I’m officially turning 31 next month! Some of the things I get to look forward to in my 30’s are not just stocking up aggressively on anti-aging beauty products and ineffectively attempting to avoid the onslaught of baby product advertisements, but also participating in the top activity of my year…..wedding season bitches!
The average age of a blushing bride in the US is 28 and in France it’s 32, so I’m in the trenches when it comes to weddings right now. Lucky for me, I’m a lover of all things lurve. ♥ I get as much joy out of a sweet exchange of vows as I do from watching tiny micro-piglets chase each other on YouTube. I’m also 100% capable of crying tears of joy while watching an absolute stranger’s wedding video online, so when I know and adore the couple, my “kim kardashian ugly cry face,” makes it’s grand debut.
In total, I’ve been to a whopping 21 weddings and I feel like that alone gives me the right to shamelessly call myself an expert on the differences between French and American weddings. But, I’ve also recently planned and participated in my own Franco-American wedding, which has to up my professional credentials a couple of points. I think we should just call it what it is and move on. Wedding expert in the house, readers!
So pin on your favorite bow tie and slide into your tallest stiletto’s. I’m going to enlighten you on some of the most striking differences between French and American weddings. Ready? Set? Allez.
This is purely French. If you’re not interested in tying the knot the classic way, but you want the same rights (like tax breaks!) as a married couple, you can just get PAC’sd with your partner. PAC’s stands for Pacte Civil de Solidarite or Civil Solidarity Pact. Without getting too technical because that’s really not my forte, when two people sign a PAC’s contract, they are declaring a common life together, and are then given the same rights as a married couple. The only qualifications are to be over the age of 18, not be married or PAC’sd with someone else, and can’t be family members, because well, that would be weird. Honestly, it’s easy peasy. You sign the contract at the town hall in under 5 minutes and BIM, your PACs’d. Most people PAC’s in France when they don’t ever plan on getting married, when they are unmarried and buying property together or in the case of bi-cultural couples, they want to get a family visa for their foreign partner to stay in France and aren’t quite ready to commit to the marriage deal.
In France, the majority of couples getting married have two ceremonies. Those greedy little frogs. The first ceremony is the one that legal counts for the government and called the Civil Wedding (Mariage Civil). It takes place at the mayor’s (La Mairie) town hall in the city you live in or your parents live in. It’s a pretty quick, 30 minute, ceremony. The mayor talks for 2.5 seconds, the couple and their four witnesses sign a contract and then you can exchange rings if you want. All couples do this ceremony before the religious/non-religious ceremony, but it can be the Friday before the big day or months before, just depends on how much excitement you want in one weekend!
- Fun fact: When you get married in France, you get a Family Book (livret de famille). It’s got a lot of (useless) information about you and your partner, plus room for potential kid’s information. And, while it’s beautiful, it’s literally another document that you must NEVER lose and no copies will EVER be distributed and it will, of course, need to be shown to the government at the most inconvenient times. Three hoorahs for France’s oh so modern, non digital, administration.
Now onto the juicy details. The religious/nonreligious ceremony + the rager of a reception are traditions that both countries partake in with enthusiasm.
Well obviously, when you gotta throw the biggest party of yo’ life, you’ve gotta find a venue. In both countries, religious couples get married in the church with a reception afterwards and the non-religious couples rent a different location for both their ceremony and reception. The biggest difference for me in venues is that everything in the states is more or less modern give or take a hundred years and most locations in France are… not. If you get invited to a French wedding, it’s safe to assume at some point during the wedding you can admire the castle and pretend you’re a guest at Sansa Starkes wedding at Winterfell. I have of course been to breathtaking venues in the US, but let’s be honest, does anything really beat a FRICKEN’ CASTLE?
Officiants can be such a sweet, personal touch to American weddings when someone close to the couple gets to legally marry them. While you can see this similar “officiant role” in France during non-religious weddings, the officiant is not legally marrying them. The couple has already signed away their single status at the town hall during their civil ceremony. So while this is still sickly sweet to see in France, it doesn’t have the same legal significance as your American officiant signing your marriage license and legally declaring you a Mrs at your ceremony.
