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Two countries, one big party, tons of cultural differences! Oh là là! Planning a Franco-American wedding, I've had a relapse in the culture shock that I thought was cured back in 2009. I know that each country does weddings their own way, but some of these differences have amazed even this seasoned expat.

It started back in January when a look of confusion and concern poured down the face of my future mother-in-law when I "announced" that we would not be offering the pastel-dipped Jordan almonds in tulle sachets as party favors. I'm sorry but who are these a favor to? Most of the time, these little candies are densely stale where biting into them could lead to chipping a tooth. No one attends a wedding for the favors, that's for sure, but I'd at least, like to offer something of use. My idea of a wedding meat pounding mallet - something everyone needs but more often than not don't have - was immediately vetoed. Diss.

After the ceremony at the mayor's office, a small cocktail reception followed by dinner and dancing will begin nearby at Aurelien's father and stepmother's garden. Sounds great, but what I didn't know about weddings in France is that the folks who are invited to the ceremony and cocktail hour (le vin d'honneur) are not necessarily invited to the dinner...which in our case, is at the same place. I shudder to think how this is going to pan out. So, what, we're all enjoying canapés and champagne cocktails, and then dinner is served and the b-list guests get shuffled out while the rest of us take our seats? What?! When running this by the French participants of the wedding, they looked at me with a shrug and gave me a "bah ouais". I'll be sure to make myself scarce when the expulsion takes place, because this to me just seems plain rude. Every person invited from my list is included in all of the events, but apparently the French pick and choose who is important enough to stay for the entire party. I've even heard of guests being invited to just dessert and coffee. Am I the only one who finds this a little strange?


Speaking of cocktail hour, last week, over drinks with a couple from Versailles, I shared the menu with the girlfriend. Big mistake. HUGE. So, in the States, cocktail hour consists of booze and savory nibbles like mini crab cakes, tuna tartare, and salty fare alike. Apparently in France, or at least to the Versailles girlfriend, this concept is outrageous because "no one" consumes savory treats at 5 in the afternoon during goûter

Goûter the French word for snack, which usually takes place around 4 in the afternoon. At this time in Paris, you will find children with either their moms or nounou noshing on something French and sweet like a pain au chocolat, petit ecolier cookies, madeleines, whatever. This idea apparently carries into adulthood because...

"This is not how we host a vin d'honneur in France," she said with her hand, surely for effect, gently placed over her clavicle. "No one eats shrimp during goûter, we only eat sweets like madeleines and fruit." 

Here I thought it was optional, but no, it's a rule: the French don't eat salty food for a snack. This explains why my little guys look at me like I am insane for wanting a piece of cheese after school instead of a pain au chocolat or madeleine. 

It's moments like these that I can't help but feel that American culture gets dismissed. Not wanting to entertain the battle of the cultures, and to lighten the mood because our cocktail hour idea seemed to gravely offend her, I assured her that the wedding will be French enough, because "Alexandrie Alexandra" has been added to the playlist. 

She didn't laugh.

Good thing, Aurel and I understand the importance of compromise and have met in the middle with all of our ideas and planning. For cocktail hour, we're going to do both salty and sweet. The Jordan almonds will make their appearance on the dessert table, and the Versailles couple will be sitting next to the kitchen by the speakers. 

But really, after a few drinks who cares? As long as cocktails are flowing, there's enough to eat, the music is good and my mom doesn't give a speech in French like she has been threatening, what more can you ask for?

40 comments:

  1. this is too funny! i've never been to a french wedding but have heard a lot about them! i never expected anything less than compromise from you both... meant to be is what that means! and this just made me LOL so much, "The Jordan almonds will make an appearance on the dessert table, and the Versailles couple will be sitting near the kitchen next to the speakers. " I looove it. That's what they get for dissing our savory apps!

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    1. The planning has certainly been an experience. I don't remember ever being so opinionated about another couple's wedding! The feedback we've been getting has been a little shocking, but also really entertaining. You're about to experience your first French wedding in about a month! : )

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  2. This is too funny. You should place them next to the loo right by the speakers..

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    1. Hahaha, I should! I'm waiting to see major judgmental bitch face from this chick. She's going to hate everything because the wedding is by no means a classic French wedding...we're getting a little creative. So excited!

