Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Very French Wedding!

Way back in March this year, we received a beautiful invitation to a wedding, our first in France! I did a bit of research so that we would know what to expect, but I more or less assumed that a French wedding would not be all that different from a British one. How wrong I was!

A French wedding lasts for around five to seven days!. It starts with a civil ceremony at the local town hall or mairie's office. The mairie is the local mayor, and even the smallest of communes in France has one. The civil ceremony is the officially-binding one; lots of couples choose to follow it with a church ceremony, but it's their choice.

The wedding we attended  was that of our lovely neighbours, Mickael and Sonia. The civil ceremony was the first event, after which the wedding party walked to the local church ready for what we would call the 'blessing'. There was a sort of organised chaos to this; even when they reached the church, the bride and groom just wandered in with the guests, no solemn walking down the aisle with the bride on the arm of her father. The service itself was simple; there were no hymns, just a few responses from the congregation. The bride and groom had to answer three questions individually, then they had to recite something together, then they just ambled back down the aisle accompanied by a Chris Rhea song - no organ music, no 'here comes the bride', no nothing! It all seemed so, well, casual! There didn't seem to be a dress code, either; some people dressed up, others didn't, but it wasn't important at all!

Afterwards, the congregation rushed outside and waited for the bride and groom to emerge, with their gorgeous bridesmaids, Emma and Clara. Sonia's dress was really beautiful - a hooped silk skirt, on which had been sewn layers and layers of net, and a  strapless bodice which suited her lovely figure.

Here is a picture showing the back of the dress

 There was no professional photographer at the wedding itself.. The bride, groom, and bridesmaids had had professional photos taken at a venue on the Wednesday before.

Following the church service was the 'vin d'honneur' - a reception at a  'salle des fetes' (village hall) in a nearby village. We all drove there in a procession of cars with our hazard lights flashing and horns beeping , while passersby waved and cheered.   The vin d'honneur was more or less four hours of wine-drinking, after which everyone piled back into their cars to drive to the next reception, which was held at yet another salle des fetes. This time there was a five course meal and a free bar that was open until 5am the following morning!

This being our first French wedding, we were unprepared for a lot of what happened!  Every so often during the meal and afterwards, and before the tables had been cleared, some strange but manic fiddle music was played, and all the guests suddenly climbed up onto the chairs and tables, did a very strange dance which included a bit of air-guitar, and shouted a lot!  It made us jump the first time it happened, and we could hardly believe our eyes! After four choruses, the music suddenly stopped and everyone sat back down again, until it all happened again about twenty minutes later. By the end of the evening, we knew all the moves and were joining in as if we'd been doing it all our lives. We learned later that this is done to keep the guests awake! After all the food and alcohol, there's a real danger that they will doze off at the table! It certainly kept things lively!

There was a great deal of alcohol consumed throughout the day, and most of the guests had brought their bedding so that they could sleep in their cars in the car park, even those with young children! We kept waiting for the evening to stop but, by 3am, there was no sign of that, so we sneaked out and made our way home - we simply couldn't keep up with the others!

We were the only English couple at the wedding, but all the guests went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and we did have a lovely if exhausting time. The French can certainly put the booze away - I know they say that the Brits binge-drink, but I think the French probably drink even more; it's just that  they drink all day while the Brits usually save it up for the evenings and drink it all in one go!

The actual event of the wedding lasted until the following Thursday morning but, luckily, mainly for the happy couple and their families. The Sunday was spent at the bride and groom's home in boozy contemplation; on the Monday the groom had to be taken to all the local villages, drinking in each one, and the Tuesday and  Wednesday were additional excuses for friends and family to eat and drink all day. I don't see how a newly-married French couple have such a thing as a traditional wedding night to themselves; by Wednesday evening, Mickael and Sonia were completely exhausted!

All in all, it was a fantastic experience, but I am so glad that our traditional British weddings have such a lovely sense of occasion, and I'm certainly glad that they don't last as long!

Thanks for reading!


  1. What a wonderful experience! Hope you and they have recovered from such an epic! Lots of love x

  2. I've been looking out for this post Kathy, what a stunning young lady. Her dress was out of this earth! Wow! The cake was fantastic too from what I could see of it. I'm so pleased you had a nice time, and it's lovely to see how others celebrate. This is your on line writing! Well done I'm pleased you've posted.
    Hugs Suex

  3. Well - that certainly explains a lot! I live in France too, but never been to a wedding here. I have certainly heard the racket coming from our Salle and the carhorns tooting - sounds great fun!