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??

48 Responses to “french weddings vs. american weddings”

  1. 1 Liene at Blue Orchid Designs

    I’d be a bit miffed too. Americans are hammered with an “it’s all about you, you are just as special as anyone else” self-esteem philosophy beginning in preschool. Good principles, but can set people up to be easily offended when something is suddenly NOT all about them!

  2. 2 lucy

    Ha! We are grappling with faire-part ettiquette for our anglo french wedding at the moment. I forwarded your post to my FH (Parisian) and I thought you might be interested to see the reply:

    I have heard of this although the “dessert only” version is pretty rare, at least in my haute bourgeoisie versaillaise milieu…

    It’s more common in the countryside when you feel pressured to invite the whole village to at least part of the wedding day, or they will never talk to you for twenty years. Also normally when you do this you make sure that there are separate venues for separate crowds so people don’t feel humiliated to not be invited to the next step. Like you invite absolutely everyone to the church (doesn’t cost much) and to a toast of cheap plonk (like Beaujolais from Super U) and crisps in the church yard/garden or at a crap venue next to the church, like a school yard or a car park… That is what you call “Le vin d’honneur” although there is no reason to feel particularly honoured to be invited to just that. After that, you move to the real venue with only the real guests and the crowd normally stays the same for the rest of the evening.

    There may be one exception when the parents don’t want to pay for the dinner of all the random extended buddies of their children and the said buddies are only interested in joining for the dance anyway so they show up at around 23.00 after the dinner. That happens often when the bride and groom are quite young, don’t pay a penny of their own money and are still in their hard-clubbing years (not like the sophisticated rich old farts that we are…)

  3. 3 Jaime

    That is SO interesting! Thank you so much for sharing the differences, I love learning about different cultures and their wedding traditions. As for being offended if I was only invited to cake, well…if you’re not that close with someone, I suppose it would be understandable. However, if 1/2 of the couple’s close friends got invited to dinner and 1/2 of their close friends only got invited to cake, then I think my insecurities would kick in…and wonder, “why?”.

    Keep up the great posts!
    -Jaime @ “It’s A Jaime Thing” :)
    (An American Bride…lol)

  4. 4 Jaime

    P.S. LOVE your blog…so I’ve added you to my blogroll! :) Cheers!


  5. 5 David

    My two cents:

    -Yeah, Americans are way too easily offended, that’s one thing.
    -Second thing concerning who gets invited to what at a French wedding…
    Whether you get invited to this part or that part of a wedding depends on the type of relationship you have with the bride and groom.

    The breakdown pretty much goes pretty much like this (will vary from one wedding to another)
    -Everyone is invited to the civil service. By everyone, I mean everyone. By law, the civil service of a wedding is a public event and is open to anyone. That’s the theory. In practice, city halls are not stadiums and most people don’t care about the weddings of strangers, so it’s mostly family and friends that attend the civil service, even though anybody invited to the wedding is formally invited to it.
    -The religious service, when there’s one. Usually, all the wedding party is invited there, whether they attend or not depends on their closeness to the bride and groom and how religious they are.
    -Then the cocktail reception. It really depends on how big your wedding party is, but for a typical “big” wedding, you invite pretty much everyone you know there, and pretty much everyone that is planning to attend your wedding will attend that part.
    -Finally, the dinner party. It also depends on big you want your wedding to be, but typically only family and friends attend that part, not co-workers, neighbors, your parents’ friends, etc.

    The “being invited just for dessert part” is a bit odd to me, but I can see that happening is the dinner is just for family, and the party that follows is more open…

    That, or they were wedding crashers. ;-)

    Also, as you mentioned, French weddings last all day and night, so it’s pretty common for the guests to take a break usually between cocktail and dinner, especially if they live close to where the wedding takes place.

    So, you see, whether you’re invited or not to the dinner doesn’t depend on random and mysterious factors but on the type of relationship you have with the couple (friends or family vs co-worker or neighbor usually).