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  3. But really, after a few drinks who cares? As long as cocktails are flowing, there's enough to eat, the music is good and my mom doesn't give a speech in French like she has been threatening, what more can you ask for?

    this my dear is the bottom line..

    on my first trip to Paris we were having dinner at La Coupole when in walked a bride and groom and about 8 other people..they sat and ate and had a great time and I remember thinking what a small group for a wedding but they must have had the cocktail hour somewhere else and then dissed all the guests and only a select few went to dinner...to each his own..and i'm with you on the nut sacks...nobody EVER eats those things.

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    1. It really is the bottom line. An hour or so into the wedding, none of this will matter. I did a good job not going crazy over small details because I remembered (not too long ago) being a guest and as long as I had something to eat and drink, I was happy. So we're putting our focus into that.

      We went back and forth between hosting a party or an intimate dinner like the one you described. As much as we loved the idea of dinner, for once we wanted to do a big brouhaha. Seb and I never had birthday parties growing up (besides small family things), so we wanted to know what having a large party in our honor would be like. A wedding seemed like the perfect opportunity!

      Hahahahah "nut sacks". Ahhh! I saw them yesterday at my MIL's house. She's pretty set at having them at the wedding. At least it will be an optional offering. I hope you had a nice weekend, Deb!

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  4. Actually I was wondering about that when receiving your invite; if it was for the vin d'honneur or for the whole shebang. That's because I've been to a French weddings before (I was surprised myself!). Close friends of ours that were with us at the cocktail hour had to shuffle away as we entered the dining area.. it's prob. the biggest difference with French/American weddings (well, that at the fact that French weddings last far into the AM). Now, when invited to a wedding here, my first question if it's for the dinner or for just the cocktail hour.

    Ughh.. that Versailles chick would p me off as well! (by the way, there weren't madeleines, fruit nor anything that sweet during the vin d'honneur that I attended here. We were mostly boozing away, and I'm pretty sure the hor d'oeuvres were savory!).

    Jordan almonds.. Hmm, maybe that's a Northern thing; 'never seen them here.

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    1. Yeah, there are a lot of people confused too. You're not the only one. Had I known that there are different guests lists, I would have had separate invites printed. I only recently found out, so I've been sending emails (or writing blog posts ; ) ) to friends clarifying that they're invited to everything.

      Versailles seemed irritated that she wasn't going to have her candy and cookies at "snack time", like she's 10 years old. We're starting with sweet and then going into savory. It'll just make things easier!

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  5. I think cultural differences are so interesting! In theory, I suppose. How confusing to have to navigate for such an important day! But, despite comments from the peanut gallery it sounds like you and Seb have found a way to be on the same page, and in the end, that's really all that matters. Having a good time at joyous occasions like your wedding will surely be is thankfully universal :)

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    1. Thanks Danielle! Oh the cultural differences have been in abundance these past few months. I learned that weddings (for the most part) are much more casual here and that us Americans really pull out all the stops. I'm trying to keep the balance, not wanting to overdo it American-style but not wanting to skimp on fun ideas as well as practical ideas that may cost a little more but will ensure a smooth running day. So much to consider! Ahh!!

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  6. Here we kind of have a couple of options:

    1. Everyone gets invited to the service, only some get invited to the 'do'

    2. Some go to the wedding and meal, and more are invited for a big evening knees up

    Since no-one's ever ventured near enough to me for either to be an option I have to decide over, I can't say what I'd do, but I suspect anyone I invited would be in it for the long haul lol

    PS, might have had to sneak a little arsenic into her madeleines ;o)

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    1. Great ideas! But I think we're just keeping it the way it is. Everyone on my list has been invited to everything on and the groom's list and his family, they can handle it as they wish. Apparently it's not a big deal at all. My FIL read this post and laughed. He doesn't understand the issue! I guess this is what makes the French so unique! Haha!

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  7. "and the Versailles couple will be sitting near the kitchen next to the speakers"

    That's my girl!:)

    I love these "but in France" comments in general. So if everyone jumps off a cliff in France, do you have to go too?

