Weddings On the Cheap Unchic in Paris

Celestino wedding dresses
The choice and fitting of a dress takes longer than wearing it.

If Your Father-in-Law Pays, Then the Sky's the Limit

Paris:- Friday, 16. January 1998:- There is sort of a dead spot in the salon and exhibition calendar after the new year; but this is not the reason I am at the Salon de Mariage 'et de l'Union!' at the Espace Champerret this afternoon.

This 'dead space' translates into there being few posters or billboards around for salons and exhibitions. The only one I have seen this week is for this salon. Marriage, I think, is sort of an optimistic undertaking, so this may be an upbeat show.

In the sunlight, the Espace Champerret itself is not so 'upbeat' as it is sort of a bunker; either over or under the Péripherique at the Porte de Champerret. When I was last here, for the wine show, it was dark and this gloomy aspect was not quite as obvious as it is today.

This is a short salon; it starts today and finishes Monday night. It lasts as long as some marriages. But forget this negativism - this is not really about 'marriage,' it is about weddings. Everybody knows these are supposed to be big parties.

For weddings, people go all out; empty their bank accounts, to do a thing they may only do once. Maybe they can only afford it once. Or after it's once done in style, re-marriages can be carried out tall wedding cakes less formally - ceremony at the Hôtel de Ville, and hop, skip, jump off to the nearest pizzeria. This, I think, is the 'union' part of the salon's subtitle. The first time though, it has got to be the 'blast of a lifetime.'

On display; but real or fake? Wedding cakes are meant to be seen once, then put in a closet.

If you are not thinking of this much, you might be surprised to learn that there are really a lot of items on a 'to do' list for carrying off a successful wedding. There are so many things in fact, that the first step should be to get a 'How To Do It' book on the subject. Some people merely write a list on the back of a menu and let it go at that.

Although polls show that 'mariage' and 'famille' are favorite words of the French, there are only about 4.4 marriages per thousand inhabitants. Like the rest of the funky western world, the French are marrying late: at 26 for the ladies and 28 for the gents.

Men are helping out around the home a bit more; their time spent on domestic chores has risen by 11 minutes a day, while madame's has fallen by four minutes. My guess is men are trying to 'fix' things before calling 'SOS-washing machine' and their wives are cooking more frozen stuff in the microwave. The press release says 70 percent of men still carry 'wood' and 73 percent of women still wash the dishes.

While the French buy 200,000 carats worth of diamonds a year, only two percent of these are for wedding rings. About a quarter of the total goes for birthdays and anniversaries, but not including the seven percent for wedding anniversaries.

It is in warmer weather that 60 percent of marriages take place in France, with June and September being the months with the most. Out in the country, there are old sayings like 'noce de the model's stage mai, noce de mort' which tends to put people off.

About 80 percent of marriages are on Saturdays; but half the marriages of managers take place on Fridays. Shopkeepers and artisans tend to marry on Mondays, when their businesses have their weekly closing.

With what's at stake, the salon had three or four runway shows a day.

The sub-slogan for this salon is, 'Cherchez la femme, vous trouverez le mari!' I asked my partner what this means, because it seems to sum up what I am doing at this salon; but I don't see how it applies to life in general. 'Look for the ladies, you'll find a husband.'

There are definitely more ladies here than husbands, and I can't tell if the few men around are married because I've never been good at spotting rings.

What there are a lot of, are stands flogging wedding outfits - and most of these have wedding gowns, and a good deal of these have young ladies inside them. I can't tell whether they are models or potential customers, but if they are the latter, there are some lucky guys out there - if they can afford it.

On average, to get to say, 'Je t'aime, je veux t'epouser,' costs between 40,000 and 80,000 francs - but this includes feeding and boozing the guests too. The press release says this salon is responsible for 16,000 weddings a year so I take out my calculator to arrive at 6.4 million francs, at the lower end of the scale. I am not sure if this includes 'la coiffure' either. The grand total for all France comes to eleven billion francs a year spent on weddings.

If you haven't gotten married lately, you might have forgotten what it can involve. Without looking at the press release, but by just jotting down what I've seen here, I get the following keywords:

Religion, dresses, accessories, stationary, catering, reception, animation, photos, honeymoon, limousine, gifts, marriage lists, guest lists, and astrology. There, I left out hairdressers.

Let me start with... catering. One thing you have to have in France is 'dragées.' I didn't know this until I talked to the lady at the Otarie Gourmande stand. These are almonds in a mantle of sugar, and they are supposed to be quite complicated to make. With Spanish almonds in them, you can pay paddle-wheel receptions as little as 59 francs a kilo. The lady said Italian almonds are the best, and the Sicilian 'Avola Imperiale' model costs 210 francs a kilo.

Las Vegas is building its 'Paris,' while Paris has its own Mississippi stern-wheelers.

In addition to spreading these - mixed with little silver 'perles' - around the table, you are supposed to give a little gift packet of them to each departing guest. The packets themselves, also made by the same firm, cost a dollar each. I tried a dragée and after I got through the sugar, there was a good almond inside.

Next, you can't get properly married in France without having a real limousine, but I am not going to say anything about the common-as-2CVs white, stretch-Lincolns, Bentleys or Rollers. Instead, Dream Rental Car has just the thing: a very shiny, gleaming black, convertible, 1941, Cadillac, with white side-wall tires and red wheels. Air conditioned too.

Dream Rental recently traded in their tacky 1960 Sedan-de-Ville for a much more interesting 1938 Packard sedan, and it also has white-wall tires.

In Paris, in the Ile-de-France, there are thousands of places to have the reception; the wedding dinner - so I don't want to go through all these possibilities. Still, the paddle-wheel steamer, cruise the Seine by night... no? Too American? Do they do stuff like this in America? Do people get married at Disneyland? Can people here get married at Asterix Park? Main dish: raw wild boar? Maybe.

On to the honeymoon - literally the 'lune de miel' or better yet, a 'voyage de noces,' to some exotic place. The organizer of visit New Caledonia this salon, Mr. Abbou, seems to be promoting the Ile de Réunion in the Indian Ocean.

To be perverse, and because I happen upon it by chance, I will propose instead New Caledonia in the South Pacific, which is being plugged by Australie Tours in Paris.

Far from the cares of Paris, in the South Pacific, tropic breezes - could make getting married worthwhile.

As it is called Nouvelle-Calédonie in France, partly because it was 'attached' to France by Napoléon III in 1843, and became an offshore territory in 1957, it is almost like being in France itself, except for its South Pacific breezes and swaying palms.

At the salon, there is an all-inclusive honeymoon package offer for about 15,000 francs. Australie Tours has other destinations as well and I got interested in their rates for Perth, so I forgot to ask if the 'honeymoon special' was for a single, or a couple.

For a couple, I think. Bonne chance et bon voyage!

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