If you have read the about page you are aware that I have gotten married in France twice (to the same person).
The reason for this being is that marriage can only be officiated legally in France by the government since the country is laic, meaning there is a firm separation of church and state. Therefore, in order to have a more “traditional” wedding (with a religious entity), you will have to have two different ceremonies.
Most French people, though, continue to stray away from marriage, opting for what is called a “Pacs” (civil solidarity pact).
If you are not a French national, and you want to get citizenship in the future, do not get Pacs’d; as the French government makes clear, “there is no procedure for acquiring French nationality under Pacs with a French national.”
Why Two Weddings?
Our civil wedding was 100% unplanned. William and I had actually arranged for the civil ceremony to be held the 5th of October before our informal ceremony in the south of France on the 13th; however, we realized that applications for a visa would be much easier if I applied while still having residency in England to avoid having to go all the way to the US.
So we contacted the town hall of our teeny tiny village and were really lucky to get a date at the end of July in such short notice (we could not do it in August because practically all government offices are closed in France). We really owe our sincerest gratitude to the secretary and the mayor of Ormoy.
We later had another ceremony in October (discussed below) that was for our families as a celebration of togetherness. This was a chance for our families and friends to meet one another for the first time…
The Civil Ceremony (aka wedding n°1)
William and I got married on the 27th July 2019. If you were in Europe at this time, or simply had access to the news, you may remember there was a massive heatwave throughout Europe; being in the countryside, we could smell the burning of farmland from miles away. Luckily, the 27th was a much cooler day without any fires.
The ceremony took place in the little city hall of the village of Ormoy and was administered by the mayor (decked out in his very official bleu, blanc, rouge ribbon).
William and I arrived at the hall last, with everyone anxiously waiting outside for us. When we arrived, the mayor invited us into the hall and everyone followed behind. We sat down, the mayor said a few words about us and about what the significance of marriage means (to him), then talked of our legal duties once married (this is part of the “code civil” or Napoleonic code).
He really pushed the whole “make a family” type of thing, and after the wedding we joked that we needed to go make some kids right away!
After this, we did the whole “do you take this person” thing where I began to cry, said “oui,” and then we signed the marriage certificate (along with the witnesses and the mayor). After this, we were allowed to exchange rings as a symbolic gesture, there were no vows, though.
The whole thing was quite quick and almost informal. As you can see, I am wearing a jumpsuit instead of a gown and William is wearing jeans. Following the ceremony, we had a little drinks reception at the home of William’s parents followed by a BBQ and the traditional wedding croquembouche (this was at my behest because I insisted that we HAVE to have one).
So, we celebrated on Saturday and I left on Sunday back to the UK to apply for my visa. How romantic, right?! (The things we do for love)
The “International” Ceremony (aka wedding n°2)
The concept of our second marriage was really about having a lovely ceremony that would allow our families and friends to meet one another in a relatively informal atmosphere.
We invited guests from Canada, Belgium, England, France, Germany and, of course, the USA. Due to the distance and the fact that most people would be meeting for the first time (including our families), we decided to host a wedding “weekend” which lasted from Thursday to Monday.
Planning the Ceremony
Much like any wedding ceremony, there is a plan. Being French, and me being American, my husband and I argued over this plan for a long time.
Because he did not know shit about traditional wedding practices. You might as well forget about the “don’t see the bride before the wedding” as well as the whole borrowed, blue, old, new thing. Just doesn’t happen.
I legitimately had to tell him that the groomsmen/bridesmaids stand at the altar, ‘cause he was there trying to count them in the seating arrangement. Mind you, this was AFTER I successfully convinced him that he HAD to have groomsmen, of course.
Anyway, I figured we did it the French way before with the civil ceremony and here was traditional America’s turn to shine.
A Countryside Château
We hosted our wedding at the Château de Mauras in the south of France. It was our prerogative to find a château that we could use for the ceremony and reception as well as house all of our guests. Although we originally looked for châteaux in the north, we found them to be too expensive for a 5-day rental; instead, we chose the Château de Mauras for its price, amenities and location (not too far from the airport).
The owners are extremely nice and willing to help as best as they can. They themselves even got married there many years ago and take very good care of it. We recommend checking them out, even if it is just for a rental of one of their gîtes!
The weekend consisted of some activities that would bring our guests together, such as a BBQ, movie nights and a wine tasting. As one would imagine, the time was filled with lots of food and alcohol, culminating in the ceremony and reception on Sunday.
Le Jour-J (On the Day)
We never envisaged ourselves doing the traditional wedding thing, so we didn’t.
The ceremony took place outside, with William’s grandmother, the most competent in English and French, “officiating”.
As you can imagine, everything had to be in English and French because of the language boundaries. In order to tackle this, she read the same script, alternating between the two languages. For the vows, however, we kept it simple, reading in our native tongues (this is how we normally communicate anyway), and provided a written translation for those who could not understand.
For the ceremony itself, we did the traditional enfilade of man—not maid—of honor and bridesmaid followed by me with my grandfather. William’s grandmother read out some text and talked about what marriage means to her; this was especially apropos as she herself is a foreigner married to a Frenchman (fun fact, they too met in Germany).
After this, William and I exchanged our vows, our rings and shared a kiss as we were “married” again.
Vin d’Honneur/Cocktail Hour
Once the ceremony was finished, guests were escorted to the balcony overlooking the valley and countryside for cocktail hour (this lasted about three hours). Guests enjoyed drinks and were able to fill our guestbook with polaroid photos while we took part of this time to take wedding photos.
We planned it so that we could profit from cocktail hour and go around and spend time with our friends and family and take advantage of the alcohol and appetizers. The countryside provided a lovely backdrop for more photos.
The reception did not have a DJ or anything of that nature, but we were “introduced” as the married couple and shared our first dance to Jacques Brel’s “Je suis un soir d’été” with cut-ins by our respective parents.
This was followed by champagne for toasts (for the French, champagne is a very strange thing to serve outside of dessert and toasts themselves are something extremely uncommon in the culture). Dinner followed and included an appetizer, main course, and a cheese platter. After this we did a wee bit of dancing and then went on to dessert. Instead of a traditional cake, we decided for cupcakes and macarons of two different flavors, each representing flavors we like: mine being chocolate and passionfruit (my macaron vice), and William’s being tiramisu and salted caramel. Each guest received one of each along with some champagne. Afterwards we danced, and of course, drank more alcohol.
In the end, everyone left with a gift bag filled with a mixture of things we both like and a hangover.
If you are getting married to a French national, and you would like to have a more “traditional” (or untraditional) wedding, go for it!
We had an absolute blast the whole weekend trying to get cultures and languages to converge. Although it was exhausting to do everything in both languages and to interpret/translate between different people, in the end, it was worth the struggle.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences getting married in France and our atypical wedding ceremony.
If you have gotten married in France, let me know how your experience was in the comments below!
All Paul Lowicki Photography or Margot Steurbaut, 2019.