And Now for a Different Sort of Wedding

What Women Really Think
April 29 2011 2:40 PM

And Now for a Different Sort of Wedding

Now that we’ve (once again) demonstrated our fascination for over-the-top British weddings, it is time to turn our attention to the importation of the strange hit, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding . In some ways the British equivalent of Jersey Shore , Gypsy Wedding looks at the lavish-yet-trashy weddings and unusual cultural practices of Roma gypsies and Irish travelers who live in the U.K. The weddings are the real draw, with teenage brides in dresses so weighed down by fabric and crystals that they sometimes have trouble walking. (The poor girl in this video clip looks exhausted . She has to be shoved into her carriage and later yanked out.)

In honor of the royal wedding, Britain’s Channel 4 just aired a special episode of the show , featuring a 23-year-old bride ("old for a gypsy bride," noted the Daily Mail ) wearing an 11-foot-wide gown studded with 40,000 crystals. In another episode, a bride wears a massive fluffy pink dress "complete with fibre-optic lights and mechanical butterflies" that, according to more conservative estimates, weighs at about 14 stone, which is 196 lbs. Is this even possible?

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A breathless female narrator revels in every titillating detail, offering an occasionally sarcastic tone. She describes one bride this way: "Her dress has a thigh-length slit in the front to give it that certain … Spanish something." In the U.K., the show has sparked considerable class-based (and, some have suggested, race-based) derision, and discussions that will be familiar to American reality-show watchers-what’s accurate and what’s exaggerated, and what's the line is between exploiting cultural differences and merely documenting them. (There are also some disturbing practices in these male-dominated societies, including so-called " grabbing" courtship rituals .)

TLC announced earlier this month that it plans to start airing the show in May. It’s also developing an American version of the show. Given Gypsy Wedding’s impressive ratings across the ocean-9 million for the premiere-not to mention TLC’s love of anything involving dresses, tiaras, and cakes, it was only a matter of time. I have a feeling a whole lot of us will be watching, even if we hate ourselves in the morning.

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at libbycopeland@gmail.com.