Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A Wedding in Paris

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 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 was never able to do funnily enough.  

Fast forward 3.5 years from when I arrived in Paris in July 2012, I was walking down the aisle ready to tie the knot with that very random Frenchie I had met for a few hours in a bar in Oberkampf. It was Saturday the 12th of September 2015 (yes I know this blog post is ridiculously late!) and we were at our very own personalised Australian-French-Chinese-Vietnamese wedding.

We survived a year's long distance, overcame numerous language and cultural barriers and misunderstandings, as well as a myriad of other interesting character building experiences to end up exchanging vows that day. Now that I think about it while writing, it is pretty surreal to think that our story ever realised itself. There was the Australian vs French experience, the broader Anglo-Saxon vs Latin experience, the Asian immigrant upbringing vs French upbringing experience. 

I was a 30 year old fiercely independent twice moved countries woman from a fairly left brained logical pharmacist background. He was a 36 year old divorced Frenchman with a daughter coming from a fairly right brained creative musical background. He didn't have plans to re-marry, I didn't have plans to move in with anyone who wasn't serious about our future. So we compromised and got "PACSed" before I agreed to give up a symbol of my independence, my little Parisian flat on the 6th floor (with no lift!) that I loved in the 11th arrondissement. It was a big deal for me.   

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 did we do for 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. We walked down the aisle together and remained standing while the elders came pair by pair/one by one to receive and drink the tea we offered and gave us their well wishes. I designed my own dress so that it reflected both a traditional Chinese dress and a traditional Vietnamese dress.

Next up was our Australian secular service. 

I had both my Mum and Dad walk me down the aisle and we had my best friend (who is actually a legal celebrant in Australia) officiate the ceremony. John's friend acted as the translating MC so that both English and French versions were communicated.

We exchanged our personally written vows in French (as that is the language we met in and speak) in front of our family and friends who had travelled from all around the world to witness our special day. This moment for me was what defined our wedding.

Following the Australian secular service, we continued on with the French vin d'honneur in the afternoon in another room. We had delicious catering with flowing canapés, hors d'oeuvres, brut champagne as well as little mini desserts which provided a nice opportunity for guests to chat among each other and get ready for the marathon event that would follow.

A little photo shoot then followed before we seated our guests for the main meal. Now this is where I find it hard to manage French weddings! The vin d'honneur is usually held in the afternoon however by the time you get to the sit down meal, you are already a) a little full from pigging out on the delicious canapés being circulated and/or b) a little tipsy from the early afternoon drinking. What I've found personally is that by the time you sit down for the meal (which includes entrée, main, cheese, dessert) your stomach isn't hungry enough to appreciate all the elements! However maybe the French are used to their long marathon meals growing up. I myself had to really concentrate to stay focused for our 7 hour meal at Christmas with Frenchie's family! 12pm to 7pm I kid you not.

A cheese platter is served following the main course but not in any old way. Platters of 8+ different types of cheese were brought around and guests chose which cheeses and which quantities they wanted to be individually served. Dessert followed after the cheese with a matching demi-sec champagne we had sourced from Champagne, served in another room. The wedding "cake" was a croquembouche, a tall pyramid tower of choux puffs covered in crackly caramel on the outside ready to burst with a soft smooth custard filling on the inside. BUT WAIT THAT'S WAS NOT ALL! Alongside the croquembouche tower, we also had to have two different cakes because one dessert option was (obviously) not enough.

Finally after dessert was served and finished (we are looking at around 11pm-midnight), the dance floor opened and guests stayed on until 4-5am in the morning.

What about the venue and decorations?

After lots of weekends spent venue hunting, we finally chose a 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 so we moved 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 sourced 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. Supporting small businesses all the way! 

As for our table decorations - we collected old Bonne Maman jam jars and crème caramel dessert jars, found reasonably priced basic cream coloured candles and ordered our flowers from a florist to put together ourselves the night before.  

And the food and wine?

We went with a local caterer who took care of the vin d'honneur and evening reception meals. Produce was locally sourced and made from scratch, without any unnecessary industrial processes involved. Obviously we hardly ate anything on the day! But we made up for it with the tasting beforehand.

Wine and champagne was of course Frenchie's territory. We spent months and months visiting independent boutique wineries all around France's famous regions to find the perfect wine and champagne pairing. We wanted to once again support small businesses and went out of our way to do so. I learnt a lot during this period. I learnt that my husband has an obsession with champagne and that he was happy to go champagne tasting, in the Champagne region (which is very close to Paris) at 10am in the morning, again and again. I also learnt about the size and effervescence of the bubbles and when to serve a brut champagne and when to serve a demi-sec champagne.

I also learnt that Frenchie was happy to do at least 2000km in the months leading up to the wedding to source the perfect white, a Pouilly-Fumé and the perfect red from Burgundy.   

Hair and make up?

After plenty of research, I went with the lovely Onorine from Honorine Makeup Studios for my hair and make up. I really appreciated Onorine's approach for someone like me who isn't used to wearing much make up. She explained everything she did during the relaxed trial and gave me plenty of different options to make sure I felt comfortable on the big day. I can't stress enough the importance of feeling comfortable on the day. Lucky for me, this was Onorine's priority as well. I wanted a loose, simple side chignon and natural make up that would hold for the long day/night and Onorine delivered!

Dress and accessories?

Like my traditional Chinese-Vietnamese tea ceremony dress that I designed and had made via the Internet (with no fittings!), my wedding dress was also an idea that I came up on my own as well. It was actually a dress with a skirt placed on top. I made sure there were pockets in the skirt that was made, because I love having pockets in my skirts :)

We also chose ethically sourced modest diamonds for the ring from a little small owner-operated business in Paris and my shoes were old shoes from 10 years ago! 

As I look back on our wedding back in 2015, I'm very happy to see how it had turned out. We had a budget to stick to and also we didn't want to go nuts buying up too many things that would later be thrown away. We tried to support as many small owner-operated businesses as we could and tried to source locally, ethically and mindfully.  

Now that I'm finally finishing off this blog post ready to be published, I'm very excited to write that there's a little bébé kicking up a storm in my belly in 2017 and that we are expecting bub's arrival any day now..! 


  1. Ooooooomg Nhan, lovely post - all of the personal/local touches are great, and I can't believe the bebe news! We are visiting mid April, maybe I could get a peek! ;) Wishing you all the best!

    1. Naww thanks Kim! I'm due any day now! (40 weeks and 3 days) it's CRAZY haha!! Hope you've been well and keep me posted on when you're in town!