My biggest motivation for returning to France so early and heading to Normandy was because I was invited to my friend Sarah’s wedding! (Disclosure: Sarah and I met back in 2010 when we were studying at the University of Caen Basse-Normandy. She is British, her now-husband then fiancé is French; they met working for the same company in England, they fell in love, got engaged, and moved back to France; Sarah needed to have fluent French to find a good job, voila why she was in school).
French weddings are both similar yet so very very culturally different from American weddings, though equally as fun, meaningful, and beautiful! First of all, compared to the United States, people get married much later in France (usually between 29-34 years old, whereas in the states many still tend to tie the knot in their early to mid-twenties). Engagement rings for females also DO NOT exist. the French find it impractical and a waste of money to spend so much on an engagement ring. In France, women and men both only wear simple gold or silver wedding bands on their left ring fingers.
However, perhaps the biggest cultural difference is how wedding ceremonies work in France. France is a very secular country. Religion and politics never, ever mix. In France, God (or the church) will not recognize a marriage between two people (same-sex marriage is now legal in France, yay!) until AFTER the civil ceremony has been performed at the Mairie (town hall). This means that everyone, no matter what your religious views, must get married at the town hall FIRST– there are absolutely NO exceptions and churches are not allowed to marry couples until after they have been married at the Mairie. (Even more complicated, couples MUST be married at the town hall in which they are residing in France.) So, typically, French people go first to the Mairie, either privately with a few witnesses or with their entire wedding party, for the legal ceremony, which literally lasts about 20 minutes. (The room is not decorated but usually has very beautiful architecture, and a picture of the president, LOL). Then, everyone goes outside, throws confetti at the couple, takes photos, and honks their car horns in celebration! Finally, if the couple chooses, everyone drives to a church for the bigger, religious ceremony and then finally the reception. (Sarah and Aldric are not at all religious so they chose to only have the civil ceremony). The funniest thing about this is how quickly we needed to be in and out if the Mairie. There were so many weddings on Saturday so it felt sort of like cattle herding- in, out, in, out, next! (Hence why rooms are not decorated!)
The reception was held about twenty minutes away in the country side and was so beautiful. The aperitifs (hors d’oeuvres) lasted about 2 hours- from 5-7:30. It was great conversing with French and British people. I think the funniest thing was when someone in France asked for the translation of «la poubelle» to which I responded “trash can” and Sarah’s brother responded “bin” at the same time!
The other biggest cultural differences about French weddings is how much longer they last! Dinner started around 7:30 and lasted until…. AFTER midnight!!! Then the dancing lasts until 4 or 6 AM! (I was still jet lagged so I didn’t make it that long). There were 7 courses in all, a glass of wine with each, and breaks in between each course for mingling. Here are pictures of each course:
Congratulations, Sarah and Aldric!