I love wedding-themed reality TV. I don’t know a female who doesn’t. Say Yes to the Dress (both New York and Atlanta, not to mention Bridesmaids), Four Weddings, you get the picture. I watch a show like Say Yes and marvel at all the pretty dresses, which ones I like and don’t like, and always tear up from someone’s touching story of love, loss, or a combination of the two. I say to whomever I’m watching/texting with, “This is how I will do it,” even though I’m not even close to walking down the aisle myself. It’s touching to watch these women who are sometimes very young, very old, but mostly somewhere in between realize “this is the dress I’m going to marry the person I love in.”
But My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding is a completely different kind of wedding-themed show. This show, as the title might suggest, follows a gypsy bride, her family, her fiancée, and his family as they prepare for the blessed wedding day. Sounds simple enough, right? You expect with every wedding a certain amount of stress, family squabbling, and competition as families and brides try to out-do every other wedding they’ve been to or heard about. But with gypsies, multiply that by about 1,000.
Thanks to my thorough research (AKA browsing Wikipedia), I can tell you that the gypsies here in the US are Romni or Romnichal gypsies, part of the group that migrated to England around the 15th century. InEngland, they were regarded with deep suspicion and hostility, and were eventually expelled (sound familiar?), some making their way toAustralia,Germany,France, and even sold to American slavers and plantation owners. Along with being mistrusted for being “other,” there are some culture similarities between Gypsies and Jews: Gypsies traditional culture dictates cleanliness almost to an obsessive degree. Just like Jews, this cleanliness prevented a lot of gypsies from contracting the plague, leading to accusations of being in cahoots with the Devil. Gypsies also separate any menstruating women from the rest of the community because they are considered unclean during that time.
Anyways, back to Gypsy weddings! Modesty to these gypsies is vastly different from how we understand it. We associate provocative clothing or sexually explicit dancing with being readily available for sex. Those rules don’t apply to these gypsies. Bare midriffs are the daily norm. Little girls shake and writhe on the dance floor. If you have money, you show it. Always. And weddings are the best ways to display your money. Not to mention, if you are a Gypsy father, your daughters. So, we see these horrifically gaudy and provocative dresses- one girl had LED lights all over her dress- at a ceremony that quickly descends into utter chaos once the vows are exchanged.
Sometimes on the show they have trouble finding a location to host a party because the owners of the location know that holding a Gypsy party there means that something will be broken, there will be fights, and the cops will probably come. But aside from the near-nakedness, don’t assume that this is so different from Jewish culture. Women are meant for cleaning and child-rearing. Did I mention that most of these brides are between 15 and 18? Or that their grooms are between 18 and 21? There is literally no higher honor for a Gypsy girl than to get married as soon as possible and get started birthing children and cleaning the young couple’s new fancy trailer. It is tradition for the bride’s sisters to “present” themselves to the guests for any prospective husbands.
We modern-day Jews (and feminists) may not expect for this to be our life, but the similarities between Gypsies and some Ultra Orthodox communities are more present than many would expect (bare midriffs excluded). So I can disagree with the fact that in both Gypsy and some Jewish communities, girls my age have been married almost a decade and have a whole brood of children. But still, the fighting and the gaudiness and the cutthroat competition makes for undeniably entertaining TV. These families are loud, big, and in your face, so the drama follows suit. It’s the ultimate reality TV content: families + fights (often physical) + weddings = reality TV gold. And just like Gypsies know, gold is better when it’s on display.
For more stories of wedding shenanigans, come chat with Meredith Goldstein and Devan Sipher at Finale on April 30th. Dinner and famous Finale dessert buffet included!
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