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A June Wedding à la Française

Special note: Apologies for the technical difficulties we experienced launching this week’s Nouvellettres® on time and any email you sent which may have bounced back. We’re not “out of the woods” yet, but working on it and should be back to normal soon!

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World Family Map 2017

Births to unmarried mothers

The Mairie in Varennes-JarcyThe Mairie in Varennes-Jarcy

The grounds at Hostellerie de VarennesThe grounds at Hostellerie de Varennes

The happy coupleThe happy couple

Launch of the Kongming lanternsLaunch of the Kongming lanterns

When my daughter was growing up in Paris, she had a bevy of close girl (and boy) friends with whom she went to school and who spent a lot of time “chez nous” hanging out in her room and often staying for dinner. The “kids” are now in the their 30s, but they remain close and I see some of them when Erica is visiting home. On a couple of occasions, I’ve had a few over for dinner — just for “old time sake” — even without her being there. I’ve watched them all go from fledglings to adults, now some married, some with children of their own, speaking English fluently and off doing their own things. Seeing them makes me feel like mother hen and that they are still “under my wing,” even if not really.

One of them got married this past weekend, after having a baby a couple of years ago, with the same man she is marrying. This is his second child (with another woman) and his first marriage. This is more the norm than not for the French. According to Child Trends, unmarried mothers are rarer in America than France — where the percentage is highest among the European nations. (See the most recent report from 2015.)

Many of Erica’s friends have chosen to have their children and then their weddings later. Watching the bride and groom’s beautiful angelic two year-old daughter toss rose petals high as she could to shower them on her parents after the civil wedding at the Mairie de Varennes-Jarcy just confirmed that this was a marriage truly inspired by their love for one another and not a marriage just for the sake of legitimizing the child.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to their wedding and my daughter was one of the four witnesses who signed the marriage contract. I was as proud of her friend wearing the white lace dress and carrying a bouquet of flowers as any parent might be — just to see these “girls” grow up and begin families of their own makes me swell. Thank goodness I was equipped with tissues as I was leaking tears as I am prone to do at such emotional events. (Yes, I’m one of those sops who cries in movies, too.) I didn’t see anyone else as overwhelmed as me and wondered why I was the only one in such a state, especially given the bride and groom were not even family. Maybe the French are better at keeping a “stiff upper lip.”

I’ve only been to a few weddings in France and I didn’t want to miss this one. Being dressed for the occasion became a burgeoning project that began simply with spotting a silk dress that I simple “had to have” when I was in the Luberon a few weeks ago. You know what that’s like? Once I bought the dress and the scarf that went with it, the outfit begged for new shoes, a new purse and the right undergarments. The investment of time and money in this wardrobe bigger than planned and perhaps in hopes of another wedding or two to which I can wear it all! Or some other special occasion?

This non-religious French country wedding seemed fairly typical. It took place not far from Paris, about 35 kilometers, in the town of Varennes-Jarcy at the local Mairie for the civil ceremony and following that, a laic ceremony on the grounds of the beautiful “Hostellerie Varennes.” Thanks to my daughter being in the wedding party, we had rooms at the inn. The venue was drop dead perfect and for that I give them a big thumbs up. I had a big room with beautiful views overlooking the grounds, pleasantly appointed, without being overly luxurious. Sure, it was time for an update it being a tad shabby, but it really didn’t matter; it was lovely. Erica chose to share a room with her friends — for all the obvious reasons — and as it turned out, I retired from the festivities not long after midnight while she and her pals partied till the wee hours of the morn.

I knew only a handful of people — mostly my daughter’s school pals and I wasn’t sure if they would want to hang around with “maman.” Even the parents of the bride or groom I had never met — maybe the mother of the bride in passing too many years ago to count when the girls were in “college” (junior high school) together. In addition, I had never had the pleasure of even meeting the bride and groom’s adorable daughter until then, so, I expected to be an “outsider” and have the additional barrier of my less than fluent French. I was prepared to be a bit removed from the entire affair and decided in advance that this was to be a study in French culture as well as a celebration, and therefore embraced the opportunity, rather than let my daughter attend without me.

While it’s true that I didn’t exactly fit in, having a tough time following the conversations in fast French among friends, who speak sometimes using “verlan” (the  “l’envers” [inversion] of syllables in a word, a common slang), Erica’s friends made me feel welcome and were polite to include me in their good time. Meanwhile I spent my time watching and witnessing the others’ behavior. In classic French form, it was very well-behaved, controlled and polite comportement, but all in good fun and without any rowdiness. It’s the kind of behavior I witness time and time again at public events in France and any gathering of a large number of people. I wondered if it would have been the same elegant style at a wedding in Italy, Greece, England or the U.S.

The event went something like this:

* Lunch with the others in the wedding party at the only café/brasserie in the center of town on the “terrasse”…

* Dressing for the wedding…

* The civil ceremony at the Mairie with the Mayor officiating and an SRO group of people looking on…(see the video by Rokia Mehdaoui).

* Drinks, but not cocktails, in the courtyard of the hostellerie while we waited for the laic ceremony to be ready…

* The laic ceremony on the lawn, with the sister of the bride officiating and musicians played love songs…

* Champagne cocktails and hors d’oeuvres…

* Dancing in the dining hall to a dance band before dinner…

* A full multi-course dinner including a “trou normand” and cheese course, with various presentations between courses, videos and short speeches…

* Sky lanterns launching on the lawns (sky lanters are also known as Kongming lanterns or Chinese lanterns — is a small hot air balloon made of paper, propelled by a small fire)…

* Dancing till the wee hours of the morn (for which I didn’t stay)…

* Coffee, juice and croissants from about 9 a.m…

* Buffet brunch served till about 1 p.m…

* Afternoon at the pool…

It was a perfect 28 hours. Except for a bit of technical difficulty during the presentations, and a bit of confusion at the end of the laic ceremony when the bride and groom forgot to parade back down the aisle so we could shower them with flowers again…it all went perfectly smoothly and efficiently. Still, I wonder why France pushes “the boundaries of post-marriage family formation” more than most other nations?

For a country that is largely Catholic, the open-mindedness of the number of unmarried families might be surprising. Is it because getting legally married is a mass of red tape? Maybe it’s just too much work? The couple must be resident in France 30 days + 10 days more just to sort out the paperwork, proof of which is provided by utility bills in the name of the two parties, not always so easy to accomplish. The application for marriage must be received by the Mairie at least 10 days prior to the wedding. Documents must be endorsed by and Apostille Stamp. If the original birth certificates are not written in French, then a certified translation must be provided. A religious ceremony isn’t legal — one must have the civil ceremony first. Here’s a blow-by-blow description of what it takes to get hitched in France.

While the U.S. has similar requirements, in many states a marriage license can be received immediately. Some states, however, do have a waiting period of between one and six days. Nevada isn’t one of them. The Vegas.com website says that getting married is “Easy peasy lemon squeezy. No blood tests, no waiting period, no hassle. Just wham bam married ma’am.”

Yes, it’s romantic to get married in France. But, it ain’t so easy. Kudos to the happy couple!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Paris, France

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group

(the wedding outfit)

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