A while ago, we were invited to the wedding of our French neighbour’s son, Teddy. They aren’t close neighbours in more than one sense of the word, but I’ve seen Teddy grow up, learn his trade and latterly take over the running of his fathers tiling and plastering firm. So we were pleased to receive and accept the invitation.
Yesterday turned out to be as hot as the previous few days, not ideal weather to assemble dozens of adults and children and jam them into an unventilated, stuffy room above a town hall. We’d collected Gill and John (our English neighbours and fellow invitees) and turned up at the town hall rather too early. We found ourselves sat rather dutifully on the back row of an as yet empty room, gazing at the bust of Marianne , the personification of liberty and reason and the symbol of the French Republic.
A marriage in France is distinctly different to one in the UK. The couple must be married in a civil ceremony by their mayor. Then they pop off to the church and have the marriage blessed. After that it pretty well follows the universally accepted model of reception, speeches with bad jokes and embarrassing revelations by the best man and guests getting drunk.
However, back to the stuffy room. The ceremony was timed to begin at 2pm. The Mayors secretary began peering nervously out of the window as the appointed hour drew nearer. Guests began to trickle in and about ten minutes late, the bride and groom appeared followed by the bulk of the guests. The actual civil cermony only occupies twenty minutes, which was lucky as we were about to pass out from heat exhaustion. Released from our first obligation, we exited the town hall and joined the stream of guests, walking up to the church.
I’m quite happy to sit in a church in order to celebrate a marriage. Well, with as much enthusiasm as an atheist can manage anyway. Unfortunately, not only was it a more lengthy Catholic blessing but naturally carried out in French. Prayers were said, hymns sung and bored children ran up and down the nave.
Eventually, we were released. The guests formed a guard of honour to greet the bride and groom, large party poppers were set off and baby dolls were held aloft. Not, I think a usual part of the marriage but sadly their significance was lost on us. We stood off to one side, wilting in the sun. We were greeted by Teddy’s father, Louis and Teddy himself. After ten minutes or so we all decamped to a hall just across the road, for an ‘after marriage toast’. The four of us didn’t feel excluded but not included. It was obviously an occasion for family and friends and we felt a little isolated. Susie and I had a card and cheque for the newly weds, which we left in the decorated box provided. Slipping out of the door unnoticed, we did that very English thing…we came home for a cup of tea…