My big fat French wedding

IMG_2632This week marks the 28th anniversary of the day I said oui to a certain Frenchman in Paris. Given the number of years and the copious amounts of champagne we consumed that day, I may be forgiven if it’s a bit of a blur…

Let me share what stands out in my memory of our wedding day.

It began with a lie, albeit a white one. My husband, who can never remember where he left his keys yet can still recite all our old phone numbers, reminded me of this when he caught me telling people we were married in the city of Paris. It all came back: we were supposed to tie the knot at the Mairie of the 7th arrondissement, where we resided, but it turned out they did not perform weddings on Saturdays. So we found a city hall in neighboring Choisy-le-Roi with an attractive building and more accommodating hours. A friend of the family who lived in that town wrote us an attestation sur l’honneur (declaration in good faith) as proof that we resided with her, and we were able to arrange our wedding on a Saturday afternoon in late November.

Rings BWIn France, there are two weddings: a civil ceremony that takes place at city hall, followed by a purely ceremonial church wedding, often with several days or weeks in between. We did not want a church wedding but we did want to make it official and celebrate the event on the same day.

We took our vows before a mustachioed fellow who may have been the mayor or his deputy. Only close family and friends attended the ceremony. Our rings came from Cartier: identical double bands of intertwined white and yellow gold. My husband would lose his within the first months of married life while repainting a bedroom.

I had never imagined myself getting married, much less as a bride in a white dress walking down the aisle. I did not wear a veil but I did carry a bouquet and had flowers in my hair. It was the 80s, so there were a lot of big shoulders and wide silhouettes. I make it a policy never to wear heels; instead I wore satin slippers which unfortunately were ruined during picture taking in the sodden park. My husband wore a tux, which the French call ‘un smoking’. When I look back at our wedding pictures, we look like little bride and groom dolls. Were we ever that young?

Mel and Stefan WeddingIt did not rain on our wedding day, something of a miracle for the end of November. It was quite cold with patches of sunshine as we headed back to my beaux-parents’ home for a short reception in between the service and the celebration. The Canadian delegation included my immediate family – my dearly departed Mom, my Dad, sister and two brothers, along with a maiden aunt (also departed, slightly less dearly) whose alcoholic outpourings had us all fearing a diplomatic incident. In the end she got sloppy but the language barrier prevented her more embarrassing comments from going further than our own ears.

My in-laws were by no means well-to-do, but my husband is an only child and his parents pulled out all the stops for our wedding. We convened for a gala evening at a private club in the Bois de Boulogne. We’d been able to reserve this through contacts of my beau-père who worked on the catering side of Air France. The sumptuous food and the endless flow of champagne and wines owed much of its largesse to the generosity of his contacts in the food and beverage trade.

SpeechesThe speeches were brief and, if memory serves, included a few words in my own fledgling French. Given my horror of emotional speeches at weddings, I was grateful for the fact that the father of the bride’s speech was rather succinct. I believe it was only two words: “Merci beaucoup!”

IMG_2634The high point of the evening, le clou du spectacle as they say in French, and the only time there was not a dry eye in the house, was when the dessert was served. It was well after midnight when several waiters came bearing a magnificent pièce montée stacked with dozens of cakes along with sparklers and dry ice. We all formed a circle and danced around the dessert, as it were, to the stirring music from the popular television show, Champs Elysées.

We sipped and supped into the wee (oui?) hours of the morning, dancing our hearts out to fabulous 80s music between courses. Somewhere around 5 a.m. we poured ourselves home, taking a bottle of champagne with us and unpopping a final cork as the sun came up.

Say what you will about the French, they sure know how to throw a party.

A few days later, we took off for French Polynesia and a honeymoon financed by gifts from our wedding guests. Then we returned to Canada for a second reception for the friends and family on my side who hadn’t been able to come all the way to France. Also a lovely evening, but that’s another story.

