Wedding Etiquette Forum

Questions about invitations to international wedding

Hello, all!  I have a few questions about invitations complicated by the fact that I am having an international wedding.  My fiance is from a foreign country and we are marrying there in a wedding that will follow his local traditions.  It is not customary to send written invitations in his country, as contacting guests in person or by phone is more polite.  Because of the distance and expense, we expect that nearly all of the 200 guests will be his local relatives.  At some point down the road, we expect to have a reception in the United States for the benefit of those American friends who would like to celebrate our wedding but who cannot travel.  That reception has not been planned and is likely far off in the future.

My view towards the wedding is that I would like any friend or family member of mine who would like to come to have that chance, knowing that most will not be able to.  My mother suggested just sending wedding announcements instead of invitations since realistically most friends and family of mine won't be able to make it.  I don't like that idea, though, because if there is someone who has some money and vacation time and the interest in going, we would love to have them.  In my view, it is a once in a lifetime experience for them to see a different culture and a wedding that will be unlike anything in the U.S.  We don't care about gifts at all, and we are willing to do what we can to make traveling guests feel comfortable, such as bringing their children or even multiple traveling companions.  The total number of American travelers will be quite low and will not affect our budget much, and so the way I look at it is that if a guest can make it but wants to bring her spouse AND parents AND children to make it into a family vacation, for instance, then the more the merrier.  On the other hand, we understand how difficult it will be for most guests to attend a foreign wedding, and we will not be offended if someone is invited but cannot attend.

I'm getting stuck with all the invite etiquette I've been reading.  Because we have the space and budget to basically invite as many American guests as we want, knowing most will not be able to attent, I was inclined to invite a few old friends I haven't been in touch with lately and that I would like to reconnect with.  However, I don't want to put anyone in a situation where they feel pressured, either to send a gift or to attend if they are unable.  I've read so many horror stories about invitees feeling their invitation was inappropriate or rude that now I'm wondering if I should just scrap inviting more distant friends at all.  What do you think?  Is it a nice gesture to invite someone, or will it come off as gift-seeking or rude?  Is there a classy way to convey that all we want is their presence if it's convenient for them, without making it sound like we're just inviting them on a plain old vacation?

My next question is whether it is an absolute etiquette requirement that I send out written invitations.  Personally, I like the idea of communicating with our invitees personally through phone or individual emails.  That is in keeping with my fiance's culture and the theme of our wedding, and it seems a little weird to only mail out paper invitations to the American invitees.  Also, if there is a fear that some more distant guests who obviously can't attend might feel insulted by the invitation, perhaps a verbal or emailed invitation might make them feel less pressure?  Relatedly, a few weeks ago, I started sending out informal emails to individual people giving them the heads up that we would be marrying overseas, providing the date, and indicating that we would like them to come.  I wrote in the emails that we understood that the travel was expensive and that the invitees should not feel any guilt if they can't make it.  Have I already committed an unrecoverable faux pas?

Sorry for the jumbled questions.  I just want a low-key, friendly way to make a large number of people feel welcome, and since it is a totally foreign wedding the usual rules of American-style paper invitations seem awkward!  Thanks for any advice you may have.
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