    There's 50 000 different ways of doing things, but the French way is the only VALID one... well, especially if that's how it's done in Versailles;)). Does she wear headbands?;)

    I think I would bake a special penis cupcake just for her table;))

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    1. Ugh..."that's not how WE do it.." is so annoying, especially when the comment is intended for a foreigner. I would never say to someone planning a cross-cultural wedding in the States that their ideas are wrong because it's not traditionally American. Even though I'll have nationality at some point, I'll always be a foreigner, an American in France and anyone who thinks otherwise is just fooling themselves. You are where you come from. : )

      Hahah no headbands but very expensive highlights. She so needs a penis cake!

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  8. I've never come across "cocktails only" but I've vowed if I ever get married not to invite anyone to the "ceremony only". Like yeah, come to the (more or less) free bit and bring me a present and then piss off? Nope!

    It just occurred to me I need to figure out what to wear!!

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    1. Hahahah right?!! Come to the boring sober part, give me stuff and leave! I find that so strange too! I never understood when people did this either.

      Any of your dresses will work. It's a garden party! Spring, happy, pretty, flowy, flowers - that's your inspiration. : )

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  9. Oh this was a delight to read!!!! You wrote many things that I thought while planning my Franco-American wedding!!! I didn't have a "Versailles couple" but I did have one person tell me that I had to plan a very formal reception so she could were her long gown that she really wanted to wear. It's amazing how everyone has an opinion on how YOU should plan YOUR wedding. We also had the battle of the jordan almonds... They did also make it onto the tables at our wedding, but were placed alongside our circus themed chosen party favor as well : a popcorn bag for bonbons at the candy bar and cracker jacks box. So everyone was happy I hope!

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    1. "I did have one person tell me that I had to plan a very formal reception so she could wear her long gown that she really wanted to wear."

      My God! What a healthy sense of entitlement!

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    2. Hi Melissa!

      Welcome! Thank you so much for your comment.

      Hahahah that's hilarious! Was she at least faux-kidding? Pretending to joke meanwhile you knew she was serious, or was she really requesting this? Either way, it's crazy!!

      Ok, so I'm not the only one having a Jordan almonds episode. Too funny.

      Circus theme!! How fun! How did the French receive it as it is very American to be so creative. We're working with a theme as well (to be shared later) which I think makes everything so much easier, it keeps you in one direction.

      Thanks for commenting and I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

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  10. LMAO! This had me rolling in laughter at work. I totally agree with your last paragraph though - as long as everyone (including you and Seb, most of all!) are having fun, who cares?! In the meantime, thanks for sharing the quirks of your wedding planning. They are just too funny.

    x Milsters

    (http://www.littlepiecesoflight.com/)

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    1. Hhaahaha I'm glad I got you laughing! It gives me great pleasure. : )

      Totally, as long as there is food and drink, everything else will sort itself out. No stress..weddings are supposed to be fun!

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  11. I find the idea that some guests are only invited for cake and coffee highly amusing. I would love to see how such transitions play out. Also, is the image at the top of the post your invitation? I love it.

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    1. Hi Elaine! I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds this custom a bit strange but I guess what comes with being an expat is that we just go with it, you know. Are the customs similar in Croatia? Have you attended any weddings over there?

      Yes, that's one side of our invitation. Printed by A la Carte Studio on Etsy. I'm glad you like it!

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  12. Well I guess the fact that you are multicultural gives you an excuse to anything YOU want. If it is different and non traditional, they will put it down to cultural differences!

    I England there as many different wedding cultural differences as there are regions and classes , so on my (last!!) wedding my attitude was "anything goes.it is My weddeing" Personally I find weddings where they try to stick to some sort of "rules" very boring. The best weddings are informal and full of surprises..

    (I know I am generalising here) However the French do seem very conservative. Give them a surprise, at the very least they will remember it . and as you say "
    But really, after a few drinks who cares? As long as cocktails are flowing, there's enough to eat, the music is good and my mom doesn't give a speech in French like she has been threatening, what more can you ask for?" spot on! ......knock em dead!

    Love Denise

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    1. Hi Denise!

      Yes, I have been playing the'..but I'm American card' to get some of my requests fulfilled. Not too many, but a few. Like the cocktail hour nibblies, for example.