  6. 6 Nicole

    Reading Lucy’s reply reminded me that in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where people often feel obligated to invite the ENTIRE town to a wedding in addition to an extended family that will number around 200, there is actually a similar tradition. Everyone goes to church and has a drink while photos are being taken. Then the family eats dinner and after dinner, all your friends show up for the party. Its often the same situation with a very young bride and groom just out of school with no money but lots of friends that they want to party with after a stuffy dinner with the family. I’ve been to weddings like this and actually, since everyone understands that it is too expensive to invite everyone to the dinner, I think it is generally no big deal.

  7. 7 Heather Morris

    So interesting…
    an issue that I see Brides deal with here - that has to do with ‘not hurting someone’s feelings’ is the number of bridesmaids they have…
    it’s become really crazy… I shot at least 5 weddings last year where there were 10 bridesmaids/groomsmen. In all but one instance it was because of the bride having a step-family and ‘needing’ to include everyone… I don’t know… a little balance someone???!! lol

    love finding the blog btw, combines my two cultures and my passion
    yikes, scary LOL


  8. 8 Octavine Illustration

    what an interesting cultural difference. i find that american weddings are too short, formal and stuffy. i love the idea of an all day, all night affair….but my, oh my, i would not want to deal with all this manners stuff. so confusing….

  9. 9 Ilona

    European Wedding Traditions,
    American Princesses….hold on to your pantyhose!
    A few very sobering facts about weddings! First of all, the good ones….it is true, the festivities last pretty much till last man standing… Traditionally the reception is being held at the grooms house, in a tent set up in the backyard…but i am getting ahead of myself… the wedding preparations stars about one and a half month in advence. The families are gathering at the brides house on every Sunday afternoon and the ladies are making pasta (handmade for the soup) and cookies (more about that later) the men are watching football game, smoke and drink… about a week before the wedding, the real cooking starts. A butchers is hired,and a cook. By this time the tent is set up for the reception and right next to it there is a kitchen tent. (Weddings are almost always in the summer time)or autumn
    On the wedding day, -after the young couple went to the civil wedding, the brides family gather’s at the brides house, the grooms are at the grooms…the women are fuzzing with their hair and clothes, the man are eating cookies,watching football, smoke and drink sometimes even some group singing and dancing takes place.
    Then the grooms family about 2 hrs before heads to the brides house, led by the Master of Ceremomies. At the gate they all line up and the MC start reciting funny (sometimes rather risque ) riddles. The brides parents emerge and the MC requests their brides hand in marriage. The blushing bride steps outside and greets the groom with a kiss and the parents say YES.
    After a brief drinking, eating dancing everybody heads to the church for the ceremony. A band traditionally follows the party and plays upbeat wedding music.
    After the ceremony, the party heads to the grooms house, on the street onlookers lined up and cheer for the young couple. The bride takes a huge plate and offers cookies, the groom offers wine to the crowd (yes, perfect strangers who heard the wedding music, just stopping by and get treated)
    During this time the band takes it’s place and start playing and dancing resumes. Meanwhile the hired help working in the kitchen like crazy and getting ready to serve the nearly 2-300 people.
    The MC anounces “Dinner is being served” by more riddles. He will continue to do this before every course. (5 courses, minimum) Interesting deatil, the bride and groom has a cake on their own, and so every family. Traditionaly, every family bring their own cake to the reception, at dessert time often the ladies go around and offer a slice of their care to the rest of the guests. (yes, you get to eat A LOT of cake that night)
    Then more dancing and singing… sometimes the kidnepping of the bride happens and the groom will have to jump thrue some hoops to pay the ransom for his bride…(meaning, make a complete fool of himself to proove his love) at midnight the young married couple dissapears (in the old days they went to “consumate the marriage) nowdays this is skipped, and they change clothes. Mostly they ware some traditional folk costum, and return as “man and wife” more riddles by the MC (the riddles are getting spiceier as the night progresses) more dancing and singing…
    As the morning aproaches, the cooks again get busy and start making the morning meal, as the guests are in need for a bit sobering up before their departure. This meal is just casual, more like dinner left overs and brandy (hair of the dog theory)
    The night ends with sunrise as the band keeps playing on the street, and the family bids farewell to the crowd leaving.
    So, if you made it this far in this blog, here are a few surprising facts to brides… The parents paying for the wedding, guess who makes decisions - The Parents. The mother of the bride even picks out the wedding gown. As far as the guest list… once again, 100 % up to the parents. Flowers, again, parents… the bride gets to pick her brides mades, but that is it. The parents also pick a few attendants. There is no maid of Honour, always, the Godparents are the people who get to stand by the couple and sign the papers, as their last traditional “obligation” towards their godchildren.
    The attendants… after they are chosen, they get to bring their date.. and yes, their date is part of the wedding party. They get to walk together down aile and sit at the attendant table. The bridesmaid dress is always pink with black velvet sash and flowers and ribbons in the hair . Therefore you don’t have to buy a new dress every time a frind gets married, you just pull out “the dress” and slip it on. (The wedding industry would hate this here!) As far as the guest getting offended…no, they dont. The whole world is invited. The ones who get invited just for dessert are people distant aquaintances, whom the mother of the bride bumped into at the stores the day before, so it wasd a casual, “Hey, drop in later and have cake with us” by midnight sometimes the crowd is close to 400…and they are all invited to stay for the dancing and morning meal .
    So, as you may see, weddings are not about spending the money, showing off the clothes, it is about togetherness, fun, laughter and sore feet….