Bridesmaids vs Temoins
Oh la la. The dreaded bridezilla and her band of bridesmaids. Funny enough, this concept doesn’t really exist in France. French brides do have the equivalent of a bridesmaid with their tribe of “temoins” (witnesses). But from my experience, the temoins aren’t so involved in the stressful lead up to the wedding. They’ve got to organize the bachelorette party and be on point the day of the wedding. If we compare that to the expectations of the average American bridesmaid, pressure is off for the Frenchies. American bridesmaids should just be called “the bride’s personal bitches for a year,” because they are at the disposal of their soon to be ex-best friend for the entire time she is engaged. #noexceptions
The size of weddings in both countries can vary from the most intimate of celebrations to a high school reunion on crack. I personally thrive in both environments. #professionalweddingguest. However, in France, there is a shocker of a tradition that involves inviting people to only a part of the festivities. When you aren’t as close to certain people, but you still want them to be part of your big day (aka your parent’s friends) you can invite them to the ceremony and the cocktail hour, but not the dinner and dancing. I still can’t over this detail nine years later because it seems so offensive to say goodnight to certain guests when everyone moves on to dinner because they can’t come. I guess it’s pretty common in France and not seen as blatantly rude to your guests as I imagine, but I still cringe when we get wedding invites wondering if we won’t be invited to the best part of the wedding- the partaaaaay.
Both French and American weddings start late afternoon. The ceremony takes an hour max and then everyone makes his or her way to the cocktail portion of the soirée. This is about the moment when things start to differ timing wise. In the US, the cocktail lasts an hour, followed by an two hour dinner and then the dance floor starts raging at 9 pm. By 12 or 1 am the party shuts down, the exhausted couple hits their bed and the remainder of the party animals head to a bar together. Well, sorry to all the American’s out there, but the French made things a bit crazier. Their cocktail hour is more like hourssss and goes until 8:30 where champagne is flowing like tap water. Dinner starts around 9:00 pm. You then tuck in to a 5-course meal that takes approx. 4 hours at a speedy wedding. By midnight at the earliest, the music “for all ages” comes on and around 2 am the DJ switches to rap and you can twerk hard until 5 or 6 in the morning. And in France, don’t be surprised to see parents and grandparents still going strong into the wee hours of the morning. Apparently, only wussys go to bed before 3 am in France.
Speeches are always done during dinner in France. Not very surprising since you’ve got like 4 hours to kill and eating only takes so long with those tiny French portions. It’s only natural to fill the time with some speeches. In the US speeches tend to take place during a toast before or after the dinner. The most surprising part though is French speeches are really over the top. Think along the lines of power points, singing, dancing and theater performances. Surprisingly the US is way more laid back in comparison. Shout out to my sister who did a rap at our wedding to the tune of the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” I’d expect nothing less than fabulous from that chick, but generally I’d say that most wedding speeches in the states are funny, but less extra.
You can’t talk about France vs America without talking about desserts. It’s kinda what the French are known for, right? In the states, the most traditional wedding dessert is a cake. American’s are getting tired of the basic cake though and we’re starting to see doughnuts, cupcakes and even cakes made of cheese (so French, non?). But in all fairness to the simple cake, it’s the wedding tradition. In France, the wedding dessert is a pièce montée. A literal triangle tower of cream puffs with caramel drizzled on top and firework type candles shooting out the top. It was hands down a highlight of my French wedding. Those firework candles are so extra and the absolute spectacle kinda won in the dessert battle.
- Side note: The hardened caramel is not only decorative, it has an even more important job than tantalizing your taste buds. It actually holds all the cream puffs together. I’ve seen, on multiple occasions, the entire dessert fall apart because the firework candles heated up the caramel too hot and when it becomes liquid, it can’t keep the shape intact. Unless you want cream puffs rolling under your guests chairs: #BridesBeware
That’s all I’ve got for now folks. There are of course many other differences between French and American weddings, but I’m confident that I’ve brought you up to speed enough that WHEN the time comes to hold a French vs American wedding debate, you will slay it.
If you’ve got any differences to add that I didn’t write about, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! Vive l’amour my frenchified family! ♥