I originally never planned for any of this to happen. Truth be told, I had decided to move to Paris to ACTUALLY BE SINGLE. I had needed (another) change in my life having moved back to Australia from a stint in London and came across a “now or never” moment at the end of my twenties. The Working Holiday Maker visa for Australians to spend a year in France had an age limit of 18-30 attached to it. I was 30 when I received my 1 year visa for Paris.
However, my plans to spend a year in Paris quickly changed when Frenchie and I became serious. We had met randomly, in a bar in Oberkampf, 6 hours before I was about to hop on a plane and fly out to Stockholm the next morning. What started out as a chance meeting and two follow up dates a month later surprisingly developed into a long distance relationship between Adelaide, Australia and Paris, France that lasted a year. All this taking place AFTER I had already decided to move to Paris to be single which I might add, I was never able to do funnily enough. The universe works in odd ways, n’est-ce pas?
Fast forward roughly four years on, I was walking down the aisle ready to tie the knot with that very random Frenchie I had briefly met for a few hours that night, in a bar in Oberkampf. It feels surreal thinking that if my girlfriend and I had not decided to have that one last drink at that particular bar, none of this would have ever happened. If Frenchie and his friends had chosen to spend their Friday night in a different part of Paris, none of this would have ever happened.
Yet there we were, standing at our very own personalised Australian-French-Chinese-Vietnamese wedding in front of all our close family and friends in a charming little French manoir.
So how did we end up getting married in France? Well, we we actually went through pretty much all of the stages imaginable..! We met (briefly), we went on (literally) two dates, we did long distance between Australia and France, we were together in the same city, we got PACsed, we moved in together, we got engaged then we got married.
So what is getting “PACSed”?
PACS (pacte civil de solidarité) is a legally binding civil union between two individuals which came into practice in 1999, primarily to give legal status to same-sex couples. However, what we are noticing is that more and more couples (same-sex and opposite-sex) are becoming “PACSed” each year in France.
How do I describe it? Well, to me it is like a cross between a “boyfriend/partner” and a “husband”. Rights and responsibilities still come with a PACS agreement however slightly less when compared to a traditional marriage.
The PACS procedure itself is extremely unromantic. Documents need to be sourced, apostilled, translated and presented at a meeting to a registered clerk at your local court office. You both sign a mutual contract bearing details of your “civil solidarity pact”. The preparation takes a while however the process itself is finished within 15 minutes, barely enough time to start gushing and reflect on how you will start the next chapter of your life with your legally binding partner.
Some couples have PACS celebrations with family and friends, like a mini-wedding while others might have a little photo shoot to commemorate the moment. We just asked the registered clerk to take a (blurry) photo of us and off we went to celebrate on our own.
What about marriage in France?
Weddings in France are legally required to be conducted at your local city hall (la mairie). Following this civil ceremony, couples can then get married with a religious ceremony or a secular service however without this civil ceremony, the marriage is not recognised under French law.
Once again, a whole load of paperwork needs to be submitted to the local council including birth certificates, IDs, certificates proving you are not already married, information about your witnesses just to name a few in order for you to register and obtain a time slot to be married. You also need to have lived in your particular commune for at least one month before you can get married there.
We chose to have our civil ceremony with just our family and our two witnesses before having our proper wedding reception a few days later. This was mainly due to the fact that we wanted our wedding to have French, Australian, Chinese and Vietnamese influences and we wouldn’t have time to do everything on the same day! Having said that, classic French weddings do normally include the civil ceremony as part of the events of the day.
The civil ceremony is conducted by the mayor or deputy mayor of the commune in front of at least two witnesses. Carried out entirely in French, depending on the commune, the proceeding often requires the witnesses to be able to understand French as well. It lasts around 30 minutes and to my surprise didn’t include personal wedding vows. We were read the legally binding acts that defined a marriage in France, signed the papers to officiate our marriage and exchanged our rings before being handed our “livret de famille” – a little maroon “family book” that would stay with us as our family grows.
And what constitutes a typical French wedding?
A typical French wedding to my knowledge normally consists of firstly, the civil ceremony at the local city hall where everyone can be invited (family, friends, colleagues, neighbours etc..). This is followed by the “vin d’honneur” which is a cocktail event lasting a couple of hours in the afternoon. Canapés and champagne are served and generally speaking people from the civil ceremony attend the vin d’honneur as well.
After the vin d’honneur is when things become a little tricky (in my personal opinion) as the reception which includes the sit down meal has a smaller invite list. Usually, the reception is reserved for family and friends and it is not uncommon to be invited to the civil ceremony and the vin d’honneur but for the sit down meal.
Lastly, sometimes, there may be a brunch organised for the following morning but it’s not always the case.
What about our wedding?
We decided to fuse different cultural elements into our own wedding in order to make it really ours. As I mentioned before, we had the civil ceremony a couple of days prior with just our families and witnesses. On the actual day, we started off with a traditional Asian tea ceremony in the morning. This is where tea is offered by the bride and groom to different members of the families.
Following the Asian tea ceremony, we had an Australian secular service where we were able to exchange our personal vows and the French vin d’honneur (with a brut champagne that we chose in Champagne!). During the break, we had a little photo shoot before transitioning to the reception with the sit down meal (I have no idea how the French are able to eat and drink throughout the afternoon at the vin d’honneur and restart again a couple of hours later at the reception!). The sit down meal which started at around 8pm included an entrée, a main, the (8+) cheese platter and matching wines before we moved onto the dessert which was a giant croquembouche tower! And, two other different cakes because one dessert is simply not enough for the French. Dessert was served with a different champagne, a demi-sec champagne that we had also personally sourced from Champagne.
Our venue and other details?
After many months of venue hunting, we finally chose a little charming French manoir about 30 minutes by train from Paris, le Château du Bois La Croix which fitted our budget and personal style. We had plans to have half the wedding outside but it rained non-stop on the day so we had to move everything inside last minute. All our decorations were hand made, including these upcycled chairs that we found in Cannes on the side of the street. We carried them back to Paris and Frenchie got to repurposing and repainting them. The curtains were sourced from Ikea and the structure was also put together by Frenchie himself. Our bonbonnières were ordered from an old grandpa-grandma couple we met while visiting a little market in the Loire Valley. They had their own stall where they sold their hand made wine/champagne preserves. We wanted to support small businesses wherever we could. From the little boutique where I found my wedding dress to the small owner-operated jeweller we bought my ethically sourced modest diamond wedding band from.
As for our decorations and flowers – we collected old Bonne Maman jam jars and crème caramel dessert jars for almost a year leading up to the wedding. We found reasonably priced basic cream coloured candles to place in the smaller jars and ordered our flowers from a local florist to put together ourselves into the larger jars.
Looking back, all our effort had paid off. We were able to stick to our budget, we supported small businesses as much as we could, we sourced locally, ethically and mindfully and we managed to fuse together all the different elements of our respective cultures to make our wedding truly ours.