  10. 10 Allen Simpson

    Well guys it’s all very well looking at French weddings but to understand them you have to look at a Scottish wedding. Remember the ‘Auld Alliance’ it was us Scots who taught the French how to party!! Big difference for us is that we all look forward to the bride and groom leaving, it’s only then that we can really let the kilts swirl and the lassies twirl.

  11. 11 Miss B

    I must be too ’sensible’, I would be horrified and crawl under the water cooler the next time I saw them. Do dessert people have send gifts? I would love to make some of my family members dessert only (is that wrong, am I a bad person???) Great blog!

  12. 12 kim

    Oh, Miss B- I’m right there with you! My husband says that whatever level (my term, not his) you’re on determines what gift you buy. Most of the time, dessert people know each other and will all chip in on a group gift. Me, I’d probably buy them some dessert plates or a cake cutter and have a silent giggle at my passive/aggressive “cleverness”…


  13. 13 Brenda

    American wedding customs are changing (and rapidly, I might add.) The last two weddings I was invited to, and the most recent one I was in, were all-weekend affairs. Friday night was a rehearsal dinner hosted by the groom’s family, to which all the out of town guests were invited, so instead of being for immediate family and the wedding party, it was close to 100 people. On Saturday, there was the wedding, followed by dinner, following by dancing, followed by a wedding breakfast at 2 a.m. when the band left. On Sunday, there was a brunch for anyone still in town, including the bride and groom, again a good 100 people. The bride and groom hosted the brunch.

    The all-weekend wedding has some great advantages: everyone gets to see everyone, and eventually everyone meets everyone. The bride’s family and groom’s family share some of the cost (although the bride’s family has the big expense) and then the bride and groom host their first party for their closest friends. Short weddings have become the exception rather than the rule these days.

  14. 14 Mai

    This is too funny, I was just telling my fiance about this great idea I had to invite only the close family and friends to dinner and have a ‘cocktail hour only’ guest list for neighbors and not-as-close friends, just like we do it in France… He was mortified! He said here in the US “we don’t do this”.

    Our franco-american wedding will be in the US in November and half the guests are from France. I am trying to come up with the best mix of both cultures to have the best party ever… but I think it will require some explaining…

    I am NOT going to the bars after dinner is over at 10pm. Instead I want to do it the French way, party all night and not take off my wedding dress until it’s time to go to bed with my new husband!!! Finding a venue that would accept music past 10pm as a BIG challenge, but we found it!


