Monthly Archive for February, 2008

french weddings vs. american weddings

French Wedding TraditionMy husband and I were once at a wedding here in France when, around 11:30PM- just as dessert was being served, a couple mysteriously showed up and sat down at our table. I assumed that they must have had an emergency during the evening, and came to the wedding as soon as they could make it. After chit-chatting with them for a bit though, I realized that I had already spoken to them earlier during the day. I mentioned this to my husband, and he casually remarked, “Oh, they must have just been invited for the dessert” Me: “Um, WHAT?” Lui: “Yeah, Jean-Luc only works with Philippe, so they were probably invited just for the dessert”. Me (completely dumbfounded) “And they came????” Lui: ” Oh, you Americans are so sensible (sensitive)”

And that, for me, is one of the biggest cultural differences between American and French weddings. A typical American wedding is made up of a ceremony (be it civil, religious, symbolic or otherwise), a cocktail hour and a lunch or dinner reception that usually lasts around 5 hours. After living in France for so long, I’m even shocked by the abruptness of it all. The last wedding that we were at in the States, I felt like weFrench wedding invitations were out on the streets with our coats on before Leno’s monologue! When you’re invited to an American wedding, you’re either invited to the ceremony and reception, or, as is the case when the ceremony venue is very small, just the reception. A typical French wedding on the other hand, lasts all day AND into the next. It starts with a civil ceremony at City Hall in the morning, and is followed by a religious ceremony, then a vin d’honneur (a small cocktail reception), followed by a 4 or 5-course meal, and then dancing. The dancing often starts between dinner courses, in order to give guests a chance to work up more of an appetite! A typical French wedding doesn’t end until 3:00 or 4:00AM, or even later.

Now, here’s the deal: A guest in France can be invited to all, or only part of the wedding festivities- even JUST dessert around midnight, and they won’t get offended by it! If you were to receive an invitation to a French wedding, it would probably say something like:

M et Mme LeFrancais
ont le bonheur de vous annoncer le mariage de leurs enfants
Paul et Virginie
et ont le plaisir de vous inviter au mariage civil
ainsi qu’à la bénédiction nuptiale qui auront leiu
le samedi 2 décembre 2008 à 15 heures
en l’église St Paul de Vence
A l’issue de la cérémonie, un vin d’honneur sera servi
à la salle paroissiale …

That’s saying that you’ve been invited to the civil ceremony, the church ceremony, and the vin d’honneur immediately following the church ceremony in a small reception room at the church. In a typical French ceremony, pretty much everyone is invited to the above. OK, this is where it gets a bit funky: if you’re worthy, you will then have another card inserted into your invitation that says something like:

Paul, Virginie et leurs parents espèrent votre présence au dîner
qui aura lieu vers 20 heures au restaurant LaDida.
Réponse souhaitée avant le xxx.

That means that you’ve been invited to the dinner, with dancing to follow. SCORE!  Or, instead… you could receive a card that says something like:

M et Mme LeFrancais de vous recevoir pour le dessert,
le 2 decembre 2008, à partir de 23 heure, à la salle de Trucmuche

which means that you’ve only been invited for dessert. Blam!

The reasoning is, of course, that everyone gets to participate in Paul and Virginie’s joyous day, and La Famille LeFrancais isn’t left with the financial burden of feeding their entire arrondissement.

French Wedding TraditionsMy hang-up is this: what if you thought you were a Level One, Cradle to the Grave, Whole Enchilada type of belle amie, but then, when you ripped open your invitation, Oh SNAP- there was a Cake Card? What does that do to your friendship? How could you not be all frosty at the water-cooler the next time you see your “friend”? Wouldn’t you think twice before you tucked that 20€ bill into your Former Favorite Niece’s birthday card? How could you not spend the rest of the time before the wedding trying to dissect every conversation you’ve ever had in order to determine why you were Caked? How could you not look at your Former Favorite Work Friend laughing and joking with another co-worker and wonder if THAT girl got a Golden Ticket or not?

