I am a United States citizen born and raised in Boston, but I have spent a good chunk of my adult life in Canada. Having spent four years living in Montreal for college, it now feels like I have a network of Canadian friends from Halifax and Vancouver and everywhere in between. What I’m trying to say is that while I’m certainly American through and through, I am pretty immersed in Canadian culture—I can find Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, on a map, I own multiple “touques,” and I can hold at least a very cursory conversation about the merits of having a hot prime minister like Justin Trudeau. And while Americans and Canadians have nearly everything in common (don’t tell a Canadian I said that, though), every now and then, I’ll come across a point of difference that sticks out like a sore thumb, like trying to pass off a glug of Mrs. Butterworth’s as real maple syrup.
So imagine my surprise last year when my close friend Ashley (a Canadian) asked to do something at her upcoming wedding that I had never heard before.
We were at a concert together when she turned to me, her face lit up. “Will you emcee our wedding?”
“Of course!” I replied, at a loss for what she was actually asking me to do. Was I supposed to play music at the reception? Was I part of the actual “wedding party?” Did I have to wear some awful costume like Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer?
Over the coming weeks, I secretly asked other close friends, some Americans and some Canadians, what Ashley could possibly have meant. Americans tended to think she meant I was in the wedding party somehow. Canadians would usually let out of a little laugh and say, “Ahh, how fun!” Canadians tend to be familiar with this tradition, and Americans tend not to be familiar with it.
Here’s the thing. The U.S. is an enormous, populous country with a huge variety of religious and cultural customs, so it can be difficult to make assumptions about wedding traditions, and the same can be said about Canada, although that country is slightly less populous. But as an American uniquely positioned to spot differences with Canadian culture, I think I am safe in assuming this: Having a friend emcee your wedding is a distinctly Canadian phenomenon.
As Ashley explained in the months leading up to her wedding, being an emcee involves announcing the various speeches and toasts at the reception as well as tossing in a few original bits of my own along the way. Think of it as hosting the Oscars. At home in the States, these functions are typically delegated to the DJ or band. So why in Canada do brides and grooms ask their friends to essentially work at their wedding?
While being the emcee of my friend’s wedding initially struck me as a little odd, the more I considered it, the more it started to make sense.
Asking me to be a part of her wedding was a privilege. I’m not necessarily close enough to be in the wedding party itself, but I’m also not not close enough to not be involved at all. It was a confirmation of our friendship, validation that, “hey, you mean a lot to us as a couple so we want you involved on our special day.”
Plus, to be completely candid, getting asked to be a part of someone’s actual wedding party is a time-consuming obligation at best and a financially burdensome logistical nightmare at worst. Being in the wedding party would entail months of planning, outfit coordination, orchestrating and attending a bachelorette party (or worse, having to fly to one somewhere) as well as any number of menial duties on the day of the wedding. Being the emcee meant jotting down a few jokes and preparing a few poignant turns of phrase, then delivering them on the night of the wedding. That’s it.
That being said, I have to admit that I’m the kind of person to whom public speaking and writing down a few family-appropriate jokes come naturally. Plus as someone who pathologically craves attention, it was a perfect situation for me: minimal time commitment but maximum stage time. So take my experience with a grain of salt, and if choosing an emcee for your own wedding, tread carefully.
Also, to be precise, it’s worth noting that I did have to share the stage time. Ashley asked me to co-emcee her wedding with our mutual friend Mandy. So in the weeks leading up to the big day, preparing our emcee remarks actually forced Mandy and me to think critically about the couple, and to think about the Venn diagrams of friendship between the four of us—me and the bride, Mandy and the bride, me and the groom, Mandy and the groom and so forth.
Sure, things weren’t perfect. It was a bit stressful in the moments leading up to the reception as Mandy and I sorted out who would hold the microphones at which times. Mandy told me which of my jokes were too raunchy for the bride’s parents. I made sure Mandy didn't have too many “personality drinks” during cocktail hour before we took the stage. We had some nervous jitters, but doesn’t everyone before they go in front of a crowd? In the end, things went off without a hitch. There were plenty of laughs, a couple of well-executed sniffles, and more than a few rounds of applause. The bride and groom and both sets of in-laws appeared to be pleased. It was a success.
By the end of the night, I started to realize that maybe having a friend emcee your wedding is a pretty genius idea, after all. It adds another layer of personal touch that makes a wedding that much more unique. Plus, by having someone who knows the couple personally, you’re less likely to mispronounce anyone’s names as you introduce them during the reception (I recalled at my own sister’s wedding how the band introduced my father Don Plummer as John Plummer—that must have stung).
As it turns out, Canadians might be onto something. Having Mandy and me emcee their wedding brought the two of us closer to the couple, and it also brought Mandy and me closer to each other. Everybody won.
And best of all? I didn’t have to fly anywhere for a bachelorette party.