  15. 15 Aurore

    We had dessert guests at our wedding (paid entirely by our parents since we were still students) and they were people we knew socially who happended to be on holidays where we were getting married when we did…so we basically told them to join us for the party and a piece of cake.
    However we also have been invited to wedding ceremonies + vin d’honneur by “friends” and the brackets mean what they seem to: it does make a difference in a friendship when you realise you’re not a “proper” guest because…(generally, because we have children and they didn’t so invited their “partying new friends” instead). Other times it’s just because you’ve lost contact for so long you haven’t even met the bride or groom …
    One last thing: our last guests left our party at around 7am, complaining the DJ wouldn’t let them party any longer: true French wedding, memorable party!

  16. 16 Anders

    In Norway, this is regular practise. Best friends and family are invited to dinner, some more friends might be invited to dessert and dancing, while some friends (and we might even be close friends) are not invited at all. Oh well, maybe next time! But really, it’s nooo problem. The dinner costs about $150 per head, certain places have limited space, and while some people would like a huge wedding with a lot of friends, some want (or get) one with the closest family, and maybe a handfull of friends. No problem. :-)

  17. 17 Louisa

    I am sooooo confused!

    Ilona what part of Europe are you from? That sounds almost made up! Smoking and cookies every Sunday??

    I am from England and here we have the Church ceremony, followed by dinner, followed by the reception/drinks & dancing.

    If you’re close- close friends, family etc you get invited to all three. Work collegues, distant friends, relatives you don’t see (or don’t like!) only get invited to the reception part for drinks, dancing and usually some sort of buffet (a sort of “we’ve eaten all the real food, but here are some scraps for those of you we don’t really like”)

    Best wedding I’ve ever been to had two cocktail bars with waiters, a chocolate fountain (waaaaaay before anyone had really heard of them) ice sculptures and a fireworks display with personalised fireworks! They exploded into pink entwined hearts!

  18. 18 Jacqueline

    As a first time older bride, I love the “French Ceremony”. Being older, this fits us perfectly. My fiance has french ancestory and we have a few friends coming from over seas. Several suggested this type of wedding to us. We both work in the medical field, and we don not want to invite certain collegues.

  19. 19 Anne Wright

    Hi Kim,

    The more I read your blog, the more I think I will become an addicted member! :) And even though this is an old post, I thought I’d write a little something about it…

    I was in tears of laughter when I read this post! It made me think of discussions my hubbie and I often have about the France/England cultural differences- or, as the Maire that married us put it “how a Frog and a Rosbeef can make it work!”.

    I must say that I never heard of the dessert thing myself either, not at weddings I attended privately nor at ones I photographed… But I’ve seen many times that people are invited at the Ceremony, the Vin d’ Honneur and then the Dance/Evening reception.

    I don’t know if my opinion would count as a French one (after all I was raised by French-Dutch parents half in France, half in Holland), but I thought it was horrible to choose who went to the dinner and who didn’t. It’s not just friends you have to worry about, the hardest we found were colleagues: we socialised with some of my husband’s colleagues but not all of them! And what do you do about the boss??

    Whichever side of the invite I am, if there is no dinner card, I’ve got a knot in the stomach! I don’t think cultural differences take away the over-analysing bit: maybe it’s a woman thing?…

    And since I’ve done my share of Dutch weddings as well, here’s something that might shock you even more: In Holland, some people are invited to the ceremony only! Nothing else, Nada, or actually I should say “Niks”… But you’re not expected to bring a present (which doesn’t make much difference as I’ve seen 4 well-earning engineers invited to dinner put their money together to buy… 10 Euros total worth of tea-towels for their colleague of 5 years!)

