I loved my own wedding. My husband and I got married in January a few years ago. There were ten people, including us, and although we did cough up for catering, we just had the reception in our flat. The bulk of the budget was good food and wine - my dress was bought in the January sales, and was a cocktail dress, not a wedding dress. We basically ate yum food, drank yum wine and chatted and had a very nice evening thank you very much. Oh, and between drinks early afternoon we went to the local mairie and got married. It was great.
I'm all for the idea of weddings. I like being married - marriage is a step towards creating a new family unit. It's not a necessity, of course, but it was important to me and my husband that we get married. But our marriage wasn't about the wedding.
Weddings seems to be such a stressful event for most couples. And there is such a build up, I can't help feeling that they must sometimes be a bit of a let down. And I know the day is all about the couples, but surely the idea is for a good time to be had by all.
There are big differences between British and French weddings. In France there will be more emphasis on the food - very often a sit down meal
that goes on forever and traditional games, followed by dancing. Drink is provided to the guests, but guests don't generally go to a wedding to get drunk. One wedding I have been to didn't have a sit down meal or games - which was a big surprise. The usual gift is cash, or a cheque. In this area of France, where a lot of people have bank accounts in Luxembourg where cheques don't exist, they put the couple's bank details on the invitation so that you can just transfer a present to them.
Yes, you read that correctly. Nice isn't it.
In the UK of course there is a big meal, speeches (not such of a big thing in France in my experience) and lots of drink, but the norm is to have a pay bar. I have been caught out twice, not expecting there to be a pay bar, being more used to weddings over here. It's embarassing arriving at a wedding reception, greeting everyone, and then having to sidle out again, red faced, make a quick trip to get cash and then come back as if I wasn't expecting the happy couple to provide booze for free. I get the idea. Other than a glass of fizz to toast the couple, why should newly weds fund a piss-up? After all, they haven't left their bank details on the invitation in an attempt to recoup the losses.
My top three worst weddings have been in France though. Here they are:
1. A wedding in Brittany, when I was living in London. Delayed flight to Paris, arrived at 2am, up at 5 to get the TGV out to Breton coast. Got changed in the train, stupidly booked a room at a Formule 1 (don't, EVER, book a room at one of those louse infested holes), went to the overly long ceremony in a room that was so packed and overheated I almost fainted (not having eaten since Gatwick the night before). Then there were the photos, and then the meal. The meal lasted five hours. FIVE HOURS. And I didn't like anything that was served except for the bread and butter. Not the couple's fault. I just hate sea food and boiled veg. Oysters, prawns, fish pâté, smoked fish, boiled fish, boiled potatoes, spinach, as many types of shell fish as you can imagine, etc etc etc. I do eat fish, but there wasn't anything I liked.
Then there were the games and traditional dances. Was actually quite interesting to watch - this was my first French wedding, and the only interesting thing that had happened all day. But then someone came to my table and asked me up to participate. I had no idea what to do. You held hands in a circle and a man and a woman would go to the middle and kneel, and kiss each other on the cheek, and then they'd join the circle again and two more people would come forward. There must have been some way in which they were chosen, but I realised that sooner or later it would be my turn, and I just wouldn't know what to do, so I left the circle and went outside and smoked, with a glass of wine, for the rest of the very long evening.
And what I didn't know was that in France, weddings go on until dawn, and then you're up again for the breakfast (in this case oysters) the next morning. When I arrived back in London the following evening I was knackered, hungry and poor. The worst of it? I didn't even know the bride and groom - they were vague acquaintances of my ex, and I can't even remember their names. I don't blame them for their wedding - everyone else seemed to have a good time. I was the awkward one as far as food was social customs were concerned. But it was awful. Anyway, better prepared for the next one.
2. A wedding on the coast near Bordeaux. Beautiful location - gorgeous church, nice ceremony, lovely people (though I hadn't ever met either the couple or any other guests other than my partner). Was delighted to see that there was a buffet meal - a great exception for France - but being pregnant, and still fussy about sea food anyway, there wasn't one single thing I could eat. And I couldn't drown my sorrows on the lovely wine either, but instead made two glasses last for the entire, very long, evening. Being pregnant I had a wonderful excuse to retire early (to the most overpriced hotel room I have ever stayed in - when you pay over 200 euros you expect a TV, or a pool, or for breakfast to be included. Nope. Paid an extra 20 euros for two croissants and an orange juice to be delivered to the room the next morning. The 200+ euros included the joy of being the closest room to the wedding reception...) and stuff my face on jaffa cakes and a multi pack of Twix bars I had had the foresight to pack. You see, one learns from mistakes, and I will never again be starved at a wedding, oh no.
