France is a country with some unique and very specific wedding traditions. Their existence is caused by the French lifestyle, history, customs, and other conditions. It’s always interesting to compare the marriage traditions of different countries and corners of the world. This time, let’s compare a wedding in France and the US. Some of them may look odd to you, but others you might even want to incorporate in your future wedding ceremony.
In France, there is a specific document called “PACS” (pacte civil de solidarité), sort of a contract between a couple that defines their rights and responsibilities like a married couple. But it isn’t a marriage contract or legal marriage paper, this document can be signed by opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples all the same. PACS is closer to a civil marriage than a classic wedding. In the US, there is no such thing as PACS, though, a so-called “civil union” is close to this term, and it’s more of a partnership than a marriage.
For some people, Pacs is the only option as this paper can be signed by a man and a man or a woman and a woman, who can’t be officially married because same-sex marriages are legal only in some countries and regions.
After a person sings PACS, he or she isn’t officially single anymore, though isn’t officially married either. Their status is recorded as “pacsé”. The paper gives a person some of the rights a married couple has, but not all of them.
Two wedding ceremonies
In the US, most couples only have one wedding ceremony – either it’s a religious or civil marriage ceremony. A lot of people simply go to the courthouse a few days before the actual wedding and sign the legal marriage papers or at least get them so that they were ready and the couple could put their signatures during the wedding ceremony. But they don’t celebrate this day, it’s just some ordinary paperwork.
In France, the brides and grooms traditionally have two wedding ceremonies – the first is held on the day when they go to a courthouse to sign the legal papers, and the second is held in a form of a religious or non-religious marriage ceremony. Both ceremonies are celebrated and followed by a reception.
In the US, weddings usually start earlier and are over earlier. The majority of American wedding celebrations go on until 11 or 12 p.m. And then, everybody goes home. In France, only the wedding dinner can last until 12 p.m. – 1 a.m. And after that, the wedding guests party until the next morning. And even older people, grandmothers and grandfathers, can stay very late.
It’s absolutely normal in France to invite the wedding guests to only some part of the wedding, meaning that all of them are invited to the ceremony but only some stay for the wedding dinner and party. For Americans, it might seem rude to not feed your guests but invite them only to the church wedding ceremony or so. But the French are fine with that, they’re used to being invited to only a part of the celebration. This saves a couple a solid amount of money.
In the US, the legal side of performing a wedding is rather unique and curious. Practically any person can act as an officiant – you just register online, answer a few questions, and receive a license to marry people. So, an American couple can either hire a governmental officiant or go to a priest or arrange one of their friends and relatives to get the permission and perform a marriage ceremony.
In France, it’s impossible. There are certain people who can legally wed couples, and you have to contact them and have them perform your wedding ceremony – the official part of it.
Castle as wedding location
American weddings are often held in wedding halls, B&Bs, specific wedding venues built to provide this service, and similar locations. French couples are lucky to have a huge number of old castles and manors dating back a few centuries. And so, the majority of French people organize their wedding in such venues. A lot of businesses are created to provide a castle for marriage celebrations – they buy an old manor, restore it to look picturesque, hire personnel, and offer it as a wedding location to dozens of couples.
American bridesmaids have a lot more responsibilities and tasks than French bridesmaids. In the US, it is typical and common to delegate some wedding prep to the bridesmaids – they often help with decorating the wedding hall, sending invitations, helping the bride to make decisions, make sure the bride looks and feels good, and do a ton of chores on the wedding day to help the couple cope with all of the work. In France, the bridesmaids help as well, but not as much, they have fewer responsibilities and participate only so much in wedding prep. So, it’s a lot easier to be a bridesmaid in France than in America.
At American weddings, strong beverages are served very often. There are, of course, weddings with only wine and beer, but a lot of receptions serve drinks like whiskey, bourbon, and similar strong alcohol. In France, obviously, everybody drinks wine and champagne – French wines are among the best in the world. So, wedding receptions, cocktail hours, and, in general, the whole wedding celebration offers a flowing river of wines and champagne.
French traditional wedding dessert differs from the wedding cake that you see at most weddings in the US. It is called “Pièce montée” and it is a tower made from profiteroles with delicious stuffing and caramel threads covering the whole dessert. It looks spectacular and tastes even better. And also, such a dessert is usually less heavy than a cake.