We came to France to attend a wedding. It’s a long way to travel, but we feel like we’ve known the groom since before he was born. His mother and I got pregnant almost simultaneously, and after decades of interactions, his family and ours feel as close as family. So Paul-Louis’s wedding stirred us and touched our hearts for many personal reasons. But it also was a fascinating intercultural experience.
Now that it’s over, I can report at least a dozen ways in which the marriage festivities were unlike their American cousins:
1) There were no night-before-the-wedding activities for those in the wedding party. This was great for us because it meant that our friend, the groom’s mother, was free to dine with us. Still, we marveled at the ability to stage such a complex dramatic event with no rehearsal.
2) The bride and groom, like all married couples in France, were wed in a civil ceremony back in March. That was a much smaller affair, but still included immediate family members and godparents. It took place at the City Hall of Neuilly, the suburb just outside Paris where our friend Olivia lives. The bigger event (which we and about 175 other people were attending) was held in a church that is almost 700 years old, built back in the days when Roman Catholic popes lived and ruled from their palace in Avignon (just across the river) from the church town.
3) The church service, naturally, was entirely in French, and I didn’t recognize a single hymn.
5) The service was supposed to start at 3:30, but for 5 or 10 minutes past that hour, many guests stood in the main aisle and pews, socializing. (Some of the young guys took off their suit coats for this part.)
6) Most of the wedding party zoomed up the aisle briskly, paired up in ways that seemed eccentric to our American eyes: the groom escorting his mother to her seat in the first pew on the right side of the church; followed by the bride’s and groom’s sisters, escorted by their romantic partners also to seats in the first two pews; the groom’s father escorting the bride’s mother; two female and and two male “witnesses” each with escorts, and finally no less than seven adorable little boys (the offspring of the bride’s two sisters). In the program they were identified as enfants ‘d’honneur (literally, children of honor).
8) Most alien to our eyes: after the marriage ceremony and Mass, no permission from the priest for the groom to kiss the bride, and no ceremonial striding of the couple down the aisle to the strains of Mendelssohn. Instead, the bride and groom had to sign some sort of register off one of the side aisles, and while they attending to this, the guests gradually got to their feet and straggled out the front door of the church.
9) The big finale instead came when the groom and bride walked down the aisle of the almost-empty church and emerged onto the front step, where almost everyone pelted them with white rose petals. (Everyone except for clueless Steve and me, still inside the church, confused about what was going on.)
A little while later, everyone converged on a domaine on the island in the middle of the Rhone River between Avignon and Villeneuve Les Avignons, and the reception festivities played out there. These were splendid: first cocktails on a huge lawn under enormous trees, then a very formal sit-down dinner, followed by dancing. The food and wine were superb. The speeches (as far as my French went in understanding them) were witty and articulate. And once again, we were fascinated by the cultural differences. Including:
When Paul-Louis and Candice joined the party, the DJ in the room cued up music and everyone rose to their feet, twirling their napkins over their heads. This went on for quite a while.
The dinner and speeches lasted from 8 pm until about 12:30 am. Only THEN did the dancing begin!
I couldn’t resist joining in for 3 or 4, but Steve and I were pretty tired by then. We tumbled into bed about 1:30, but then arose again fairly early to join the brunch back at the domaine.
All weddings are special. This was was sure no exception.