French Wedding Etiquette

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Everyone knows that wedding customs vary around the world. Weddings in France can be culture shock if you're not forewarned, so keep in mind some information about traditions you'll probably encounter.

Two Ceremonies

  • Marrying couples in France are required to have a civil ceremony at City Hall. This generally occurs the morning of the wedding day and is very short. A longer religious ceremony, usually in a church even if the bride and groom do not regularly attend, follows the civil ceremony. All guests are invited to the church ceremony, but unless you are immediate family or an extremely close friend, don't expect an invitation to the civil ceremony.

Vin d'Honneur or Cocktail Party

  • After the religious ceremony, all guests are invited to a vin d'honneur, a light reception with drinks and finger foods. You can almost be guaranteed a glass of champagne. This casual cocktail party of sorts will last a couple of hours as the newly married couple mingles with guests.

Dinner and Dancing

  • The luncheon or dinner following the vin d'honneur is the main event. For a minimum of six hours, guests sit back and enjoy multiple courses of food and drinks. During this time, guests provide entertainment arranged by family and friends. The bride and groom are sometimes surprised with readings of poems, games, serenades and other festivities.

    Dancing begins later in the evening, often not until 10 p.m., and continues into the wee hours. You will probably be provided with coffee and refreshments somewhere around midnight. This is hardly the end of the event, though, as French weddings can last well into the next morning and beyond in many cases.

Invitations

  • One thing to remember when receiving an invitation to a wedding in France is that you might not be invited to attend the entire event. It is very common for brides and grooms to invite guests only to certain parts of the day. How much of the event you're invited to depends on how well you know the couple.

    If you receive an invitation, you will almost certainly be invited to the church ceremony and vin d'honneur after-party. If you know them more than as acquaintances but are not necessarily close, you might also be invited to join dessert and maybe dancing later that night. Only very close friends and family members attend all events of the day and stay the entire time.

Attire

  • Grooms in France don't typically wear formal tuxedos on their big day, but instead opt for a simple suit. If you walk in more dressed up than the groom, it will be considered strange and probably even rude. Remember that these weddings last all day and into the night. If you've been invited to join them for every event, be sure to dress comfortably and appropriately.

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