6 Secrets to planning a wedding in Paris, from Kim Petyt

Paris's Pont des Arts, where lovers padlock their names together, then throw the key into the river

Wear your chicest wedding frock on Paris’s Pont des Arts, where lovers padlock their names together, then throw the key into the river. Photo from The Paris Wedding.

After planning her own destination wedding in Paris from San Francisco—3,000 miles away!—Kimberley Petyt learned a thing or two about merging her vision of “I do” with the romance and elegance of the City of Lights. In 2006, Petyt founded Parisian Events, a wedding and event-planning agency in Paris, to help English-speaking Francophiles stylishly tie the knot. She also writes the popular blog, Parisian Party: Tales of an American Wedding Planner In Paris. And now, she has compiled a gorgeous book, The Paris Wedding, which is chock-a-block with how-to’s and who-to-consults for brides considering a wedding or elopement in the romance capital of the world. Here, Kim shares some of her wisdom with Destination: W, to get you started turning your dreams into reality.—Barrie Gillies

From The Paris Wedding, a bridal atelier

From The Paris Wedding, a bridal atelier

1. First: the wake-up call: the French love red tape. Getting married in a foreign country is rarely easy. A Parisian wedding is just a bit more difficult than that. In order to be legally wed in France, at least one of you needs to have lived in France, in the district around the city hall in which you plan to get married, for a minimum of 40 consecutive days before the wedding. Plus, once the 40-day residency issue is sorted out, there’s a ton of required paperwork from the city hall in which you plan to marry. Also, you must be legally married in a civil ceremony before you will be allowed to have a religious ceremony in France. Our suggestion: Have a legal marriage in the States and a blessing and reception in Paris.

From The Paris Wedding, a charming bouquet

From The Paris Wedding, a charming bouquet

2. Leave your impatience at the door, you’re on Paris time. You can pay a deposit, fax an Excel spreadsheet, confirm, and re-confirm an order, but it won’t really guarantee  anything. In Paris, “on time” typically means between 15 and 35 minutes “late” by U.S. standards. So, just know that it will all work out in the end, and the wedding ceremony will be just as lovely 25 minutes “later” than planned.

From The Paris Wedding, a modern bridal portrait at Eiffel Tower

From The Paris Wedding, a modern bridal portrait at Eiffel Tower

3. You cannot get married on top of the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is a national monument. If you want to host a small, personal event there, you’ll be encouraged to rent private rooms at one of the two restaurants in the tower. You can, however, marry at the base of the tower and get those iconic pix!

A table menu from The Paris Wedding

A table menu from The Paris Wedding

4. A typical French wedding lasts all day and leads into the next. Unlike a typical American wedding (ceremony/cocktail hour/reception/dancing) which is usually over by midnight, a French wedding starts with a civil ceremony at a city hall in the morning, is followed by a religious ceremony then a vin d’honneur (small cocktail reception), then a bigger cocktail reception, followed by a four- or five-course meal, and then finally, dancing. The celebration doesn’t end until five or six in the morning!

From The Paris Wedding, another portrait at Eiffel Tower

From The Paris Wedding, another portrait at Eiffel Tower

5. Guests in France can be invited to all, or only part of a wedding’s festivities. Meaning you can ask friends just to join you for dessert and dancing at midnight. No one gets offended if they aren’t included at the ceremony or the dinner. The reasoning is, of course, that everyone gets to participate in the joyous day, and La Famille isn’t left with a huge financial burden.

Cutting the cake, French style, from The Paris Wedding

Cutting the cake, French style, from The Paris Wedding

6. The French don’t eat cake…but dessert’s a big deal. Skip the multi-tiered confection and serve the traditional French wedding cake, the croquembouche, a tower of cream-filled puff pastry balls. Unlike in traditional American weddings where the cake is on display as a focal point throughout the entire reception dinner, the croquembouche is brought out at dessert time with much hoopla. The lights go down, and the DJ will start the guests chanting, “Le gateau! Le gateau!” amid quite a bit of fanfare. The head chef and his assistants will bring out the cake to the happy couple. Sometimes, the croquembouche is presented with fireworks shooting out from all over it!

Our new favorite book: The Paris Wedding, by Kimberly Petyt

Our new favorite book: The Paris Wedding, by Kimberly Petyt

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