Chapter IV. Engagements, Weddings, Births and Funerals
In Britain the custom of becoming engaged is still generally retained, though many young people dispense with it, and the number of such couples is increasing. As a rule, an engagement is announced as soon as a girl has accepted a proposal of marriage, but in some cases it is done a good time afterwards. Rules of etiquette dictate that the girl's parents should be the first to hear the news; in practice, however, it is often the couple's friends who are taken into confidence before either of the parents. If a man has not yet met his future in-laws he does so at the first opportunity, whereas his parents usually write them a friendly letter. It is then up to the girl's mother to invite her daughter's future in-laws to a meal or drinks. Quite often, of course, the man has been a frequent visitor at the girl's house long before the engagement, and their families are already well acquainted.
When a girl accepts a proposal, the man generally gives her a ring in token of the betrothal. It is worn on the third finger of the left hand before marriage and together with the wedding ring after it. Engagement rings range from expensive diamond rings to rings with Victorian semi-precious stones costing only a few pounds.
In most cases the engagement itself amounts only to announcements being made to the parents on both sides and to friends and relations, but some people arrange an engagement party, and among the better-off people it is customary to put an announcement in the newspaper.
In the book Etiquette the author writes that "as soon as congratulations and the first gaieties of announcement are over, a man should have a talk with the girl's father about the date of their wedding, where they will live, how well off he is and his future plans and prospects." Nowadays this is often not done, one of the reasons being that today the young people enjoy a greater degree of financial independence that they used to, to be able to decide these matters for themselves. However, in working class families, where the family ties are still strong and each member of the family is more economically dependent upon the rest, things are rather different. Quite often, particularly in the larger towns, the couple will have no option but to live after marriage with either the girl's or the man's people. Housing shortage in Britain is still acute,* and the rents are very high. It is extremely difficult to get unfurnished accommodation, whereas a furnished room, which is easier to get, costs a great deal for rent. In any case, the young couple may prefer to live with the parents in order to have a chance to save up for things for their future home.
* (acute housing shortage - Britain is at the bottom of Europe for the amount invested in housing. The report on "Homelessness in London" published in May, 1971, presents a horrifying picture of the human misery caused by the housing shortage.)
But if the young people, particularly those of the higherpaid section of the population, often make their own decisions concerning the wedding and their future, the parents, particularly the girl's, still play an important part in the ensuing activities, as we shall see later.
The period of engagement is usually short, three or four months, but this is entirely a matter of choice and circumstances.
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