I’m certainly not slamming French Wedding Etiquette- like I said, French people don’t seem to mind this at all. Now that I think about it- maybe it’s not cultural at all- maybe it’s just my own insecurity? I’d be interested to know: If you’re not French, would you be offended (ok, slightly miffed, then) if you received an invitation to a wedding ceremony and cake, but not to the dinner? And if you’ve had a wedding in France, how did you handle this dilemma with your French family and guests (our wedding was small, so we invited everybody to everything…)? Am I being too sensible??

Hymne A L’Amour

In honor of Marion Cotillard’s Best Actress Oscar last night for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in “La Môme/La Vie en Rose”, here are the lyrics to one of the most heartbreaking love-songs you’ll ever hear (I swear, the story behind the song will leave you in a crumpled heap…)

Hymne À L’Amour - Edith Piaf

If the sky should fall into the sea
And the stars fade all around me
Of the time that we have known dear
I will sing a hymn to love
We have lived and reigned we two alone
In a world that’s hinder very own
With its memory ever grateful
Just for you, I’ll sing a hymn to love

I remember each embrace
The smile that lights your face
And my heart begins to sing
Your arm, the hands secure
Your eyes that said “be sure”
And my heart begins to sing

If one day we had to say goodbye
And our love should fade away and die
In my heart, you will remain, dear
And I’ll sing a hymn to love
Those who love will live eternally
In the blue, where all is harmony
With my voice raised high to Heaven
Just for you, I’ll sing a hymn to love

He unites all those who loved before…


French Wedding Menus Demystified, Part Deux: Gelée

get married in ParisThe first time I went to the North of France with my husband (he was just my boyfriend at the time), we were sitting in a restaurant with some of his friends when the menus came around. His friends started laughing and dared me to order the Potjevleesch- a dish that is particular to that part of France. I asked my beau/husband what it was, and he described it as being “some sort of cold meat in jelly”. To this day I don’t know why, but I had a vision of left-over Christmas roast with a simple daub of mint jelly next to it- so I ordered it. What I got was a pinkish-beige slab of mixed meats covered in what looked like solidified fat. Ah, my first brush with French gelée.

Which brings me to the next installment of my French Wedding Menus Demystified series: Gelée. The English equivalent of gelée is aspic- it’s a savory jelly that’s made of meat and broth that’s been cooled until it forms a jelly. From Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”:

“Calf’s feet and veal knuckles contain enough natural gelatin to make a stock jell by itself; pork rind helps the process. They are added to simmer with any of the stocks on pages 107 to 100 and will provide about 3 quarts of jelly.

Use either 2 calf’s feet OR 1 pound cracked veal knuckles AND 1/4 pound fresh or salt pork rind.”


In case you haven’t deduced it from previous posts, your American Wedding Planner in Paris may not be too handy in the cuisine, but she is aParis wedding bit of an epicurean (without the snobbish aftertaste that that term usually elicits). I enjoy haute gastronomie just as much as a cheddar bacon burger (I do hail from the “Hog Butcher for The World“, after all…) and will try just about anything that’s placed on my plate. BUT I really can’t stomach gelée. Even though things other than meat parts can be served gelée (vegetables, fruits, fish, etc.) there’s something about the overall consistency that really grosses me out. The French love it for some reason, and it can be found all over the typical French wedding menu, from the starter (Le Foie gras d’Oie fait par le patron sur un lit de gelée (home-made goose foie gras served on a bed of gelatinous fat), through the main course (Terrine de boeuf en gelée, (a terrine made of beef parts covered in gelatinous fat), and onto the dessert (Mousse pistache gelée de fruits rouge (a mousse made of pistachios and gelatinous red fruits).

I believe aspics were really popular in the U.S. in the 1950’s, but they’ve never gone out of fashion in France. I have to admit that most of the meat dishes that I’ve tried that have been served on (in?) gelée have been pretty tasty once I’ve discreetly scraped off the fat. I certainly haven’t written this post in order to discourage anyone from trying it. Part of the excitement of planning a destination wedding is the thrill of experiencing new things. Sometimes, though, you don’t want to go in blind- especially when it’s something as important as your wedding meal.