The next morning we were invited to the wedding brunch. I liked the sound of wedding brunch. I knew it wouldn't be pancakes and bacon sandwiches, of course, but I imagined something yum and filling. And imagine my disappointment when the brunch location proved to be a (admittedly top notch) oyster restaurant. And everyone from the night before had turned up to eat oysters outside, in a stunning location. And they were so pleased about it, of course they were. I gawped at little children eating oysters and some kind of sea snail as if they had been doing it since they could sit up (and they probably had) and I nibbled on some bread and butter and cursed myself for having eaten all the Twix bars, and not having finished the overpriced croissant.
So again, I didn't enjoy the wedding, and it was my fault for not liking the food, and also being a tiny bit bitter about having spent so bloody much time and money going so far and having such a shit time, when everyone else loved it. Again, the problem was me.
3. So how about a wedding that was dire and not at all my fault? Not anyone's fault. Just awful. Fortunately we were only invited to the ceremony and the vin d'honneur - a sort of pre-dinner cocktail. Prior to the wedding we made the bank transfer (yes, one of the lovely local weddings) and dressed up and went to the château where it was to be held. No-one had told us it was to happen outside, with no shelter, on the coldest July day you can imagine. Or that to get to the location in the grounds there would be a very long walk down a drive which would be impossible to walk down in heels. Seriously, impossible. Really deep, soft gravel. I couldn't even get the pram down there.
So, ten minutes watching my tights get laddered and my feet cut to shreds, carrying a baby and freezing half to death, wondering if I could borrow baby's blanket and use it as a shawl and not have the social services called on me. Waited an hour in the cold for the wedding party to arrive - punctuality not apparently being important - and then sitting through what must have been for them, an idyllic ceremony, but for me was awful. I mean, they walked up the outside aisle to All You Need Is Love. The rest of the music was from the soundtrack of Love Actually too. I'm sure if I had known the happy couple I would have got into the spirit of it, and I am delighted they had a lovely perfect wedding, and I am coming across as so mean when I say it was the naffest, tritest, saccharine ceremony you coul dhave possibly imagined. And it was windy so I couldn't hear the vows. And there wasn't enough seating so I was standing up.
Then I was told by the usher people that if I wanted to change the baby I could go into the château but I would have to pay the entry fee. And then some gitty guests helped themselves to so much champagne in the outside bar where they didn't need ice buckets that they ran out before we got close enough to get a glass, and the waiter people wandering round with the amuse bouches seemed to miss us every time they went round, which was rarely.
Then it started to rain, and we left. Thank you baby girl - no-one expected us to stay out in the rain with her. And I assume the rest of the party went inside to the evening meal, and a good time was had by all. My husband and I drove to the nearest petrol station and stocked up on junk food and warming drinks like port and spent the whole evening wearing several jumpers until we felt warm enough to move.
So, 2012 has been wedding free. Bet you're thinking 'well I wouldn't invite that whining cow to a wedding of mine' and for that I would be truly grateful. I just think that a wedding will never be as perfect as people want it to be. They are expensive, and mass catering is rarely good, and the combination of too many drunk family members is so often a recipe for disaster. The organisation is a nightmare - who to invite, should children be allowed to which parts, what food to provide (although in France it's much easier - oysters and other stuff from the sea, and you'll have to serve a meat course if you're more than 50km from the sea) and it costs a bloody fortune. And I know I am not the only person who rarely enjoys them.
I can't be the only person whose heart sinks when I receive a wedding invitation. You have to think of what to wear, get your hair done, buy a gift or transfer a non-stingy amount of money. Very often you need to sort out accommodation and logistics regarding drinking and driving. The weather is unpredictable and more often than not you don't know many people there (and in my three cases above, I didn't even know the couples getting married).