Gypsies, Travelers, Roma—Puzzling Wedding Traditions
I’ve sort of avoided watching the TLC program My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Something about the tone of the title, and my own sensitivity to the label “Gypsy,” kept me from it. There is also something of the Toddlers and Tiaras about it: families spending obscene amounts of money on things it’s hard for me to understand, and creating an almost absurd hyper valuation of outward display in a way that is emotionally or even physically damaging to the girls involved.
But last night I watched the Christmas episode. I’d like to say I was mistaken. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. It really disturbed me that, as the bride struggled to walk in her 200 lb. dress that was giving her bruises, and wore a jeweled tiara like a real princess, never did anyone mention how these people who live in what most would consider extremely modest circumstances afford it all.
I discovered I wasn’t the only one who wondered. An article in the UK’s Daily Mail had this to say about the gowns:
They estimate the total cost of a Gypsy wedding at around $220,000. That’s up with the priciest of weddings here in the US, and four times the average cost of a UK wedding. The article doesn’t answer the question of where parents get that kind of money, when most of them work as manual laborers and lead an itinerant life.
The other disturbing thing to me is the youth of the couples getting married. It’s not unusual for girls to be wed at 17, with their grooms only a year or two older. This is apparently all part of what is known as The Traveller’s Code. A book review in the Irish Times had this to say about it:
Sadly, it seems that the ritual of a traveller wedding could be the high point in a girl’s life. This very patriarchal ethnic group makes a beating on the wedding night if not mandatory, expected for the man to show who is boss. And with no sex before marriage, the youth of the couple isn’t such a surprise after all.
So, here’s a selection of photos from the show. I’d love to hear what other people think. Am I being judgmental?