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WEDDINGS

The nine ways a French wedding will surprise you

A French wedding is nothing like what you may expect back home, writes British writer in France Jackie McGeown.

The nine ways a French wedding will surprise you
Photos: AFP
Jackie McGeown considers herself “a bit of an expert” on French weddings – and she reckons there are nine ways you'll be surprised if you're lucky enough to attend one (or indeed host one). 
 
Over to you Jackie. 
 
1. You have to get married in your local town hall
 
To a Brit or an American, getting married on a zoo or on a roller coaster hardly raises an eyebrow any more. But what will really make them sit up is learning that in France couples are forced to go through an civil ceremony in their local town hall.
 
Why? Because the separation of the Church and the State does not allow a legal ceremony took take place in a church/synagogue/mosque/what have you. Signing a register at the side of the altar (or after you’ve got off the rollercoaster) just doesn’t cut it in France. 
 
 
2. No bridesmaids or best man
 
Magenta dresses, fake tan to cover strap lines and flesh squeezed into a dress chosen to suit the bride’s other cousin – oh, the joys of being a bridesmaid! But don’t be afraid of being asked to spend big money on a dress you’ll wear once before burning it in a bin along with pictures of your ex because bridesmaids (and ushers) are not a thing in France.
 
The only people following the bride up the aisle while wearing frou-frou dresses and a disgruntled expression are les desmoiselles d’honneur, usually children related to the couple. There are other adults involved in the ceremony, however. These are the witnesses, a maximum of four, who are usually the close friends/relatives of the couple. No costumes required.
 
3. The car horns!
 
After the ceremony, some members of the party driving to the reception venue beep their horns repeatedly for the length of the drive. As the owner of two fine ears, I don’t like this one. You’re happy, we get it, don’t make the rest of us suffer.
 
In 2012 one wedding party took this to a whole other length by stopping their cars on the autoroute to celebrate, causing an enormous traffic jam and generally annoying everyone. Just typing this sentence is making me so angry. Let’s move on

READ ALSO: Anglo-French wedding blues and why it's just not worth it
 
 
4. The wedding cake is a towering mass of cream buns 
 
No three-tiered fruitcake covered in royal icing here. The traditional wedding dessert is a croquembouche – a tower of mouth-sized choux pastries filled with crème pâtissière and held together by hardened caramel. It can be decorated by spun sugar, sugared almonds, chocolate, macarons – people can get pretty creative.
 
The idea is very much to have a wow factor. The entrance of the croquembouche is often the pinnacle of the evening, its arrival signalled by dimmed lights, music and even indoor fireworks. That the staff actually manage to dismantle the damn thing and serve it to the guests is something of a miracle. Beware shards of brittle caramel that could cause serious dental mayhem.
 
 
5. French wedding receptions are really long
 
Let’s say the wedding service(s) finishes at 4pm. You’ll travel to the reception venue which where you’ll be served champagne and nibbles. But don’t expect to sit down to dinner before 9pm, probably closer to 10. If you get to dessert before midnight then that’s an early finish to the meal. Compared with a British wedding where dinner might start at 6 and be done by 8, French wedding dinners are a marathon. The quality of food, unsurpisingly, is excellent.
 
6. The couple’s friends may well put on a skit
 
Between courses some guests may shuffle, embarrassed, into a specially cleared area and launch into a performance that probably seemed like a good idea when it was first suggested a few weeks ago but which, in the moment, they’re clearly regretting.You see, it’s a French tradition for those close to the newlyweds to do some sort of personalised bit for the couple.
 
It might be a specially written song, a dance routine, a slide show of dorky old photos, a game. Yes, there may be occasions when you wince at the bumbling poetry recital by an accountant from Nîmes but these are performed with love, so it’s generally charming and really rather sweet. I have even performed a small (but dramatically vital) role in a short film that was shown at such an occasion. Still haven’t seen my Oscar nomination in the post but I’m sure it’s on its way…
 
7. French people can party hard
 
Lax licensing laws in comparison with Britain means that French venues can stay open late into the night. And they do. Long past the point that most British people would be tucked up in bed/unconscious in a bus top/sobbing in a taxi queue, French people are on that dance floor, making moves to some of the worst Euro music you’ve ever heard. 
 
