Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Confessions of (Hating) a French Wedding

Dah-dum-dum-dum (here comes the bride)...wrong song for France. It was in fact, "We were in Paris, to get away from your parents," by the Chainsmokers  that dredged forth the memory of my first Parisian wedding, maybe it was my first French wedding ever. In my case, the desire would have been to flee Paris to get away from parents, aunts, uncles, cousins...but the people were not the problem. The people were extraordinary. But it was late. I happen to be a "couche-tôt" or a morning person who wilts after 10 pm.

We had arrived by train from Toulouse, my chéri and I. His uncle, groom of the following day, picked us up at the station to take us to his mother's house, stopping to run an errand on the way there. We were miles from downtown Paris, out in the woods, when Tonton Bertrand stopped the car at a tall gate and gave us his signature, insider-joke smile, not quite sheepish, but drole. "My friend runs this, but only in the summer. Don't worry, there's no one around at this time of year." I looked up at the sign high over the gate, "Colonie Naturiste". I looked back at him, perplexed, although the words sounded familiar, the translation did not sink in right away, "Nature Campground"? Bertrand's big laugh made its way to the surface, "nudiste, quoi." Nudist. Right. But no one is home. I got out and peeked around cautiously but curiously, over and around the hedges. It was not warm, but maybe there were spring nudists?

We were just stopping by to borrow a punch bowl or some such, then it was back to Paris to say hello to the future bride and the baby girl in her crib. This is not typically French. Typically, one waits until there are two children and the tax break really becomes hard to pass up for a married versus a non-married couple. Unless you come from a very traditional family, in which case, one marries before the babies come along. 

The wedding itself was the usual visit to Monsieur or Madame the Mayor to sign the official paperwork, fifty or so people crowding into the town hall; all marriages must take this step to be legal in France, no music involved. After that many couples go on to a church for the short version of a Catholic wedding ceremony, no mass, the French do have some good sense.

There are two receptions often in France, the first one, that might take place right in the village square outside the church, or in the same place as the second reception, but outside, not inside where the table is laid for the wedding feast. The first one is drinks and appetizers, served by waiters with trays moving among the guests, "Madame? Another duck heart wrapped in bacon?"  It can take awhile for all those not invited to dinner to stop drinking champagne and clear out, thus, a second location can be a good solution. At our own wedding, the darling, sociable, champagne aficionado of a mayor was the last to leave Part One. 

The dining part seldom begins before 9 or 10 pm, by which time, I am already fantasizing about brushing my teeth and heading to bed. Course after course after course, then cake, then, dancing. By 1:00 am, I am really, truly, finished with the whole thing and I would love to go home. But the family is here, it is a celebration, and we are guests, here to take joy in this new union, so let's dance! 

I am the first one to remark how sad it is to attend an American version of a wedding, where the venue is booked by the hour, not by the night. An occasion this important deserves at least a night and day of coming together for this fresh new unit of society, this lovely addition to our community. Their new and public promise to each other, if respected, encouraged, and nurtured by all those who care about them, will have a lasting impact on the world around them as they raise a family or devote themselves to workplace and community, stronger together. They deserve more than three hours of our time.

And yet, by 2:00 in the morning, I am whispering to my own fiancé; "can we not abscond, please?" "Of course not, look, the waiters are just getting ready to pour the champagne fountain over there, let's go watch." I allow myself to be dragged to my feet, I smooth down my borrowed dress, royal blue, a terrible choice for France (the color of garbage collectors and custodians, not for dress-up), and follow. We gather to watch the champagne flow from top glass to the next layer of glasses and the next. "A toast to the happy couple!" 

"Off to bed?" 

"Stop, love, this is a party. Relax and enjoy yourself. Besides, we are staying with my grandmother and riding with my aunt, so we have nowhere to go until they go. Let's dance, mon bébé."

The lights were low, the conversation animated, too animated, and the music was thumping. I am afraid I became most unpleasant to deal with after this point, to my later chagrin. As long as one is dancing, no whining is happening, so I was kept dancing by positively everyone in sight.

As I mentioned, this was my first wedding. I had no idea that I would still be grumping about going back to a place where bra, heels and pantyhose could be shed for nice, cool sheets at 5 am, else I would have given in and given up the complaining hours before. For a community to come together and grow, there must be real time spent together. In the US, we do this via our kids' activities, ballet, sports, theatre. In France, they celebrate the whole family, with the whole family. It is lovely, and I would like it so much better if we commenced the activities at sunrise instead of moonrise. And oui, I will return for the very next wedding!