In the United States of America, a prom can be encapsulated into a picture like this:
When you tell an American that there is going to be Battle Proms at Blenheim Palace, the image changes to this:
Welcome, my friends to Battle Proms. No one will live, but everyone will die in fabulous clothing.
According to Wikipedia, all source that is truth, an American “Prom” short for promenade, is a formal (black tie) dance, or gathering of high school students. In England, “Prom” is short for promenade concert, a term which originally referred to outdoor concerts in London’s pleasure gardens, where the audience was free to stroll around while the orchestra was playing. While in America you would refer to a Prom as a “Prom” (possibly denoting them as a Junior or Senior Prom depending on school age), in England the Prom can be called “The Proms” or in the case of Blenheim marketing, “BATTLE PROMS.”
During an American Prom, women dress in elaborate gowns often spending months or weeks of time (and possibly money) putting together the perfect look. American men, once they find out the color and style of said dress, will then purchase or rent a complimentary black tie outfit. In an English Prom, women and men both dress as comfortably as possible and bring several further layers of clothing including rain gear. They also bring chairs, tables, blankets, bunting, several hundred tonnes of food and alcohol, candles, and possibly a shelter should the concert have bad weather or you need to survive in a park for several weeks being somehow unable to leave it.
On the day of the American Prom women receive corsages while men receive boutonnières. These generally compliment the outfits or possibly compliment the theme of the Prom itself. On the day of the English Prom you are, by law, required to bring at least one flag which can stand for England, Scotland, Wales, or the United Kingdom. (You can bring a flag from your home country if it is not included in the above, but if you do not have a flag from your home country you must purchase one of the above.) This flag will be utilized for waving profusely, and, if a monarch shows up, you cannot stop waving it until they either disappear behind a screen or building, or leave.
Transportation to an American Prom can be in a limo or a freshly cleaned automobile. Transportation to an English Prom, specifically an English Battle Prom, requires care logistical planning on getting all supplies – plus people – into a car which may or may not have been cleaned recently. You then drive out into a field for many, many, miles until you are pointed to park in another field. Then you must figure out the logistics of how you intend to get all supplies plus people into a spot in yet another field which has a bandstand, horses, and several rounds of heavy artillery.
An American Prom is denoted by a meal (sometimes at the Prom itself but also can be at a nice restaurant prior) and then dancing. A Battle Prom is denoted by spraying your food over a central blanketed (or tabled) surface and eating until you pop. This is followed by a pre-show band, horse display, orchestral selections, air show, fireworks, more orchestral selections, guns being fired, more fireworks, more orchestral selections… a potty break… more guns, some light waltzing, fireworks and singing.
You must be waving your flag at all times. Even when the temperature drops down to freezing and you have wrapped yourself in several layers of clothing, all the bunting, and all the picnic blankets. Failure to do so means you are put in the line of gun fire.
Like an American Prom, dancing is acceptable. Unlike an American Prom (where the participants are under drinking age) dancing around like a drunken fool despite being in your mid-fifties, wearing a poncho, and doing a highland kick to accompany it is also acceptable.
While at an American Prom a “Class Song” or a “School Song” may be sung, often amongst a weepy crowd who is about to graduate and head off to college or trade. An English Prom includes the screaming at the top of ones lungs Jerusalem, God Save the Queen, and believe it or not (I seriously did not know this song had lyrics) Pomp and Circumstance. If you have not by this point collapsed in a drunk or over-stuffed food haze upon completing the singing activity, you have not successfully attended an English Prom.
Alternatively, it should be pointed out that collapsing after an American Prom is also achieves the status of having a good time.
It should be noted that while at the end of an American Prom is highlighted by being taken home in a state of blissful euphoria (or something like that) you have to pack up all the supplies you pulled across a field and wait amongst other tired, bloated English people to exit an English Prom. Good thing is if you were picnicking near the gunfire, you can’t hear people complaining. There’s a lot of ringing sounds, though.
Having experienced both I would say I greatly prefer the English version of Prom. First, no stress in dressing up. Second, several rounds of gunfire. Third, fireworks accompanying several rounds of gunfire. It was well worth the comparative ticket price I hacked up back when I was 18 and our American Prom was highlighted by constant thumping club music rendering us unable to talk or dance. (The dancing had a lot to do with the fact that the women were all in gowns. You can shake your booty in a gown no matter what they say.)
So there you have it. One Prom, two worlds. Now, if you don’t mind me I need to untangle all my bunting and put my English flags back in their cases for next year.