A wedding is always a joyful occasion. However, it can also be intimidating if you are not very familiar with the culture. After all, you don’t want to commit a faux-pas in front of all of your friends and their family! Although French weddings may seem familiar in some respect, some of the customs may surprise you.
Whether you want to be ready for it all or you want to incorporate some French wedding traditions to your own big day, here is everything you need to know about weddings in France.
You are invited…
Congratulations, you have been invited to a French wedding. You have received an engraved invitation in the mail, now what?
The good news is that you do not need to RSVP to the wedding ceremony itself. However, you might be one of the happy few to find a smaller card in your invitation, requesting your presence to the wedding dinner. If it is the case, you will need to let your hosts know if you will be joining them or not.
French weddings often include a large number of guests, and everybody is invited to the following cocktail hour. However, unlike in many other countries, only the closest friends and family are invited to the wedding meal. Don’t feel left out if it is not the case.
What should you wear to a French wedding?
The French tend to dress fairly conservatively at weddings, so leave your club-ready attire at home. A little black dress is perfectly acceptable, but a white one will be frowned upon.
Ladies are welcome (and often encouraged) to done fascinators and Derby-style hats. The fancier the wedding, the more likely it is that hats will be around.
If the wedding takes place in the family's castle, for example, it is the perfect occasion to adorn that fancy hat you never had an opportunity to wear.
Men usually wear a suit and tie, although bow ties are becoming more common.
Other things you need to know about French weddings
Useful Vocabulary for French Weddings: Part 1
Repas de noces
RSVP - Repondez S’il Vous Plait
Liste de marriage
Enterrement de vie de garçon/de jeune fille
witnesses (equivalent to groomsmen and bridesmaids)
flower girls and ring bearers
The big day
French weddings often take place over multiple days.
France has a rigorous separation between the church (predominantly Catholic) and state. A wedding cannot be celebrated if it is not recognized by the state first.
To be legal, a wedding must be celebrated at the town hall by the mayor (or his assistant). There is no way around it.
This usually short ceremony often takes place the morning of the wedding, before the bride and groom head for a “big” celebration. However, due to logistics, it can also be celebrated in the days or weeks preceding the wedding celebration.
The bride and groom exchange vows, sign the registry and receive from the mayor a booklet that will follow them for the rest of their married life: the livret de Famille.
It is a public celebration, and the door must remain open during the ceremony to allow anyone to object to the wedding.
After this legal ceremony, the bride and groom are officially married, but the overwhelming majority of couples choose to celebrate their marriage in a second, more personal ceremony.
Although secular celebrations are a growing trend, most couples opt for a church wedding (usually Catholic) even if neither of them is particularly religious.
The groom often escorts his mother into the church, followed by the children of the wedding party, and, finally, the bride and her father.
Traditionally, the bride stands on the right and the groom on the left, with their respective guests sitting accordingly on each side. However, the tradition is disappearing.
At the end of the ceremony, the bride, the groom, and their witnesses sign the church register.
The newlyweds are greeted at the church’s exit by their guests throwing rice, or sometimes flower petals or confetti.
Useful Vocabulary for French Weddings: Part 2
Livret de Famille
the wedding rings
Following their grand exit, the newlyweds lead their friends and family towards the reception location, all honking loudly along the way.
Reception venues vary widely. Some couples may splurge on renting a lavish castle, but it is also common for simpler weddings (or for those with a more limited budget) to hire common rooms that can be found in most villages in France.
A long cocktail hour (or more accurately, hours) follows the church ceremony. All the guests are invited, and a very hearty fare is usually served. French weddings last for a very long time, so pace yourself! The wedding dinner itself is reserved to select guests.
During the dinner, the witnesses, friends, and family of the happy couple often prepare elaborate PowerPoint presentations, describing the youth of the newlyweds with an abundance of embarrassing anecdotes.
Others give speeches, and the bride and groom themselves may hire entertainment for their guests. In between dishes, it is not uncommon for the newlyweds to take part in more or less embarrassing games organized by the witnesses.
Croquembouche and champagne
Dinner is a lengthy affair that often starts later in the evening and doesn't end before 11 pm or midnight.
The traditional wedding dessert is croquembouche, a monumental tower of puff choux stuffed with cream, held together by caramel and elaborately decorated.
Some couples now choose to bypass the dessert and offer similar towers made of macarons or other small cakes to their guests instead.
Champagne, of course, hold a particular place. It is often the object of a ceremonial, like presenting being cut open with a sword or served in a pyramid.
The traditional favors to French weddings are almonds coated in sugar sometimes called Jordan almonds in English-speaking countries.
However, newlyweds nowadays often choose to offer a local specialty from the region the wedding is taking place in, or that is of particular interest to them instead.
Time to Dance!
Dancing usually doesn’t start until late in the evening. The bride and her father, followed by the bride and groom, open the ball and the party often lasts until the early hours of the morning.
The bride and groom sometimes offer their guests an invigorating feast of onion soup towards the end of the party, although a more modern fare like pizza sometimes replaces it.
Sun’s up! Is the party over yet?
As you finally head home, or towards your hotel, as the sun goes up, do not think that the party is over yet. It is not uncommon for the happy couple to invite their friends and family to an informal wedding brunch, a few hours from now: a great occasion to open those last bottles of wine and champagne leftover from the party!
Useful Vocabulary for French Weddings: Part 3
Salle des fêtes
reception room which belongs to a town
Soupe à l’onion
brunch after the wedding
There you have it, a traditional French wedding. What aspects do you find similar to your own country’s wedding traditions? Do share with us in the comments!
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