When a New Zealander and an Australian married in Paris…
Hello, Kiaora, G’day, Bonjour.
Hugh and I were legally married on June 7th at the Mairie (town hall) in the 16th Arrondissement (a large suburb, home to approx. 161,000 people). Any couple, French or foreign, that wishes to be officially married in France needs to have lived in the country for at least six months and have a residential address. The couple are only able to marry in the Mairie closest to their residential address which is the reason why we were married in Paris, where we live, and not in the Loire Valley where we had our wedding. Luckily we were prepared for the mountains of paperwork required thanks to previous applications for visas, driver’s licences and rental agreements.
In February we visited our local Mairie pick up a form for marriage and to work out exactly what documents were required, and which needed to be stamped, sealed, translated, finished in gold leaf calligraphy. A frustrating part about most applications in France is that official documents need to be dated within a certain timeframe. For instance we needed birth certificates, and documents from New Zealand and Australia stating that we weren’t already married in either country. Our parents were sent a declaration that they had to sign and return. Each document needed to be dated within 6 months of our wedding date to be accepted. We also needed to take into account processing time and postage time.
We returned at the end of March with all the required documents to pick a date for our civil ceremony. As we were leaving Paris on a Thursday morning to go to our wedding venue we wanted to have our ceremony on the Wednesday prior so that family members who had flown in for the wedding could be in attendance. A Wednesday wedding worked to our advantage as nearly all the Fridays in the Summer period had been snapped up already. A large number of French couples combine the civil ceremony into their wedding day (e.g. visit the Mairie the morning of the wedding). Some choose to have the civil ceremony as their primary ceremony and celebrate afterwards with a dinner or lunch.
After reviewing all the necessary documents and forms a marriage deed is then posted on a noticeboard inside the Mairie. The deed states our names, address, intent to marry and gives the public an opportunity to write a letter to the mayor if they have any objections to the marriage taking place. It took me some time to figure out why we were receiving letters from photographers and videographers in our letterbox offering their services, I thought we had been signed up to a spam mailing service until I realised that the noticeboard could serve as a nice new clientele list for those in the wedding industry.
Admittedly we were out of our depth and didn’t know what to expect from the ceremony! We had been given a slip of paper with the French laws that would be read out to deem the marriage legal but aside from that we weren’t sure what the ceremony would encompass. In terms of the actual room, I had glimpsed the marriage salon on a previous visit to the town hall and was suitably impressed by the ornate detailing. What I hadn’t expected was for the ceremony to be officiated by the Mayor of our Arrondissement, (our French friends have since told us that this is a huge honour/quite the coup). The Mayor generally chooses only a few weddings per week to officiate and had chosen ours because he wanted to reach out to Hugh and I, as foreigners and extend his well wishes. He also explained that he is a keen sports fan, although far more interested in Judo than rugby.
Hugh and I, and our family and friends were blown away by the ceremony. I had been expecting a strictly legal approach, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. However we were surprised (and emotional) when the Mayor discussed the importance of love, trust, and honestly in a healthy marriage and the emphasis of a good education for any future children (Camembert is probably a lost cause having never been to puppy school). The ceremony was conducted in French with our friend Remi acting as translator. We were required to respond to the list of statements with a loud “OUI” but when it was my turn I could hardly get any sound out and hard to repeat myself.
Initially when we first became aware of the civil ceremony and the fact there was no possible way to avoid it if we wanted to be legally married in France I had felt a little cheated. My girlfriends would ask me whether it may lessen the experience on the Saturday, our wedding day, as in reality before walking up the aisle we were already married. It did mean I wouldn’t be able to add the ‘will she/won’t she” Runaway bride drama à la Julia Roberts but aside from that I felt so privileged to have two days of PDA. The legal ceremony made the whole experience that much richer and connected us to the city we have been calling home for the past three years. It also served as a wonderful way to immerse our extended families into a French custom. Below I have included our Livret de Famille presented to us after the ceremony, it has a beautiful suede finish. The Livret de Famille records the details of our wedding and blank pages so that we are able to enter details of any children that arrive from the premiere enfant (first child) to the huiteme (EIGHTH)
Following the ceremony we had drinks at our apartment with family and friends who had been at the ceremony and cut into a giant wheel of brie to commemorate the occasion! Walking out of the Mairie as a legally married couple was such a special and exciting feeling and was the perfect first step in our wedding celebrations, (and a great way to kick off the start of my four day all-white wardrobe).
One million mercis to our special friends and family members for supporting us and being there for us and thanks to Remi to ensuring said friends and family could understand what was going on.