Ahh…a Parisian wedding. Very romantic, n’est-ce pas? Mr. Hall and I passed over our own respective countries and decided to get married here in the city where me met and are now living. Here are a few tips for giving your own wedding a Parisian touch no matter where you live, and also a few pointers if you’d like to take the leap here in the City of Light.
La Touche Parisienne One of our New York readers asked how she could create a French atmosphere at her wedding. She is on the right track with her idea to use Monet’s gardens in Giverny as inspiration for her garden reception. Flowers are always the best decoration at weddings. Some of the more popular wedding flowers in Paris are Stephanotis (those pretty white flowers that smell divine, and look great in the hair), and hydrangeas, which come in beautiful shades of pink, blue and lavender. Other French inspired decorations could include good quality postcards of French monuments or French artists’ works, grouped in small frames or hung in a montage or mobile. Signs and seating markers could be made with the Paris street sign design (the very district green and blue signs). [sign.gif] For a more classic look you could use the old Belle Epoch posters and Art Deco font to decorate tables and menus. Instead of giving tables numbers, why not use the names of French cities or famous French artists and writers? The French weddings I’ve been to tend to be very subdued in the decor area, except for the flowers and the sugared almond favors (called dragées), of which they go all out. They come in every imaginable color, and are wrapped in matching tulle and tied with a ribbon. They also can be put in paper cones which are engraved, placed in the center of the table in a large bowl, or put in tiny individual gift baskets that little girls love (the size of a shot glass). At one wedding, the favors were the small silver frames used as place markers (each of the guests’ names were hand calligraphied).
The way to a guest’s heart is through… If all of this seems a bit much, you can skip it and go right for the heart and soul of the French wedding: food and wine. Nothing will make your reception more French than a good menu. You could go for the whole five-course meal including the wonderful little sorbet palate cleanser and six types of cheese. Look for a caterer who specializes in French food. If you’re looking for something a bit more simple, stick to a buffet of cheeses, meats and good breads, a creative French salad, and the big topper: the Croquembouche. This is a traditional French wedding cake of profiteroles and caramel piled into a tower, available in various designs to suit the style of your wedding. Again, you may need to locate a French pastry chef for one of these, or you may have to order one on-line. Add the best wine and Champagne you can afford (try buying direct from a distributor), and little cups of espresso after the dessert. Another French tradition you can copy is the post-reception Onion Soup. It’s a wonderful treat to end the evening with soup and bread after a long day, especially for those loyal friends who stayed to help close up!
All French songs are Love Songs
Well, maybe not all of them, but you’ll certainly have a lot to choose from! For the ceremony, try the music from the 17th century wedding of Henri IV & Marie de Medics. For the reception, music can make or break the atmosphere, so if you pass on the live French quartet (always with the accordion), choose your DJ selection carefully. Edith Piaf is a bit too sorrowful for a wedding, so try to stick with someone more upbeat like Francis Cabrel, Jaques Brel, or the Sinatra-of-France: Charles Aznavour. A lot of popular artists have done songs in French, including Sting, Cole Porter, and even Billy Joel.
Forget the Dollar Dance If you want to throw a little French tradition into the festivities, consider auctioning off your garter belt. Your husband removes it, and the highest bidder gets to put it back on. The money goes towards your honeymoon (Lune de Miel).
Tying the Knot in Paris If neither you nor your better-half-to-be are French, getting married in Paris requires a bit of hoop jumping and medical poking. First of all, you cannot have a religious wedding ceremony until you are legally married in your local Town Hall (Mairie). While your embassy or consulate can give you some advice, it’s the Mairie which tells you what papers are required, which medical exams you must take, and how long the public Bans must be posted before you can be married. Unfortunately, they vary slightly from one Mairie to the next, so you’ll have to resign yourself to multiple trips before you have gathered all of the appropriate papers. In general, you will need: proof of single status (and at least 300 days since a divorce or widowhood), medical exam less than two months old, birth certificate translated and notarized, valid passport, proof that you have been living in France for at least 40 days, a marriage contract, and the identity of your two witnesses. The religious ceremony requirements depend on your own place of worship. There are a few Anglophone churches, cathedrals and temples in Paris if you prefer to go that route. French establishments generally wish you to be a member of their Parish before they’ll perform the ceremony for you. Having said that, Mr. Hall and I were married in the French church just down the street, by a very kind priest who agreed to do the ceremony in English (it added a lot of humor to the day!). Do what feels best for you, and don’t forget, if you’re Catholic, that you will need to attend Pre-Cana courses in France.
French wedding links Here are three links for Parisian brides-to-be. They’re all in French, but you can still browse the photos of the wedding gowns and dream…The Salon du Mariage at the Corousel du Louvre is over for the year, but their site still shows the gowns (defiles) and links to the vendors and services. The Grande Magasin Printemps’ Boutique Blanche is practical site full of tips to help you plan your wedding and create your gift registry. Another wedding expo, the Virtual Salon is helpful for the vendor and services links.
Tati is a discount kitsch-type store in France that has its own wedding boutique ranging from simple to tacky, with plenty of decor and favors, and Soleil De Miel is a French honeymoon site. If you’re in Paris for a long time, stay on the lookout for the biannual Salon du Mariage (we found our reception hall this way), and the bridal exhibits at the Grandes Magasins (Christian Lacroix bridal gown, anyone?).
If you have any of your own French wedding tips or questions, send them in!
This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’ve republished them in autumn 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris” Broken and dead links have been updated or deactivated, but otherwise the article remains unchanged.