a great memorable day for everyone. So it is important to leave happily log life with your partner. It is a good information about how the marriages survive in Argentina.

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  7. Mache says:

    Deberian organizarse wedding tours aqui en Argentina, seguro todos salen con alguien del brazo!pero diria que el promedio de casamientos ya no es mas 25/23 años sino ma bien 27/30.
    excelente post!

  8. Maria says:

    I don’t agree. Nobody wants to get married in Argentina excepts gays. Most couples live together without getting married.

  9. Elena says:

    I’m the daughter of a native Argentine, and I can say with confidence that the correct term is actually Argentine, and not Argentinian.

  10. westofbuenosaires.wordpress says:

    You’re right about needing stamina and the collapse into drunken chaos at about 4 in the morning. I married an Argentine in Argentina and we had a mix of English and Argentine traditions – I had bridesmaids, best man, wedding speeches, music played by my husband and his sisters, tango and folkloric dancing demonstrations… I think unless you are marrying into a particularly traditional family, anything goes nowadays.

  11. Marianela Zelaya says:

    It’s almost a perfect description about weddings here xD But, I have to add that most weddings are held at salones de fiesta, i.e. halls, old houses restored, former warehouses embellished and yes, country houses, rugby clubs (from the cheapest to the most expensive you can think about). No one wants to clean all that mess the following day. 😛

    There are other traditions too, like throwing the bride’s bouquet, cutting the cake, la liga or the garter (the bride has many garters in her leg. Her single, i.e. not married, guests are called one by one and have to sit in front of the bride in the middle of the dance floor. Both ladies have to hold a pair of glasses of champagne, one in each hand. They have to “join” their feet, and the groom has to put his hand into the bride’s dress and take a garter out and slide(?) it up to the other woman’s leg until she cannot hold the glasses without splitting. As everybody is watching, it’s not usually THAT scandalous or inappropriate, because the groom stops just when the lady’s dress finishes, unless they’re really close friends/cousins/in-lows).

    Well, now I want to go to a wedding xD when will my friend start getting married???

    PS: sorry about my English xD

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