      I think our French guests (the older set) will be surprised by many of our choices, hopefully pleasantly surprised. It's not going to be traditional at all...I can't wait to share with you all. I'm bursting keeping it all in!

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  13. Ok... Guys you have to keep in mind that Versailles is a posh royalist area. They like their tradition. If they could get married dressed as Louis XIV they prob would!
    Anyway, le vin d'honneur is smtg commun and guest do know when do leave. There is no offence there, it is for your "connaissances". Real friends and family go to the do. If I ever get married i wont have a vin dhonneur but an "evening do" irish style :) that girl sounds awful u shld place her at the kids table! Dnt worry about her anyway, ur the bride and do whatever you want because it is YOUR wedding ! Have a lovely weekend xx

    Www.eminhapinto.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks Emma for your French perspective on this. It's much appreciated! Apparently it is not offensive here and it's just another thing I'm learning here. Perhaps Americans are too sensitive...or it's just me. Either it's been a fascinating journey.

      I'm not too worried about Versailles, she'll behave....I hope. Hahah!

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  14. Oh yeah, and since when there is no savoury things at the cocktail party??! I have been to million of weddings and yes there is savoury! Who wants to eat sweet before dinner anyway!?! Oh... She would have got on my nerves so bad! Lol

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    1. Good to know that I won't be shunned when the cool lentil/cucumber/mint salad verrines (that I made!) come out at 5pm! Thanks girl!

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  15. Largely hilarious! I've been with a Spaniard for over five years and have been in Spain just a month longer, but I still have to laugh at all of the ways that it seems like we're worlds (and decades - I often confused him for an 80-year-old man) apart. I'm eager to begin planning a Hispano-Amurrrican wedding, if we ever get to that point!

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    1. Wow you just got here! Welcome to expat life! You're in for the adventure of a lifetime. Enjoy it! The first few months are the best. I don't know too much about Spain but have heard and read from other blogs that there are many similarities. One piece of advice from one expat to another, forget these two words: customer. service. : )

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  16. LOL, put them by the bathrooms... I've threatened my mom every time she bothers me with wedding talk, I don't even have a boyfriend!..

    "A great deal of your family will be seated by the restroom if I can manage it, mom and keep bothering me, you're on your way there too.."

    That usually gets her to stop pestering me.

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    1. Hahaha that totally does the trick! Seating is a really big deal! Holy moly do people get offended! My grandmother was sat by the kitchen with the groom's non-English speaking co-workers at my cousin Ginger's wedding in 2008 and she still won't speak to her! That story still gets a chuckle out of me when I think of it.

      Maybe you're future boyfriend is waiting for you here in Paris. : )

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  17. Hi,

    This post is quite funny. Didn’t make me laugh that much though ^^, since your girl ‘friend’ seems to be a perfect “tête à claques” and doesn’t help improve the reputation of French people abroad lol. At all. And from what you said about her, I’m not surprised she didn’t laugh for the ‘Alexandrie, Alexandra’ stuff, haha! (and your description of her gesture with her hand made me laugh so much, you described it so well I could see it!)

    First of all, I really had to say something: I HATE Jean-Claude François and all the ‘mythic’ French songs that ‘have’ to be on a wedding playlist. But I don’t belong to the majority, let’s be realistic! French music is most of the time really painful to my ears… We are poor singers, really, makes me sick. ^^

    Now, that being said! The ‘cocktail only’ stuff can be hard to understand, and sound rude, I must admit. I think I was a little surprised myself when I first heard about this. I’ll try to explain the French point of view: when your budget is tight, you have to choose. So: either you don’t invite at all acquaintances that matter to you because family and close friends come first, or you invite them to cocktail only. This applies to huge budgets as well, though (since you can’t invite the whole planet). I guess it depends on how much you’re used to this habit. Once you know how it works, you don’t get frustrated (partly because you know you’ll have to choose for your own wedding some day, but also because you understand that people might not want to eat pastas for 10 years just because they invited too many people to their weddings ^^).

