Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anatomy of a French wedding

So, I'm back. And wow, was that a whirlwind trip, but so worth going. I got to see everyone, and remind myself that I still really do speak French, and be there on an important day for someone who is important to me. All that flying for such a short trip, though... ugh. Especially when I ended up spending a six-hour layover in Heathrow both ways (not planned--the way there we arrived late and I missed my connecting flight, and on the way back my original flight was canceled due to an expected strike so I had to take the earlier one). But still, the trip was great, other than the fact that Torsten wasn't there with me.

But the best part was definitely the wedding. In most ways it was a lot like an American wedding... but not exactly. The biggest difference was that it lasted until 5 a.m. But really, French weddings are very interesting. They break down into five main parts.

1. La Mairie
Weddings in France are divided into two parts--the legal ceremony and the personal ceremony. The legal ceremony takes place first, at the town hall ("mairie"). It is quick and not personalized. It's conducted by someone who was not personally selected by the couple. Maybe that's why the guy who conducted the ceremony kept referring to my host sister, whose name is Angela, as Angelina. Lovely. Brought back memories of when our wedding officiant kept referring to Torsten as "Thursten." Ugh. Still, the ceremony was short and sweet and official, and the newlyweds were very happy.


2. L'église
After the civil ceremony, we all drove to the church for the religious ceremony. It was just a regular church in a tiny town, but so different from random American churches. It was huge, and older than our country, and beautiful, and dark, and formal, and freezing cold. Luckily my host mother had lent me a wrap because my dress was sleeveless (I went with the purple dress because it was warmer than the blue dress, but still not exactly a winter outfit) and I would have frozen to death otherwise.


The ceremony was so interesting. I haven't been to many church weddings but the minister was very good about involving people in the ceremony, explaining what was going on as he did it (since a lot of the guests weren't regular churchgoers), and having us all sing along with certain parts. It was really very beautiful and not boring at all, even though I know that some people were worried ahead of time that it would be long and tedious. Then at the end when the bride and groom exited the church, we all threw lavender at them instead of rice. It was awesome, except the part where it was really windy and many of us got some in our mouths. Gross.


3. Le repas
The reception started at around 6 p.m. with a cocktail hour. Dinner started at around 7:30... and finished around midnight. Yum. It was a five-course, sitdown dinner involving salmon tartare, foie gras, duck, cake, and, of course, a separate course just for the cheese. There is nothing like French cheese. The brie and camembert you can buy in the US have nothing on the stuff you get in France. The food was delivered at a leisurely pace and we all sat at long tables. The seating arrangement was brilliant, and I got to know a lot of the couple's friends whom I'd never met before. Everyone was just so nice, and friendly, and happy, and you could just feel all the love for the newlyweds. It was so sweet.

4. La soirée dansante
After we all finished eating at midnight, the party really got going. I had no idea how into their dancing the French can get. The whole reception hall basically turned into a nightclub. The regular lights went out and were replaced with a disco ball and a bunch of flashing colored lights. The DJ played mostly French techno music, which was kind of hilarious, and after all the alcohol that had been consumed, people were dancing like crazy. Luckily the DJ threw in a few well-known classics, like YMCA, so even those of us who aren't so familiar with French techno got in a few good dances.



5. La fin
Shortly before 5 a.m., the bride's parents heated up a giant vat of onion soup to give to all the guests along with a hit of some very strong alcohol. Apparently this is the tradition in France, designed to settle everyone's stomach from all the wine and champagne so that they can go to sleep. Everyone had a nice big bowlful of soup and then a few designated drivers drove a bunch of us to a large nearby house that was on loan from a friend so we could all go to sleep. We slept until noon, and then went back to the reception hall the next day for a casual brunch. People were less hungover than you would expect! There were maybe 50 or so of us at the brunch, and we cleaned the reception hall up very quickly. It's amazing how fast you can get things done when there are 50 people helping out. The only bad thing is that the soup now makes me think of exhaustion and excessive drinking. I don't think I'll be eating onion soup again for awhile.

19 comments:

  1. What an amazing day - thanks so much for giving a wonderful recap and lesson on French weddings. Maybe people aren't as hungover because they spent 5 hours dancing!?!?! I think that's a pretty good way to sweat off the alcohol! =)

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  2. So fascinating - I'm loving the strong alcohol and onion soup to prevent hangovers! But 5am? Couldn't do it!

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  3. Wow, that's a LONG day! It's so interesting to see how different cultures do things. That must have been a BLAST!

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  4. Are US weddings generally much different than this? I mean, aside from the onion soup, it sounds more or less like most of the weddings I've attended.

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  5. Sounds like you had a great time. Thanks for sharing--now I want to go to a French wedding!

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  6. How cool! I love the traditions involved and it sounds like the French have themselves some nice traditions there! Not too sure about the onion soup though!

    Sorry to hear about the layovers.. I forgot all about the strikes going on. Shame, I could've come and brought you a cup of coffee while you were stuck waiting around in Heathrow! ;-)

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  7. Ohhh! That sounds like so much fun. I love gatherings like that where everyone is having fun and celebrating such a wonderful occasion. Congrats to Angela! Thanks for sharing (and I love the YMCA shot) ;-)

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  8. That is one long day. Most receptions I've been to last until midnight or so by the end, but I've never been up til five!
    Looks super fun, though the layovers sound awful. Bet you're tired!

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  9. That sounds so fun! Thanks for sharing. Glad you are back safe and sound. XOXO

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  10. Awesome recap! I'm glad you had a fun, albeit busy, trip. Dancing until 5am sounds like a blast, but I would be so exhausted the next day!

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  11. I love that photo of you dancing. :)

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  12. The French sure know how to throw a party!

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  13. Sounds just wonderful! (Even though French techno brings back nightmares from my semester abroad.)

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  14. That sounds so amazing... what an awesome celebration! I love that they fed everyone before sending them off. So glad that you had a great time!

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  15. Incredible sound. Lots of fun there and the dancing photo is to good.

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