If you didn’t know, your writers of Go Travel Azerbaijan just got hitched—twice! Our first wedding was in Minnesota (USA) and our second was in Azerbaijan. We did this so our respective families would all be able to celebrate with us.
Both were what we’d call ‘traditional’ weddings for their locations— not too extremely casual nor fancy.
It felt quite unique to experience first hand all the differences. There were many! While neither included a marriage ceremony (because we decided this would be a separate private moment for us), everything else was pretty typical and I will still describe more details about the ceremony differences below. We are quite excited to share these with you since weddings are often a great way to understand a culture. In Azerbaijan, weddings are definitely a huge part of the culture as one might have 3-5 weddings a month in the summertime!
Because there’s such a variety of topics to cover when talking about a wedding, we’ve broken them down into 8 separate categories: biggest differences, dress, food, photography/video, gifts, florals, makeup/hair and ceremony. We hope you find the differences interesting, and enjoy our photos!
*Note- all of the professional images shown on the USA side are taken by the lovely Linsday Miller Photography.* Check out her work, she travels!
1. Biggest Difference
🇺🇸 US weddings are much more custom and independently managed.
Every step of the night and details of decorations are to be decided on, designed, paid for separately. It’s very helpful—almost necessary— to then also hire a separate wedding planner or day-of coordinator to manage all these separate facets. This is helpful especially since there are so many rules the venue sets for what you can’t do and when you can’t be there, because the space may serve a different purpose during the day. (We had ours at Como Conservatory in St. Paul, which included a greenhouse!)
Usually ‘extras’ like confetti, fireworks or a balloon drop are usually not possible to incorporate because of these restrictions. Generally decorations are pretty simple since everything (florals, photo booth, decor) needs to be hauled in for the event and out by 1am sharp. Also any extra ‘features’ you’d like to include such as a guest book or menu needs to be designed and produced by the couple beforehand.
As you can imagine, a wedding much more customizable and unique ends up being much more expensive.
🇦🇿 In Azerbaijan there are centralized venues built exclusively for weddings.
These spaces, often labeled “saray”—meaning palace, are already very decorated and almost all services are provided through them. You still decide what food and extra services to have, but the venue coordinates/manages all these parts of the wedding, including food, videographers, live music, traditional ceremonies, lighting, special FX, etc. It is quite common to have fireworks/sparklers as the couple walks in and large amounts of confetti continuously shooting up during their first dance, and maybe even a balloon drop from the ceiling towards the end of the night. We had all three- it was so much fun! (We had ours at Hayat Palace.)
This is also possible because their weddings don’t typically end up a costly endeavor- partly for the efficiency of the centralized wedding venue but mostly because the tradition for gifts is to communally pay for the wedding (which we’ll explain in the gift section).
2. The Dress
🇺🇸 In the USA wedding dresses can range a lot- but very often/traditionally they are bought.
Brides try on many dresses and try to find the one that is most unique/perfect for them. There’s even several TV shows about the process of picking ‘the one’. Brides might have a very specific goal of what style they are looking for and won’t stop until their dream is achieved! After possibly weeks or months of trying on dresses, a winner is picked. It’s not uncommon for the bridal shop to have a special bell or ritual to celebrate the moment.
After picking the dress, measurements are taken and their size dress is ordered brand new. Months later it arrives to the shop, and final alterations need to be made. Most people believe their wedding dress should be perfectly altered to their body. The length of the dress should not drag on the ground, and all corners of it should fit snuggly.
It’s not unheard of to have a dress plus alterations that starts at $1000. After the wedding the dress is put into storage.
🇦🇿 In Azerbaijan wedding dresses are often rented for the night.
Brides may also try on many dresses to decide which they like best, but generally there is less extreme pressure to find the one most different most special dress. In reality, there are MANY gorgeous dresses to choose from so maybe that’s why. Plus, it’s easier to get an idea of what the dress looks like on because often dresses are displayed on mannequins rather than in a bag on a rack squeezed between other dresses. Because the dresses are rented, another big difference is these dresses you are seeing are the actual dresses you are renting. If you see a dress you like, you ask the workers if it is available the night you need.