    Ok, I think I’m going to read now the post titled “Does France need Martha Stewart?” and hope the answer is No- Martha Stewart reminds me of all the things I could do but don’t have the time to do… Big feeling of inadequacies!! :)

  20. 20 Cherie

    Am very glad I found your blog and site. I am researching for a friend as her son is getting married, lives & works in Paris, France (his family lives in Canada - non french).
    1st there is the Engagement Party in Dec 2010. The MOG needs to know the etiquitte.. G&B are paying for engagement & wedding.
    What is the etiquette for MOG and/or family? do you know of a site that can explain it?
    I am telling her that she needs to ask her Son to help her also. I am making a DVD movie of the happy couple, growing up & dating ect, with MOG taking it as an extra gift.
    Is MOG supposed to give gifts to Bride or her family? This will be first time meeting Brides family. Thank you in advance.. my friend needs help .. feeling like a fish out of water with the unknown. :) Cherie

  21. 21 Emilie

    What an interesting discussion! :) I’m French but I come from a French tiny overseas island called Reunion Island. Our habits are quite different over there: we usually invite all family and friends from the ceremony until dinner. We don’t “select” people for cocktail, cake or dinner because we think it’s a little bit offending. Some people might take 2 or 3 hours to come to your wedding only for a drink! I prefer not to invite people than to invite them only to a small part of the wedding and then tell me “ok you can leave now!”. That’s just my point of view! But I understand that French habits are not easy to change. :)

  22. 22 Susan Montgomery

    I live in the US, I will be attending a wedding in Vendee, France in July. The wedding will be in a church and the reception at a castle nearby. Is there a special dress code for this kind of wedding? I don’t want to insult anyone by under or over dressing.
    Also, like in England do they wear hats? Thanks for any imput you can give me.

  23. 23 kim

    Hi Susan,

    French weddings are kind of tricky, because it really depends on the background of the family, where the wedding is being held, etc. I posted about this a while ago on my blog. I hope this helps you!:

    Have fun at the wedding!

  24. 24 Cindy Petruccelli

    Wonderful information! I could use some help with ideas for a wedding gift. I’ve never been to a wedding in France and the only Frenchman I know to ask is the brother of the bride. What are some traditional gifts? Is it customary in France to give a cash gift? Thanks for any help.

  25. 25 kim

    Hi Cindy,
    The easiest thing would be to find out if the couple are registered anywhere and select a gift for them from their list. Otherwise, yes- there will be a designated spot set up for “les envelopes” (cash gifts). Have fun at your first French wedding (and wear comfy shoes!!)


  26. 26 Chelsea Myers

    Hi! My fiancé is French and I am American so I got the book Cultural Misunderstandings: The French American Experience by Raymonde Carroll. It’s a little out of date, but helped to provide insight and stimulate conversation. One thing that remains true (from what I can tell) is that the depth (or lack of) in French relationships are clear to parties involved. Americans tend to talk to just anyone and then feel free to go on about their business, but if you establish a good conversation with a French person based on genuine common interests be prepared for some expectation of continuing the friendship. (Ms. Carroll explains this so much better than I). From this perspective I can see that it wouldn’t be offensive or hurtful for one to only be invited to the dessert since they already know and are comfortable with where they stand in relationship.
    Thanks for the post by the way! I’m increasingly concerned about offending my future in-laws and am trying to understand all I can so the likelihood decreases (although it’s bound to happen at some point, no?)

  27. 27 Teresa

    I’m portuguese, from Portugal (between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean, lol).
    Our customs here are quite different from french ones.

    If we want to spend lots of money on the wedding ceremony (civil, religious, dinner, party) we usually invite all family, all friends, especial co-wprkers (because they are friends).
    If we only have a small amount of money to spend, then we only invite a small number of family members (only the ones we truly love) and our especial friends (and their family (children, husband or wife or fiancé) to the intire ceremony.

    Yes, we distinguish between special friends or family from others, but we invite them to the intire ceremony.

    The ceremony can be on a special restaurant or whatever or it can be on a big family house or we can rent a house with garden and do all the dishes (like a picnic).

  28. 28 Maud

    So weird to see that article and especially the part with the “dessert people” as I am french myself, as I live in France and went to numerous wedding without ever hearing of those “dessert people”. Usually you can be invited to the whole ceremony, coktail party and diner, or your participation will end after the coktail and before the diner.
    Co workers and neighbors for example will go home after the coktail and families and close friends will stay for the rest of the wedding. Really I think it must have been a really particular case and it is not traditional AT ALL to invite people just for the dessert… How strange.
    Sorry for the language as I said I am french.