I kept my name, or attempted to. All of my French identity papers bear both it and my nom d’épouse. Like it or not, the French will call you by your married name especially when you have children. This doesn’t bother me, as the people who know me use my real name. My husband’s family joke that if their name had been ‘Rockefeller’ I would have taken it. I laugh along with them while knowing that this is simply not true.

Looking back at our wedding photos, unearthed from a box two years after our move, I couldn’t have wished for it any other way.

What’s your fondest memory of a wedding, in France or elsewhere?

34 comments

  1. davidprosser · December 4, 2014

    It sounds like you had a wedding to remember Mel though it’s unlikely you’d forget the intoxicated toxic aunt. Like you say, it certainly seems the French know how to throw a party.
    I had a very short courtship having met my wife in May and married her in November. It was a second marriage for both of us and was slightly blighted by the fact she’d come out of hospital the day before, having had an operation and so was married in a wheelchair, she still looked a dream though. We had a small reception at a local community centre for family and friends and then an evening disco with music from 60’s 70’s and what was current, the 80’s for friends and colleagues. Ju got out of the wheelchair so that I could hold her on the dance floor when they played ‘Our’ song, Lady in red, which she was that day. We managed 27 years before she passed away last year but our wedding day will never be forgotten.
    xxx Mega Hugs xxx

    • MELewis · December 4, 2014

      David, this brings tears…I can just imagine you and your lady in red, rising from her wheelchair. So glad you had 27 years together. We never know what life reserves for us around the next corner — your story makes me want to make the most of every the moment. Thank you for sharing this beautiful memory. Bises xxx Mel

      • davidprosser · December 4, 2014

        You’re a sweetie, thank you.You already have a wonderful view on life but you should savour every moment of it for the memories you can share with each other when you’re perhaps a bit less able to gallivant than now. Enjoy life, thaat’s what we’re meant to do.
        xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  2. Suzanne et Pierre · December 4, 2014

    Nice story…Thanks for relating it. (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · December 4, 2014

      Cheers, Suzanne. I was going to wait for more of a landmark anniversary but life is too short!

      • Suzanne et Pierre · December 4, 2014

        I actually like that you picked 28…it may not be the traditional way but I like it when people do things differently.

  3. Multifarious meanderings · December 4, 2014

    Happy belated wedding anniversary! You look so happy on those photos. And I’m sure you haven’t changed at all in that respect 🙂 That wedding cake is big enough to double as a climbing frame!
    My favourite wedding was my own. It was seven years after yours, was also in France, and was also in Autumn. It was a low budget do, with an apéro in a public park outside the Mairie (we didn’t do the church bit either, much to the horror of PF’s granny) and also finished off with a plane ticket to Papeete. Now is that freaky, or what? The only thing I didn’t have was the drunken aunt – I had an alcoholic aunt, but she didn’t come.

    • Multifarious meanderings · December 4, 2014

      PS. When I say ‘Autumn”, it was the 20th November. I wanted autumn leaves on my wedding photos.

      • MELewis · December 4, 2014

        Hilarious! We should compare notes on Papeete one of these posts. Glad you managed your big day without the drunken aunt – although it does make for good stories in the family lore. And as for autumn, I’m with you on the colors. I’ve always been grateful that we managed a November wedding to brighten the dark days.

  4. cheergerm · December 4, 2014

    Happy anniversary Mrs France. What a couple of Sweetchops you both were, 80’s shoulder pads and all. 80’s music is the best, your wedding party food and fizz sounded gorgeous and that dessert table…hoo ha! I love a good wedding story.

    • MELewis · December 4, 2014

      Sweetchops! Yes that about describes the young innocents in those pics. (Although pictures can be deceiving…) 😉

  5. Colin Bisset · December 4, 2014

    Lovely story once again. That cake!!

    • MELewis · December 5, 2014

      Thanks, Colin, glad you enjoyed. And yes, it did rather…take the cake!