    As for presents made to invitees, I agree: who cares about these? I’ve attended many weddings and liked it when it was not the traditional “dragées” (which ARE eaten, sometimes (by me and uh, me, mostly), but most of the time people prefer to keep the whole thing as a souvenir).

    Once again, this “pète sec” girl said bullshit to you because you can do whatever you want for your wedding. Including for the “vin d’honneur”. The only rule is: indulge yourself! I think that she just wanted to get on your nerves because: of course cocktails at 5pm don’t look like huge “goûters”, this is SO ridiculous… Your idea to combine sweet and salty flavors is excellent, if you can even just stand another opinion :-D

    I’m sorry to tell you that you’re just out of luck, people around you seem very concerned about traditions or are just stupid haha. You should think about getting rid of those that you CAN actually get rid of (unfortunately this exludes your family-in-law! ^^). Just a suggestion! ;-)

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    1. LOL I dislike his music so much that it took me half a day to realize that I got his name wrong! I meant "Claude" François of course haha ! I'm sure no one noticed though. ^^

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    2. Hi Emma!

      Wow, thank you so much for your insightful comment and for sharing your opinions on the topic!

      The wedding planning hasn't been that bad, so I'd say I'm pretty lucky, and my in-laws are great. There have just been a few differences in ideas, but we've compromised and I think collectively we'll put together a lovely wedding. : )

      I do have one confession to make: I like Claude François...et Les Rita Mitsouko! I'm super cheesy. I know.

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    3. Haha. Ok for Les Rita Mitsouko, it's kinda fun. But come ON, Claude François? You've been brainwashed! ;-)

      Glad it wasn't a nightmare to plan your wedding. It can be sometimes...

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  18. A comment from French Marie posted by me. I'm having some difficulties with my comment forum. Hopefully I'll have it sorted out soon.

    Now here's the lovely French Marie:


    "A very funny, interesting post on cultural differences! I must say I feel I have experienced those differences, even though I married a French guy like myself. BUT, we had completely different family background. On my side of the family, they hardly ever get married and when they do, it's in a cheap "salle des fêtes" with a horrible DJ making sexual puns all night long on the microphone, not to mention disgusting, embarrassing traditions such as "la jarretière" (ask Sébastien if you don't know of it...).


    When I got married, I had only been to two weddings in my whole life. My husband comes from a bourgeois family for whom 130 guests for dinner mean it's a small wedding. I learned a lot about cultural/social differences! We had a beautiful wedding in a beautiful ancient manor, without almond dragées, and we made a blacklist for the DJ: Claude François was definitely banned ;-) We named the tables from the alphabet, which was almost considered to be punk...


    Don't worry for the "vin d'honneur", the guests do know when to leave when they just got the "faire-part" without the "carton" (invitation for dinner). Now I've been to plenty of weddings in France and I can tell I always ate savoury in the middle of the afternoon!


    A last anecdote, last month we went to an aristocrat wedding. We found out that friends of ours were actually Countess and Marquess!!! Big wedding in Les Invalides in Paris, it was magnificent. A majority of guests had a particle in their family name ("de"), it was really la crème de la crème. Still, the big difference with other weddings was that people were very relax. The bride and groom's parents, knowing their rank and title, were all the more friendly and welcoming. There was no dinner, "simply" a buffet like a vin d'honneur, except it was at night. I put quotes around "simply" because the food was incredible, eventhough served without showing off at all. Imagine an incredible decor, the salons of Les Invalides, like in a Marie-Antoinette movie, all the guests standing at random through the rooms, and very discreet waiters passing trays with little bites on them. OK, I'll have that... Ooooooo, but it's sweetbread! Ooooooo, but it's the best cheese I've ever eaten! Oooooooo, but it's the best pâté I've ever tasted! There was absolutely no affectation in the presentation or in the service.


    I'm so glad for you and Seb, enjoy the last préparatifs !"

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  19. IT is the same here in Noway... some people are invited to the church, some to coffee.. & some to dinner. - we made it through & so will you. :-) I just made sure everyone had enough alcohol. :-) Good luck!

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  20. Froggy frogs are lucky to be getting a seat by the speakers. I hope the kitchen doors give Lady Versailles's bootie a boot.

    As for the meat pounding mallet, yes please!

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