I was honoured to receive an invitation to officiate as Toastmaster at the wedding in Oslo last month of my former colleague Erle Bryn. A wonderful experience. All weddings are happy but this was one of the happiest I’ve ever attended.
But I also noticed some interesting differences between the way weddings are organised there and in the UK.
The speeches, in particular, as this was the area where I was`responsible for running the show. Here in the UK, the speeches tend to happen towards the end of the reception; and in general there are only three; and also in general, all by men. Our enlightenment in terms of equal opportunities has been slow in coming.
In Norway, by contrast, there are often many more speeches; and women get equal billing. For Erle’s wedding, the speaker list began with five people: the groom AND the bride; the best man AND the best woman; and finally the “thank you for the meal” speech on behalf of the guests; a lovely tradition that seems to close all formal or semi-formal functions in Scandinavia. As it happens that was given by a woman, so already 60% of what I might call the “core speeches” were by women.
However, that was just the start. When the invitations went out many months in advance, they bore the message: “the Toastmaster is Michael MacMahon. (He is British but you may speak in Norwegian.) If you would like to speak, get in touch with Michael and here’s his e-mail address.”
Quite a few people did in fact get in touch beforehand and quite a few more came up to me during the meal (the speeches ran throughout the meal: another difference) and asked “can you fit me in to your programme?”
In the end there were more than a dozen contributors to the entertainment; not just speeches but quite a few songs and poems written specially for the occasion. And more than half of those contributors were women. That is a Scandinavian phenomenon that I’ve noticed before, when I was one of the speakers (the “thank you for the meal” speech – a great honour for a Brit) at a 50th birthday in Sweden.
We often hold up Scandinavia as a beacon of progressive thinking; the way this wedding was organised seemed to me a good example of it. More importantly, a fabulous and joyful day; I was privileged to be part of it.