If you are new, I am the American wife to a Frenchman. Last year we were married… Well, and the year before that.
Technically… Legally… We were married in July of 2015. We went to the courthouse and were wed. I thought I would be cool with that. I was now Mrs. Benlaala and I felt pretty committed to the man considering that I wore the ring, birthed his child and had just moved cross country with him.
Then I realized… I was never going to go dress shopping or walk down the isle or get ready in a room with my friends or exchange vows. My parents were extremely kind and in a strange occurrence of events rented a wedding venue, DJ, flowers, etc. at a charity auction. I was so relieved to have someone take the first jump towards wedding planning. After that, I took on the “let’s do this” attitude.
We were going to throw things together pretty fast. However, we wanted to wait for my grandparents to be in Iowa and that would be after the winter. Our civil marriage ended up being almost a whole year apart from our religious ceremony. We did not mind skirting away from tradition to make it work for us.
I have only been to one French wedding. It was a Catholic Wedding and very “traditional”. It was absolutely fabulous. I stayed in a chateau, danced until 5 am, wore a hat, drank champagne and it was everything I dreamed it would be. Besides a few details that I incorporated in our wedding (oh, and the chateau), I found French and American weddings to be similar in most ways.
The biggest challenge of a cross-cultural wedding is the invitees. My husband’s parents could not attend for health reasons and 1 out of 3 of my sibling-in-laws could not make it. Mehdi had a couple of friends, but of course, it was a challenge for many people to fly from Paris to Iowa.
Speaking of invitees, we did stick with traditional French invitations. I love the simplicity and refinement. They are classic and sure so we went with them. My husband loved them. Because of their simplicity, we had no trouble having them made by a local vendor even though it was the first of their kind to be made here.
Here is a photo of a shop I saw in Paris in the 6eme last week to give you an idea of a typical invite.
Another French tradition I deemed a necessity was the croquembouche… My poor wedding planner… “Yes, hi, excuse me, can you make a tower of cream filled balls for this crazy girl who thinks she’s French?” No, actually, everyone was really excited about this challenge and a lady ended up creating one thanks to some good ol’ American ingenuity. Below the croquembouche, there were cupcakes because they were included in the package. God bless America.
The couple must kiss over the croquembouche and avoid knocking it over for a happy marriage. See below where we do that:
The décor was French-ish. I tried to use French sensibilities when choosing. After all we were in a venue that was very American.The barn is so beautiful that I just wanted the décor to highlight it. My philosophy is whether it be France or the US or Italy etc. you must enhance what is there and not try to emulate a style from another country. Think of a famous food chain that had awesome tuscan décor ten years ago and think of how it looks now. Then think of an Italian restaurant in Italy that has been around for 30 years with no change in décor. The reason that happens is authenticity.
That being said, I wanted natural, but refined decor. We chose to go with all greenery because of the earth tones atmosphere of the barn. The goal was just not to be over the top and to create a nice atmosphere. Another advantage of greenery is the easy set up, predictability and cost.
One thing I insisted on, which didn’t catch on except for Mehdi and I and a few friends were the fabric bracelets. I cannot find anyone who knows the name for these (porte bonheur?), and I don’t think we have an actual photo of ours. It was a small detail that I remembered from the wedding I went to in France and several other parties. The idea is to place a ribbon or fabric band on your wrist and wear it until it falls off. When it falls off your wish will come true. It’s also a way to show you have a good social life admitted a friend of mine. I bought some spaghetti cord Liberty fabric from Etsy and cut pieces.
Here is an example from the internet:
Our gift for our guests was a potted succulent. Honestly, I have no idea if this is French or American. I liked the idea of sending our guests away with something living and didn’t give it too much more thought. It has been so fun to talk to guests who still have theirs or have killed them. I potted several after the wedding and really love that. We incorporated them in the centerpieces as well, which made me feel better about waste.
Now for the dress… I was picturing something very simple. I wanted satin with no lace. There are so many beautiful gowns out there and dress shopping is so fun until it’s not. Eventually, I was on vacation and stopped at a boutique with my mom. I immediately knew that I loved the Marchesa dress that I ended up wearing. It was more of a gown than I anticipated but if I chose anything but that dress I would have regretted it forever.
I did decide to include bridesmaids. I think it’s a fun tradition and honestly, it’s work. It was great having a support system throughout the process. I would like to think that the wedding was pretty low stress, but my bridesmaids were so flexible and made the day so fun.
After all is said and done and I am reflecting on our wedding a year later, my favorite part was how fun the day actually was. Because we were technically married I felt that we could relax a little more. We also had a child so it was kind of like agreeing to do this all over again even in the midst of the crazy first months of parenting:
It wasn’t a typical wedding day and in the end, we didn’t think much about it being French or American even though it inherently was. Our main goal was to create a lovely experience for our guests. Because Mehdi and I do not have the same religious culture. We did the ceremony at the venue. This meant that we could have our guests sit in the same chair from the beginning of the ceremony, to the cocktail hour, to the dinner and all through the night. So many people mentioned how the convenience made them have a great time.
I loved being able to be with our guests from the ceremony on as well. We had just moved back from New York and there were so many people that I had not seen in a long time. We had about 150 guests and this size was perfect. It was also wonderful knowing that everyone in attendance was someone I really wanted there.
It was an unforgettable day and night and I am grateful that we look back on that day with such fond memories.
Photography by Laura Wills Photography