Oh, and people might start shopping for their wedding dress a month beforehand, NOT a year or more like people in the States do!
You might be wondering how sizing works if everyone is renting the same dress. There are some variants and different shops, but in general and most commonly these dresses are one-size-fits all. This is possible because all dresses are corsets that can be adjusted to a variety of bodies. The length is altered by how tall of shoes you wear and how big of a hoop you wear under the dress. But on that note- the ‘look’ for dresses here is often princess style, so it looks perfectly fine (and what people are used to) if it drags on the floor a bit. Traditionally dresses are more A-lined and extravagant, however it’s becoming more of a trend to have more simple/western style dresses too.
Renting a dress might be in the $150 range depending on how new the dress is.
🇺🇸 USA weddings usually either have a buffet setup or simple plated meal decided on ahead of time.
Either way, walking into the wedding there is not food set up on the table. There may be appetizers in a separate cocktail area, but in general there are structured/organized times where food is on the table and when it is not. Portions are pretty comparable to a typical night out at a restaurant. Drinks are water and optional alcoholic drinks- decided on by the family hosting if they wish to have an open bar or have guests pay.
The cake might again be custom ordered coordinating with the flowers and colors used in the wedding (though there’s a growing variety of what couples decide to do for their dessert).
🇦🇿 Azerbaijani weddings include lots of family-style dishes the whole night.
People try to not eat much before weddings because they know there will be so much food once they get there! Walking into a wedding in Azerbaijan you can anticipate the tables to be already filled with food. This is the first course- but does not mean it is just salads. You could expect a variety of dishes such as qutab, creamy salads, chicken, meat skewers, fish, caviar, breads, cheeses, we could go on. These are out and replenished the whole wedding. All drinks- many juices, tea, waters, wine, vodka- are bottomless. Servers are assigned to each table to refill your plates and glasses. Throughout the night, maybe every hour, a new hot dish is brought out. Expect to have lots of meat options (lamb, beef, chicken), as well as a traditional rice dish, plov, which is usually introduced with a traditional Azerbaijani dance performance.
There is typically a large extravagant fake-cake for pretty photos when the bride and groom cut the cake, though for guests they are eating from a sheet cake or are served ice cream.
🇺🇸 In the USA the photographer is meticulously picked out, and a videographer is an optional add-on.
Photography is a huge part of USA weddings and finding ‘the one’ (again) means lots of time and research- comparing many websites and portfolios to find who they vibe with most and who might tell their story best. The photographer is someone who is with you the whole day- documenting the process of getting ready, taking thoughtful shots of the decor, and even traveling with you to several spots around town for the custom looks you want. (You can see above that we choose to take photos as Betty Danger’s Country Club for some of our photos for the fun kitschy color scheme.)
Many photos are candid, artistic, individually edited at times and put through batch color corrections to romanticize the night. Photos are taken in natural lighting, so light settings on the camera are custom adjusted throughout the night as the sun goes down and environment changes.
Photos take months to get back and for just the digital files (no prints) it is thousands of dollars. There are also many rules around what you can do with the photos ones given. You can not edit the coloring or share anywhere without credit. If wishing to print, you much be provided a legal document allowing you to. A videographer is optional and would be most likely a different person, and potentially thousands more dollars, but I’d say it’s more common to lean on the photographer for telling the story.
🇦🇿 In Azerbaijan the venue provides a videography crew as well as photographer.
Telling the story of your wedding day relies more on the videographers than photographer—a few weeks after the wedding you are given a lightly edited DVD with hours of footage of the whole night. First, a videographer and live musicians meet you at the apartment. This is because it is tradition for live music to be played as you walk to your car with family. Once at the venue, from the moment you wait in the car and have your grand entrance to when you leave for the night, the multi-camera crew (even including an overhead boom) follows you and projects the video live onto a handful of monitors all over the venue. This way no matter where a guest is seated or faced, they can follow the action. The crew also goes around and records guests dancing and conversing at tables- it’s kind of a joke they may catch you on screen with a big bite of food in your mouth. This live video tradition makes everyone feel included, and especially makes the happy couple feel like celebrities!