  29. 29 Lee

    My son’s fiancee is from France. They will probably marry in the us and live here (the US) also. I am feeling like I would like to go and meet her family. It just seems like the thing to do. How do you think it would be received?

  30. 30 Meghan Doakes

    Perceptive view here. Are you certain this is the smartest way to look at it even if? My experience is that we ought pretty much live and let live because what one person thinks just — another person simply doesn’t. People are going to do what they want to do. In the end, they always do. The most we can long for is to highlight a few things here and there that hopefully, allows them to make just a little better informed assessment. Otherwise, impressive post. You’re definitely making me think

  31. 31 Kamie

    Thank you for your blog! I came across it looking for “traditional french wedding favors” for my upcoming nuptuals. I was born in the U.S., grew up in Canada and England and then moved back to the U.S. for High School. Anyway … it’s quite interesting to read this, I would LOVE to only invite certain people to certain courses but on the other hand I would hate to be invited to only certain courses. Somewhat odd!

  32. 32 Caro'

    Hhaha! I love the location being hold at Trucmuche!!! ;)
    And being French, I can only respond to your article by saying : People will get offended if they’re not invited at all. You don’t really want to spend your whole wedding day with your boss, and that’s why the Vin d’Honneur is here. Just to toast the newlyweds, and then, the dinner+party can begin! And as far as coming just for the party, it’s usually a money solution : the food being expensive, you invite your (not so close) friends to the party only!
    And don’t forget those Onion soup at 4am!

    ”Ils vécurent heureux et eurent beaucoup d’enfants”

  33. 33 Apollina

    Wedding traditions can be weird ! It is really true it depends on which social background the bride & groom are from, but also on where (geographically) they are from…
    Just to add my input to the US/FR knowledge of weddings, there is also one thing you might need to be warned of : in some weddings (especially in the north-west part of France) you may be asked to PAY FOR YOUR DINNER. How weird is that!?!
    People mention the price and the date by which the “cheque” must be sent to them in the invitation. For the last wedding we attended, my fiance and I had to pay 40€/head and so did most of the attendees (except family). Food was terrible and during the dinner there that “wannabe-DJ” who upset the whole crowd by shouting “whoop whoop” every 10 minutes.

    I guess I have found my very “anti-wedding” party !!! (Some say it is helpful to organize your own)

  34. 34 Reno

    Your story cracked me up, Kim. Really funny to read.
    You really set the point : there can be some intricate and complex wedding cards and strategy here in France, and we all heard stories about families having argument just by not getting together on the right strategy, or the right wine, or too small / too large attendance.. 2 main reasons as others said : 1. the money thing 2. the traditional obligation to invite EVERYBODY, from your boss to your neighbour to your last cousin (the one you never saw since.. his own wedding !) Hopefully time-are-a-changing.
    I heard that in rural Brittany, as my father told me, ALL THE VILLAGE (except the obvious enemies) was invited (200, 300 to 400 or sometimes 500 persons for the most cheerful people !) and, since rural brittany used to be a rather poor country, yes, people had to participate.. financially. Shoking in the first view, but, if the party is good ?

  35. 35 club penguin

    to the comment poster above, you are absolutely right

  36. 36 Sugar Daze/Cat

    When we were married in Paris 10 years ago and my mother-in-law explained to me that many of her colleagues, distant relatives, etc., would come to the cocktail and then would leave before dinner service, I just couldn’t believe my ears. This seemed like the rudest thing imagineable. I told her that she would have to be responsible for getting all these guests out of there. And you know what, as the cocktail hour ended and we were getting ready for the dinner portion, she gracefully moved from couple to couple inviting those who were not staying to gather their affairs and move along to the door. No one (besides me!) was in the least bit offended and all it worked out quite smoothly. Only in France, folks! :)

  37. 37 Chris


    I can understand this shocks you, as you are not used to it.

    I am preparing my own wedding here in France and since my husband’s family is “really huge”, we cannot afford to invite everyone to the whole reception. So we decided to invite the cousins and nieces to dessert only. People are used to it and not offended at all. It’s a way of uniting the whole family and dancing and having fun for the rest of the evening/night.

