These days, most couples who plan a destination wedding with small children as guests try to create a kids table of activities, or at least a goody bag with toys to entertain the little ones during the reception. This a thoughtful way to help both the children and their parents enjoy the evening. But while these activities are great for kids who are older than 3, what most people who don’t have children themselves don’t realize is that these types of activities really aren’t very useful to under-3s. Toddlers are too small to sit at a table unsupervised. They’re more likely to eat the crayons than draw with them. Plus, many traditional goody bag toys like figurines, cars, etc., are choking hazards to children under 3, so those are out too. So, when you accept an invitation to a destination wedding, you should assume that it’ll be up to you to entertain your own little one if you plan on having any fun yourself. In order to help you get the most out of your Paris destination wedding experience, I’ve created a little list: The American Wedding Planner in Paris’ Top 5 Tips to Survive a Destination Wedding in Paris with Small Kids.
1. Bring a travel booster seat. Actually, this is a good tip even if you’re not going to a wedding during your Paris trip. Paris doesn’t really “do” high chairs, and while occasionally you’ll find a restaurant with one or two chaises hautes (high chairs), it definitely is not the norm. I’ve seen jet-lagged, stressed-out moms literally break down in tears when I’ve told them that the venue didn’t have a high-chair for their child. Don’t be that mama- bring a booster seat. Since most Paris cafés have bistro tables with pedestal legs, the boosters that strap on to the seat of the chair work better here than those that clamp on to the table.
2. Bring Lots of Snacks: Parents of toddlers usually bring their child’s favorite foods with them when they eat out, but keep in mind that French weddings are all about the dinner- we’re talking 6 or more courses over just as many hours. Of course your toddler doesn’t have to sit at the table with you all that time, but a great way to occupy them while you sample a few of those courses is to have small finger foods like Cheerio’s or crackers or something on hand. Again, this isn’t something that French restaurants or wedding venues will have, so it’s better to bring your own.
3. Pack and Play: By now you know that traveling with toddlers means bringing lots and lots of gear. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is (I swear it gets better after they’re 6). If you can manage to squeeze a pack-n-play into your check-in luggage, it would make your Parisian wedding experience go so much smoother. Since French weddings tend to last until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, your kiddo will have a safe, comfortable place to sleep while you dance the night away. If you just can’t swing bringing a pack-n-play with you, consider buying an inexpensive one once you’re here, or renting one for the day from an agency like Kidelio which rents baby equipment in the Paris area.
4. Find a Friend: One thing that I love about our annual visits home to the States is how well our children are taken care of when we’re out in restaurants. You get high-chairs, and crayons with kiddie place mats, and a waitress who gives you hugs and calls you “hon”. If you need a bottle or jar of baby food warmed up, it’s always “no problem”. See, in Paris, you don’t really get so much of that. It’s just not part of the culture. So when you arrive at a wedding reception in Paris, don’t be surprised if all of the waiters don’t hop to attention and start fawning over you and your child. So, rather than coming in and asking (in English) for a high-chair or bottle-warmer, I suggest that you scan the waitstaff until you see someone who seems to be a bit warmer than the rest, and who probably has children of her own. Then, wait until your child is particularly calm (the French love a child who is “sage“), and in your best “indoor voice”, ask for your bottle to be warmed, or an extra spoon, or whatever. When you get the help that you need, go out of your way to say thank you and let her know how much you appreciate her helping you out. All done discretely, in near-hushed tones. If executed correctly, you’ll swear that Mary Poppins was working that wedding.
5. Hire a childminder: If you really want to enjoy yourself at this wedding, you should consider hiring a childminder for the evening. Now I’m not saying that you have to leave your baby in a hotel room with a stranger in a foreign country. I’m suggesting that you hire a babysitter who will take care of your little one with you at the wedding. Ask your hosts if you can purchase a meal for her (this will typically be a lower-priced, “menu service“- the meal that the dj, photographer, etc., is served behind-the-scenes.) Also, see if there are any other parents who may want to split the service and cost with you. Most hotel concierge services in Paris will be able to arrange an English-speaking childminder for you, or you can try Babychou, a Paris-based babysitting agency.
A quick trip to the corner bakery with a toddler can be pretty trying at times. Traveling thousands of miles to attend a wedding in a foreign country with a toddler is nothing less than a noble feat. Hopefully these few tips will help to make your time in Paris that much more enjoyable.
-parisian party, 2008