The photographer takes photos of the important events- usually staged, smiling or posing towards the camera. Photos are taken with a softened flash so there is no post editing needed. Guests will line up to get photos taken with the couple at their ‘throne’ and lets the photographer know how many prints they want. Later in the night they’ll recieve their 8″ x 10″ print and pay about $1.20 for each.
All original photos of the night can be taken home the same night on a burned CD (actually, this is optional and costs about $60- otherwise the couple would be happy with just their video). The videographer price is included in the overall wedding cost.
🇺🇸 In USA weddings it is assumed there is some kind of registry where guests have the choice to buy the couple physical things.
These things help the couple start their life together comfortably. Common items on a registry include things like a new dish set, mixer, blender, etc. It should be noted though that ‘honeymoon’ registries are becoming more common now too, where guests send funds digitally representing specific experiences. Cash is always an option if the guests would rather do that.
But generally the tradition is for guests to help populate the couple’s new home with needed household items.
🇦🇿In Azerbaijan weddings there are no physical gifts.
Everyone brings money and puts it in an envelope either directed towards the bride family or groom family. (Though side note, it’s also common to have TWO weddings, one completely on the bride side and one completely on the groom side). The whole wedding is paid for (ideally!) with this money- so at the end of the night before leaving, the envelopes are gone through and the family can pay the venue with cash. The leftover money pays for the other wedding related expenses, and any leftover goes to the couple. Actually, it can get expensive being invited to so many weddings! Usually any weddings you’re invited to, you will in turn also invite them to weddings of your children. This is how weddings are in a way communally paid for.
The tradition in Azerbaijan is for the bride’s family to be in charge for buying all the household furniture and needed items in their new home.
🇺🇸In USA weddings the flowers are meticulously and intentionally picked out to set the mood for the night.
To decide on which flowers to adorn your space the couple will have consultations and discussions beforehand with different florists. There will probably be an excel chart of needs to keep everything straight. Bridal bouquet, boutaineers/corsages for the wedding party, center table arrangements, miscellaneous tables around the venue, there is quite a bit to keep track of and individually decide on. If you want guests to walk into a room filled with flowers, you have to specifically order all those flowers and figure out each location those flowers will be, set them up before the wedding and you must pack all of them up at the end of the night before 1am or you get fined. At the end of the night, all the flowers are left over and the family will often take them home or try to divide them up amongst guests. You may have to return the vases to your florist the next day.
🇦🇿In Azerbaijan weddings venues are already decorated fully with silk flowers and all you buy is a bouquet.
Because weddings take place at venues already decorated, in order to pick the mood for your night you would decide which venue’s aesthetic you like best. The only flowers you buy is one simple bouquet the bride holds and one matching single flower the groom has in his pocket. Much simpler and less stressful, right?!
🇺🇸In the USA makeup and hair tends to be more on the natural side.
Again there is SO much variety in this category so this one was tough to generalize. But observing and being a bride, I’d say the styles tend to lean towards the effortlessly beautiful look. The process of getting hair and makeup can mean either making an appointment at the salon the morning of the wedding or paying a bit extra to have them meet you at your hotel. Either way, each minute of the wedding day is planned and these appointments fit into a tight itinerary without much wiggle room.
We opted to have my hair and makeup artists come to the hotel for a smoother day. The environment was quite calm and relaxed, since it was just my immediate family in the hotel suite. We planned ahead to have the hair done first so the ‘getting ready’ photos would look cuter. I was told to arrive with dry hair, after giving myself a hair mask the night before. Any accessories in the hair is provided by the bride- so I made my own headband with extra ribbon and superglue, and planned ahead ordering an extra sunflower from the florist.
Then makeup. Part of the makeup cost included a trial run at her studio to make sure we’re on the same page so the day of there aren’t any surprises (same as hair actually). Communication with my makeup artist (Angela Morris) was strong and she highly valued making sure I was happy with every step, which was great! The day-of there were a few additional things such as fake eyelashes I am able to keep, and a cute tiny container of more lipstick to touch-up after dinner.
