It isn’t until the priest begins to speak that I remember I am in France.
The ladies look like they are dressed for Ascot. The first reading is the one that begins: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not love” which we have all heard a million times, the hymn ‘I vow to thee my country’. It is all so comfortingly familiar. And then the priest speaks: “I am so ‘appy to welcome you.”
I am at my first English wedding in France. My friends Peter and Natalie are about to be married by Inspector Clouseau.
Oddly enough, they are already married. Priests or vicars do not have the right to marry you in France. The only person that can marry you here is a mayor. This is all part of the French laïcité, the separation of church and state, which dates back to the revolution and is why girls were banned from wearing veils to school last year.
Still, it is a beautiful service, which my husband sadly misses on account of the fact that it is the FA cup final. Yet another great British tradition upheld in France, getting married on cup final day.
We are all dressed up, the women in strappy dresses, some of the men in morning coats. I don’t know what the villagers make of it all as we leave the church. I am told by one of them that for a little village wedding like this the guests will normally wear jeans. Maybe they think we have taken a wrong turn on our way to St Tropez.
We go from the service to the grounds of the château where Peter and Natalie live. Some Spanish musicians are playing Gypsy Kings-style music. At last something foreign. The guests jig about in an effort to keep warm; one of them even goes back to her hotel to get her coat. So the weather is English too.
During the excellent speeches I get a text message from my husband: “Slight delay. Extra time.”
I ask one of the waiters if there is a big difference between English and French weddings. This is his first English wedding, he tells me. But he has noticed that all anyone wants to drink is champagne.
“What do they drink at a French wedding?”
“Pastis of course.”
A few days before I had met France’s ‘It’ girl, Hermine de Clermont-Tonnerre, and asked her what she thought differentiated the English and French at weddings. “Alcohol,” she told me. “You English drink much more. The first guy to dive into the swimming pool fully clothed and drunk is always the English guy.”
As with anything remotely official in France there is lots of paperwork involved in getting married. The list of what you need is bordering on the ridiculous. It includes a medical certificate to prove you are in good health which is not more than two months old and a birth certificate which is not more than six months old. As a foreigner you need certificates proving you are single (a note from your last girlfriend confirming she happily dumped you won’t be enough). This is called a certificate of celibacy and you can get one from your consulate or embassy.
Any documents will have to be translated into French by an officially approved translator. The wedding has to be announced publicly for at least ten days outside the mayor’s office. You will also need to live in the area for 30 days before you get hitched. According to my local mayor this can be waived in an emergency for example if the bride-to-be is pregnant. You will also need an EDF bill or similar (the key to a trouble-free life in France) to prove your residential status. Most preposterously you have to vow to be faithful. This from the nation that invented the cinq ? sept? Seems a little excessive.
If you can get married in the UK beforehand to avoid all the French admin and just have the party here, there are lots of people willing to organise it for you. Laraine Bashford, for example, who is based near Bordeaux. “We do everything just like a normal wedding,” she says. “But without the marriage certificate. The upside is you can have a week’s holiday and a fabulous party for the price of one day’s celebrations back home.”
During dinner we are treated to entertainment from an Algerian belly dancer (not enough belly on her is the verdict from the amusing Ozzie sitting next to me, who could certainly have lent her some).
Then the disco begins. The air is filled with the Rolling Stones songs and the obligatory Mick Jagger impersonations start. I see the French look on in bemusement and wonder how many drunken Englishmen they will be fishing out of the pool before the evening is over. At least this time it won’t be my husband. As an avid Chelsea fan he is too busy complaining about Arsenal’s stolen victory to drink too much.
Laraine Bashford Tel: 00 33 (0) 5 56 61 68 56, www.hideawaysenfrance.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Naming of babies
The French have ended the use of the patronym whereby a new-born child automatically bears its father’s name. From January 2005 babies born to married couples in France are no longer required to bear their father’s surname. They can be given their mother’s surname, or their father’s, or a hyphenated mix of the two. However subsequent siblings should carry the same surname.
A reader has written to me from the Mayenne saying that she is being pursued for unpaid premiums by her French house insurer. She wrote to the company to cancel the policy before signing up for a cheaper one. However, she failed to send her letter by registered post. When cancelling any insurance policy in France, be it car or home, you have to give two months’ written notice and send this notice by registered post.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is also working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in spring 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019