  6. mindfulexpat · December 4, 2014

    Lovely! Happy anniversary!

    • MELewis · December 5, 2014

      Merci! (You’ll get there before you know it!)

  7. Karen Hemingway · December 5, 2014

    Such a nice story…I was at the Canadian party and it was lovely! Congratulations Mel! And wishing you both many more happy years.

    • MELewis · December 5, 2014

      Karen, it was a miracle you and Rick made it given the difficulty we had getting the invitation to you. I recently went through my memorabilia and found letters from you and my Mom with the anecdote about my cousin, the postman! So glad it brought back happy memories and thanks for your wishes!

  8. jackiemallon · December 5, 2014

    Happy anniversary to you both! Bushmills for breakfast helped my wedding day go super smooth. And we had a large contingent of French people who went back to Rennes saying the Irish throw the best weddings! We didn’t argue 🙂

    • MELewis · December 5, 2014

      Oh, I like the idea of the Irish breakfast tipple. We had to settle for a glass of bubbly!

  9. Dana · December 5, 2014

    congrats!!

  10. Dana · December 5, 2014

    Also, SO true about women taking their husbands’ last names! Why does it have to be so complicated in this country? Why do you have to write down your husband’s names on forms if it’s not yours? It’s so frustrating! I have a friend whose French mother didn’t even know it was possible for women to keep their last names!

    On the other hand, French weddings are simply the BEST. I think one day, I will be like you. Nothing fancy for my wedding, no church, but a huge, big party.

    • MELewis · December 5, 2014

      Cheers Dana! You are right about the name change, I remember my belle-mère wondering about whether it was ‘possible’ or not to keep one’s name. It’s really just usage: your papers state both anyway…. But do have a big party when the day comes – you can’t let the occasion go by without a proper celebration!

  11. Osyth · December 6, 2014

    What a lovely wedding and happy anniversary with many many many more to come! I’m a bit of a greedy guts actually and so I have had not one but three (shhh – just between you and me, you understand!) The first was all English Country Garden and lasted about as long as the roses do, the second was my hippie hiatus and my mother announced that she couldn’t attend as she was due at a Conservative Party Lunch. She was true to her word. The third, last year here in France was just right. A few friends, our children and I smiled, cried and laughed so much that I am still (not quite 18 months later) coming back down to earth. I promise there will be no more 😉

    • MELewis · December 6, 2014

      Three times lucky? Actually, your story reminds of a fairytale: “And the third one felt just right.” Maybe your fond memories of this time last at least as long as mine have!

  12. Mélanie · December 7, 2014

    simply formidable and excellent post… HL = huge like! ❤

    OMG, you were young, beautiful and restless, I presume… 😉 wish u a long life ensemble… we've celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary this year and 36 since we first met… nowadays, we're supposed to be kinda "dinosaurs" as lots of couples divorce between 50-60! 🙂
    * * *
    @"We did not want a church wedding but we did want to make it official and celebrate the event on the same day." – same here… 🙂

    • MELewis · December 7, 2014

      Cheers Melanie, and long life to you and your better half! We always celebrate the anniversary of the day we met – at least in our hearts. That’s the only one that counts! 🙂

  13. Lori · December 13, 2014

    I had completely forgotten you had two ceremonies!! I often mention Duncan House reception as one of the best I attended – and also that we were lucky enough to have you sing at ours! (It was 31 in September – talk about young!)

    • MELewis · December 13, 2014

      Lori, I had completely forgotten about singing at your wedding….31 years ago!!! No wonder my memory fails. Congratulations to you both and happy that this brought back fond memories of ours. 🙂

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  16. sunnydaysinseattle · December 9, 2016

    What a beautiful bride! It must be 30 year now. Happy belated anniversary!

    • MELewis · December 9, 2016

      Merci! It is indeed the big 3-0. Who knew it would take us so long to get to Salzburg?

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