All in all these were quite calm experiences that were planned months ahead of time and fit snuggly into an itinerary, though it’s worth noting for hair I had to come prepared with my own accessories.
🇦🇿In Azerbaijan makeup and hair can be more of a production.
In Azerbaijan there’s definitely a classic bridal ‘look’ that is assumed to be the style for hair and makeup and it’s more on the ‘Katy Perry extra’ side. Similar to the States, brides will seek out artists and book appointments ahead of time, but the schedule of the day once at the salon is wayyy more fluid. Instead of sitting down at a specified time and getting all your makeup then all your hair done in an hour or two, you may be there all day with small steps done at scattered times. This is how the salon was able to do hair/makeup for a handful of brides and their families. It was honestly pretty amazing to slowly see the brides evolve into stoic princesses.
The salon experience was much more social and lively, and I was told ahead of time to be ready to stand my ground if the artists start going a direction I don’t like. (Otherwise they joked about having a permanent bird’s nest on your head!) It gets kind of loud in there and they might get carried away if you don’t check in with them. 😉 Makeup was first and I found it interesting she did all my eye makeup first before foundation. Later I learned this is common for dramatic shadow because it makes wiping off the fallen powder underneath much easier. They were a fan of the contouring (me too) and put on fake eyelashes I would return the next day. the coolest thing they did was give me temporary ‘Botox’ essentially- they made two tiny tight braids around my eyes that hid under my hair ‘do but lifted up my eyebrows. It was painful but fantastic.
Then hair. They actually washed and blow-dried my hair, which helped give it volume and shine like I hadn’t seen before. After dry, someone spent half an hour crimping tiny sections of my hair at a time. I think this helped with volume. They added to my hair a ‘bump’ (an actual physical thing they pinned in) and also fake hair to make the length all the way down my back. The best part: they had several cases of beautiful crowns to pick from! All these extras would be returned the next day, and was included in the price.
I haven’t mentioned the nails yet! After makeup I was whisked upstairs to get long acrylic nails put on. I choose for white, and a pretty red ruby gem decoration on the 4th finger.
Overall the salon experience here was quite lively, chaotic feeling at times (because I don’t speak the language), but many of the workers were extremely friendly and warm to be so it was a great experience.
🇺🇸 In USA weddings it’s common for the ceremony to be a whole separate event from the wedding reception.
Often the ceremony is in a different venue than the reception with all its own florals/decorations/logistics that needs to be figured out. It may or may not be religious depending on the couple’s wishes.
🇦🇿In Azerbaijan making it legal may be the first 5 minutes of the reception, or a separate private day.
It depends on the couple, but it is common for the ‘legal’ part of the wedding to be essentially nonreligious and a simple signing of papers at a table in the center of the room immediately after their grand fireworks-filled entrance. After papers are signed, the couple is poured champagne or sparkling juice and make a toast. It is also an option for the couple to go to the government building a few days before the wedding with some immediate family and have an intimate signing of the papers. Photos of this would be taken and shown at the wedding on the monitors at a point in the night.
After your writers of Go Travel Azerbaijan tied the knot in both countries, we observed many differences in traditions.
USA weddings definitely are an example of the individualist mindset that’s learned growing up there. Everything must be custom, and there are many rules and complications that end up costing a lot of money (but more importantly energy and time!). This allows for unique experiences for guests and professional pictures, but also puts a ton of pressure on the newlyweds. All this customization also comes from the fact that the USA is a melting pot of cultures, so weddings generally aren’t part of an assumed tradition- every detail must be individually decided on and figured out.
Azerbaijan weddings are conversely an example of their communal mindset- everyone coming together to make it happen. From being communally funded, to having centralized wedding venues, there is more of an assumed tradition here that guests and the couple can come to expect. There’s a system in place, a template to start from. There are much less little choices and pressures on the new couple and family, and allows for much more relaxed months and weeks leading up to the event.
Did we have a favorite? Well, both were just different and nice in their own ways. The best part of both of them was the friends and family that celebrated with us!
8 Bonus Photos!
Thanks for reading!
—Go Travel Azerbaijan