Saying “I Do” in Paris

Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-15Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-10

A well-documented drawback to traveling and living abroad is that you often miss big life events back home: birthdays, graduations, watching the popular girls from high school get fat.

But on the flip side, being an expat means being able to attend events in new countries, with new customs and traditions. The first wedding I ever attended was actually in Ireland, and earlier this year I celebrated another in the Philippines.

Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-12Marina's wedding by Expat Edna

So when my dear friend Marina announced her engagement, I was ecstatic: Destination wedding! In Paris! It gave me an excuse to fly back, as well as everyone else I knew during the golden age of my time in Paris. Most of us had moved away, but we returned to Paris en masse to watch Marina get married, because that’s what friends do. Weddings are the best.

So along with some of my favorite photos, here are some things I learned from this, the day of Marina’s wedding*:

(*name that movie)

Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-2Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-3Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-5

French weddings are small, civil affairs.

— The separation of Church and State is strong in France, so to be married, you have to have a civil ceremony with the local government official (we got one of the mayor’s deputies that day). Held at the mairie or town hall, these are small and intimate with just a few close friends and family in attendance (real estate is small in Paris, and the mairie is no exception).

They’re usually held in the morning, after which some couples will go on to a religious ceremony. Since Marina is having another wedding in her home state in the US, the Paris one was kept small and purely civil.

— You don’t get to choose the venue: it has to be a mairie in which at least one of the couple resides. (So if you live in the 16eme but adore the town hall of the 4eme, too bad.) Hence, how we ended up in the mairie of the 6eme, near the Luxembourg Garden.

— At the start of the ceremony, the official ‘presented’ the couple with great personal detail: “Jean Deaux was born 1 May 1985 in Toulouse, and works at the Louvre as a museum educator…” I could have applied for a bank loan with the information they were throwing out there.

Given that the French are known to dislike talking about what they do for a living and such ‘small talk’ details, I found this aspect surprising.

Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-4Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-6Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-7Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-8Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-9

But really, French wedding ceremonies are SO low-key. It’s like Relax City.

Instead of a bridal party, there’s witnesses. Instead of the day being about bridezillas and pageantry, it’s more about two sets of families and friends coming together and celebrating love.

So sweet and elegant.

Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-23Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-13Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-17Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-14Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-16Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-25

Post-Wedding Ceremony

— After the town hall, there’s a vin d’honneur. It’s like a relaxed mini-reception held nearby with bubbles and nibbles, and allows for everyone to mingle and toast the bride and groom. I like to think of it as an extended happy hour.

— Normally dinner follows this, but since the couple was off to their honeymoon later that afternoon, we had an extended reception and then followed it up with even more Champagne in the Luxembourg Garden. (If anyone knows how to keep the Champagne flowing, it’s obviously the French. I think I polished off a solid bottle or two on my own that afternoon.)

— Also, important to note: at French weddings, guests can be invited to different ‘stages’ of the wedding, depending on their proximity to the couple. The closest family and friends are invited to the ceremony, and it balloons out from there: reception, dinner, dessert and after-party (yes, you can be invited to just the dessert time of a French wedding!).

All this to say, I accidentally spent half an hour giving the stink-eye to a couple of strangers who I thought were mooching off the reception free flow and buffet — after all, they appeared out of nowhere and weren’t dressed up — only to find out that they were the groom’s coworkers. 

They had simply been invited to the reception portion, and there I was being Judgy McJudgerpants. Oops — sorry, M.

Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-21Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-20Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-19Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-24Marina's wedding by Expat Edna-22

Finally: You’re not allowed to sit on the grass in the Luxembourg Garden. You will get yelled at, even on your wedding day. Who knew?

Felicitations Marina and best of luck on your new adventures!

Have you been to a wedding abroad? Did anything surprise you? 

Lessons from an Irish Wedding
How to Plan a Wedding Abroad

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  1. How interesting! At first reading this, I was starting to think “how impersonal!” But then as I progressed…this type of wedding might be super awesome. No bridal party drama? Little drama in GENERAL? Everybody goes to the wedding for the afterparty anyway, right? ;) Thanks so much for sharing this experience. So cool! Congratulations Marina!

  2. I like that type of wedding. And of course, the bride has an amazing name, so it would be amazing. Names are powerful like that.

    Beautiful photos!

    I’ve never actually been to an international wedding. Yet. In January I’m in one in Zanzibar and this summer there will be one in Mexico. Which will be quite exciting. I am actually very sad that in my four years in this land I’ve never been to an Arab wedding… one day, one day.

    • Haha yes indeed, quite the name :)
      Thank you!
      Zanzibar sounds pretty cool as far as destination weddings go! (Well and Mexico, but you know what I mean.)

  3. I haven’t been to an international wedding yet but I do look forward to the day i do!
    I think weddings and food are two of the biggest ways to look into the soul of a country and really see their traditions because they vary so much from country to country! Love the idea of a having a small intimate civil ceremony and then a larger party afterwards because the only thing better than a wedding is two weddings haha! xo

    PS) Supercute photo of you snuggled into Joe! xo

    • Thanks! And yes, two weddings are definitely better than one! I’m bummed I won’t be making Marina’s Stateside wedding this weekend :(

  4. So fun! And the pictures are gorgeous. I haven’t been to an international wedding yet, but I really hope to some day. Weddings are the best, no matter the country.

  5. The Brits also do the tiered invitation thing, which really weirds me out! It seems strange to invite people to come after dinner, but I’ve been to multiple weddings in the UK where people are invited to either the ceremony and dinner, or the cake/dance reception bit! I remember Korean weddings also having really strange, to me, traditions – you don’t even see the bride and groom except for a photo op with the bride in a special room just for it prior to the ceremony, people chat through the entire wedding ceremony, there are often disco lights and dj FOR the ceremony, and everyone runs out to eat but with no inclusion of the newly married couple! Weddings are fun, haha x

    • Oh really? I had no idea, but as an American I’d feel so awkward trying to tell someone to only come for the cake! And thanks for sharing about Korean weddings, although chatting through an entire wedding ceremony? How different!

  6. Gorgeous pictures. Now that sounds like my kind of wedding. Super low key and just intimate.

    Do you guys not have guests in 2 categories in the US? Like ‘ceremony and reception’ guests and ‘just reception’ guests? That’s pretty common in the UK.

    • No, not at all! That’s so interesting, I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of that before.

  7. “Instead of a bridal party, there’s witnesses. Instead of the day being about bridezillas and pageantry, it’s more about two sets of families and friends coming together and celebrating love.” All of the best weddings I’ve attended or been part of have been like this! I was recently the maid of honor at my sister’s wedding, and I am so lucky that she is a very easygoing person and the least bridezilla-y bride.

  8. I love this post, because this is how MY wedding was! I’m American, and last April I married a Frenchman in France. We had to get married at an ugly town hall because that’s the town hall in the town where my husband lives (in a close suburb of Paris). We immediately went to a gorgeous park (the Parc de Sceaux) for photos, and then to the Vin d’Honneur at the house my mom was staying in. Followed by dinner at a restaurant across town. I had two witnesses, but nobody wore coordinated bridesmaid dresses (that’s seen as really weird here – “Why would you wear the same dress as someone else?! How unoriginal!”… LOL). The whole shebang was incredibly different from what I had imagined growing up, and yet it was incredibly enjoyable.