    At my sister’s wedding in Belgium, the same thing happened for a number of colleagues of her and him. They were invited for dancing after desert and didn’t even share desert with us. There were small sandwiches served for all during the night.
    No one was offended.

    You can see it from another point of view : eventually they’re happy to be invited, even if it’s not for the whole reception and lunch.

    Cheers !

  38. 38 Nicole

    Very interesting, the differences in wedding tradition. In western Canada weddings often go into the early morning hours, although often the bride and groom leave earlier. I know that in my extended family, anyone would be mortified to invite someone to only come for dessert. It would be considered very insulting and strange. If the family cannot afford to invite everyone for the whole event, then they sometimes offer a pay-bar, where people purchase most of the alcoholic beverages, except the wine that goes with dinner. When this happens, people usually are not too happy about it…:), but they get over it, and the ‘bar’ is not for profit, simply to cover costs. Generally, the idea with the western prarie wedding is to invite all, to be able to see old friends and family once again and to give everyone a good time. However, times are changing and in recent years it does seem that sometimes the wedding is more about putting on a show, to prove status, rather than wanting to have a really enjoyable event.

  39. 39 Melisaa L

    Kim, I too find this odd, but understand why it is done. Although chosing the lucky ones who get to attend all events could be tricky. Personally I wouldn’t want to invite some to the dessert only! But when youave only a fixed number of places for guests, and you WANT to invite twice that number…it is a solution. What we are doing in order to avoid that is we are having an event in September (3 months after the wedding) for guests of my in-laws that are getting left out of the main event. And this will be a nice little cocktail at my in-law’s place.

  40. 40 Gai Spann

    I think that is one of the most interesting things I have ever heard regarding the difference in culture. My very good French friend got married two years ago and I didn’t find out about it until I saw pictures on Facebook! She had said I would be the demoiselle d’honneur. She has said the civil ceremony is not the “real” wedding and that she will have some other affair where I will be the demoiselle d’honneur. Have you heard of this?

    I live in Brooklyn and I would gladly have traveled to her wedding no matter what…I couldn’t help but feel slighted especially since she didn’t even tell me about it at all.

  41. 41 Mademoiselle Slimalicious

    I’m a French expat living in Australia. I’ve been living in England, Japan and now Sydney for a total of 6 years and only just got engaged. Over the years I realise how many difference there are around engagement and wedding between France and anglo-saxons countries. It’s scary! I’ve explained it all to my Australian fiance over the years but still some things surprised him and others surprise my parents (ie: why would you even want to get married to start with!?).

  42. 42 Joe Tenn

    The French seemed to have figured things out :) Love PARIS, Love France, Love the lifestyle! and love your blog!

  43. 43 Priscilla

    Hi Kim,

    Great post and so interesting…I had no idea! I am no way commenting on what I think since I am sure I would be too wrong, but I wanted to say that I love you exposing us all to different ways to look at it and I’m loving all the comments from others.

    I look forward to the book being officially out. How cool?!


  44. 44 Valentine - french wedding planner

    Hi everyone,
    As a french wedding planner, I can testify this is not so easy on the french side either !
    There are some french guests taking badly the fact to get an invitation just for the dancing or the dessert. I have seen longtime friends parted because they only got a “cake or dancing invitation”.

    It’s true it’s difficult to get “two levels” of guests in your vin d’honneur if you have it on the same venue. Imagine yourself saying to people you’ve not invited to the lunch (as we call it in France) that they now have to leave the place as “regular guests” will now enter the venue for the meal :) In those cases, the vin d’honneur lasts longer so that those “part-time” guests will have time enough to talk to the new wed couple as much as they need.

    I have often also seen, guests invited only for the night (coffee, cake or dancing), waiting like two hours outside the venue because the lunch was not finished.

    I usually advise my couples to reduce the number of their guests and to have everybody staying for the whole reception, if possible.
    It’s sometimes better to get fewer decoration items on the table to save money and be able to invite whoever you need freely for your reception.

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