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The wedding guest handbook: A guide to wedding etiquette by culture

Dress or sari? Money or gravy boat? Here’s what to do, what to wear and what to give when attending weddings around the world.

When in the East… Chinese Weddings

What should I know?

A Chinese wedding begins with a traditional tea ceremony in the morning with close friends and family, followed by a dinner banquet in the evening, usually held at a restaurant or a hotel ballroom. They typically serve a multi-course dinner that includes shark’s fin soup and noodles. Make sure you RSVP as seats will be allocated. Also, indicate if you are vegetarian.

What do I give?

Unlike in the West, guests usually give money to the wedding couple. The amount ranges from $60 to $300 depending on where the banquet is held and how close you are to the bride or groom. For example, Marina Bay Sands or Capella fall under the higher end of the ang bao (red packet) rates; try to give what you think the meal would cost.

What do I wear?

Dress up in something nice like a cocktail dress. It will be appreciated if you wear red; avoid black or white. Strictly no slippers or shorts!

When in the East… Indian Weddings

What should I know?

Indian weddings are usually held at temples or big dining halls. The auspicious time for a wedding is in the morning, ending by 11.30am, but some are held in the evening from 7pm. In the case of a morning wedding, guests can attend the lunch buffet reception anytime from noon to 2pm. If you’d like to witness the religious ceremony, you’d need to come earlier. If the wedding is held at a temple, the food served is usually vegetarian.

What do I give?

A gift of money is the norm (about $50 to $100, depending on how close you are), but sometimes other gifts are given, depending on the guest’s relationship with the bride or groom; you can give them directly to the couple.

What do I wear?

As most weddings take place in temples, it’s best to wear an appropriate outfit. Feel free to wear a traditional Indian costume.

When in the East… Malay Weddings

What should I know?

Most weddings last two days, from Saturday to Sunday, with  a dinner reception on the Saturday night for close friends and family. On Sunday, relatives and other guests are invited to come any time from 11am to 5pm for a buffet reception. It’s best to come in the mid-afternoon, when the bride and groom are together. (Most Malay couples have two separate weddings, one for each side of the family.)

What do I bring?

It is usual to give money. The recommended amount is $5 to $50, depending on the relationship. Pass it to the mother of either the groom or the bride when you’re about to leave the wedding.

What do I wear?

Wear the traditional Malay costume baju kurung if you like. Otherwise, just wear something decent and covered up. If it’s being held in the void deck of an HDB apartment block, it is likely to be warm, so wear something light and comfortable. 

In the West

Aside from the traditional customs of each culture, most weddings in Europe, Australia, NZ and North America are relatively similar – the wedding ceremony, cocktail reception, dinner and the party.

Whether it’s an Irish, Italian or English wedding, as a guest on this most special day, you’re expected to be on your best behaviour. Here are 10 guest dos and don’ts:

1.When you receive the invitation, do RSVP promptly even if you can’t make it.
2.Take note of the dress code and whether the invitation is extended to a plus one, otherwise do not bring a guest – and certainly not the whole family.
3.If you accept the invitation to the ceremony itself, be on time, as everyone needs to be seated in good time. You do not want to interrupt the procession.
4.During church ceremonies, the congregation is sometimes required to alternately stand and sit. The programme or officiant may tell you when to do so; if not, follow the lead of others around you.
5.It’s recommended to send your gifts in advance so that you won’t have to bring them to the church or other wedding ceremony venue. Everyone will be too busy to handle the gifts unless there is a designated person in charge. If you can’t make it to the wedding, you may still want to send a gift, depending on your relationship with the couple.
6.If there is a gift registry, stick to it. There’s a reason why the wedding couple specifically created the list, and you wouldn’t want to give them something that will end up unused or discarded. For a more expensive item, you could share the cost with one more friends or family members.
7.Of all days, the wedding day is not the time to wear white. Leave that to the bride; it’s her big day, not yours.
8.Follow the order of the service in the programme if one is provided.
9.Many wedding parties involve toasts and speeches. As a guest, it would be nice for you to applaud the speeches and cheer for the couple.
10.Don’t leave the reception too early. As a general rule, at least stay till the couple has cut the cake.