If you’re going to a French wedding, get some rest beforehand, pace yourself with the alcohol, eat often and dance like it’s your last night on earth.
 
 
 
 
8. Post-wedding lunch/breakfast
 
If the couple have hired the reception venue for the weekend then guests are usually invited to a late breakfast or lunch the following day. As well as the usual delicious bread and pastries, expect leftovers and cake.
 
And very probably someone will pop open more champagne. And look, we’ve still got some red leftover, let’s open that too! Much more relaxing than the previous day, plus it sends you off in a good mood with a full stomach. And if French people have hangovers after drinking and dancing till 5am, I have never spotted one. Iron constitutions, these people.
 
9. Remember, it can get hot
 
Most weddings take place in the summer and that’s where there’s a major difference with the UK. Because it can get hot, very hot. I went to one wedding in a vineyard where it was 43C. Consider loose, natural fabrics for your wedding outfit (I hadn’t) and don’t forget the suncream (I had). Sunburnt skin is never a good look but especially not when you have 12+ hours of wedding celebrations ahead of you.
 
Jackie McGeown runs the site Best France Forever. Follow her on Facebook here for regular updates.
 

SUMMER

The best and worst things about France in the summer

There are some things that make France the best place to be in summer, and then there are others that drive us mad, writes Katie Warren.

The best and worst things about France in the summer
Photo: AFP
Travelling France in the summertime probably evokes images of cruising along the coastal highway of the French Riviera, sipping rosé, frolicking through lavender fields, and having picnics in Parisian parks. 

Perhaps lining up for three hours in the hot sun to get into the Louvre. Or being packed in like sardines at the same Riviera beach half the country decided to go to. Or getting stuck in barely-moving traffic for two hours while trying to get out of Paris.

France in the summer can be wonderful, but before you plan your dream French summer holiday, you should perhaps be aware of some of the downsides.

Here are the some of the worst things about France in the summer. 

Queues and crowds 

More than 80 million people visit France every year, a good portion of them in the summer months. So it’s no surprise that the country becomes inundated with tourists in June, July, and August. 

Paris and the French Riviera are the hardest-hit by the crowds, so if you’re planning on being in either of those places, be prepared for an influx of people, and be ready to wait in queues if you want to do anything remotely touristy.

You might think you’re being clever by hitting up a lesser-known museum in Paris on a hot day instead of going to the beach, but thousands of other people will probably have the same idea.

Our advice for beating the crowds? Visit some of the delightful lesser-known parts of the country such as the Lorraine region in northeastern France, or relatively under-the-radar cities such as Clermont-Ferrand or Rennes.

Driving headaches

Photo: AFP

Tourists and French holiday-makers travelling into and all around France to their summer destinations means loads more vehicles on the roads. 

Keep an eye on France’s official traffic-monitoring site to see peak driving hours and routes and to figure out how to avoid them. 

And although chances are you won’t have any of this sort of trouble, keep a wary eye out for some common scams targeting drivers on French roads.

Melting in the Metro

The summer months are not always a fun time to take public transport. 

In the larger cities, Metro trains are not always air conditioned, so it can be unbearably hot. Being confined in tight quarters with sweaty strangers isn’t what anybody has in mind for an ideal French summer.

But when you are lucky enough to be in a blessedly cool air-conditioned Metro car, it can be a heavenly escape from the streets above. 

Summer also seems to be the designated time for France’s rail operator SNCF and Paris transport group RATP to undertake major construction work on their lines.

Here's a look at the construction works set to affect the capital this summer

Strikes

Photo: AFP

The French love their strikes. Indeed, there were a total of 966 across France in 2015 (that's 2.6 a day!), according to the site cestlagreve.fr, which records the nation's industrial action in real time. 

And in which month are they most likely to strike? That would be June — the first month of summer, and prime travelling season. 

