My 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 we 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.
My 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??