So while you might want to do your travelling in June to get a headstart on most summer holidaymakers, July and August are your best bets to avoid any travel problems related to strikes. The French tend to trade in striking for lounging on the beach during their holidays.

Elevated prices

The French tourism industry celebrates the mass arrival of tourists during the summer months by jacking up prices. 

Be prepared to shell out more for flights, hotels, and train tickets in France in June, July, and August than during the rest of the year. 

The August dead zone 

Paris 'closes' for August but how long will it last?This one might be closed but a law states a certain number of boulangeries in Paris, must remain open in August. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

Good luck trying to get anything accomplished in France during the month of August. Offices, shops, and restaurants close up by the dozens for the entire month so their workers can go on holiday.

Even the end of July can be hit and miss, as some workers take off for their holidays a bit early, so it’s best to get anything important done before then. Or else it will just have to wait until September. 

Although you should be aware of the negatives to help you most make the most of France in the summer months, it’s certainly not all bad. 

There are many more things things that make visiting France in the summer completely worth it.

Here are a few of the best things about France in the summer.

The August dead zone

This is one of the worst and best parts of France in the summer, because unless you actually have to get some work done or get into see the dentist, the month-long holiday period is a beautiful thing. 

Whether they want to or not, those living in France are forced to slow down in August and smell the rosé. 

Paris

Yes, believe it or not. The French capital is a great place to be at the height of summer because most Parisians have gone to the beach and the left the city half-empty.

That means, seats on the Metro, albeit a sweaty Metro, seats in bars, space to lie down in parks, less beeping of horns…the list goes on and on.

Rosé wine

Photo: Megan Cole/Flickr

Sure, you can enjoy a glass of rosé any month of the year if you really want to, but there’s nothing quite like sipping a glass of that crisp, refreshing pink wine on a lazy, hot summer afternoon. 

Why not see the French summer through rosé-tinted glasses like the rest of the French do?

Ignore the wine snobs who say rosé has no place up there with red or white wine. If it's good enough for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, it's good enough for us. 

Festivals

When it comes to festivals, summer is the best time to be in France. Music, gastronomy, dance, theatre… you name it, there’s a festival for it. 

There’s the Cognac Festival in western France, the Avignon Theatre Festival in the south, the Bayonne Festival in the south-west… the list goes on.  

One of the biggest summer events for music in France is the annual three-day Rock en Seine festival that takes place at the end of August just outside of Paris. 

Here's our list of the best events on in France this summer

Outdoor markets

French markets really are at their best in the summertime. Strolling through the sunshine, perusing the vendors’ stalls overflowing with mouth-wateringly fresh produce — perfectly ripe peaches, tomatoes, fragrant basil, juicy strawberries… It doesn't get much better (until you get your food home and can actually eat it).

Terrace life

The French, staunch supporters of café culture, will sit at outdoor terraces even in the dead of winter (and it certainly helps that many of them have heaters and some even offer blankets).

But café terraces really come alive in June, July, and August, when those cafés and rosés and cold beers can be enjoyed in the warm sunshine. 

Apéro is just better in the summer. 

Beaches

Sunbathers on the beach in Nice, the Riviera's largest city. Photo: AFP

France has more than 3,400 kilometres of coastline, so every kind of beach bum is bound find at least a kilometre or two that will tickle their fancy.

The French Riviera is of course the spot that comes to mind, but the Cote d'Azur isn’t the only place to find a good plage. The Atlantic coast also has its fair share of perfectly sunbathable stretches of sand, not to mention the island of Corsica to the south. 

For when the mercury creeps up way too high and it’s unthinkable to be anywhere but near the sea.

Lavender and sunflower fields

Photo: AFP

The famous lavender fields of Provence in southern France —  sweet-smelling fields of purple as far as the eye can see — are definitely a highlight of summer. 

And don't forget the sunflowers! Not as fragrant, but just as lovely. 

So despite its various drawbacks, I think we can all agree that France in the summer is more than worth a visit. What are you waiting for?

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