Becoming French

5 Fantastic Things about a Surprise Wedding

We threw a surprise wedding.
And it was the best thing ever.

When we decided to get married, it started as most wedding planning does: we started looking at dates and locations that would create the perfect backdrop for our wedding. Being that we are in France, there is no shortage of chateaux or domaines.

I then began to learn what a typical French wedding looks like: spread over multiple days with multiple ceremonies (civil and religious/non-religious) and the stress quickly set in. I had no idea what I was doing, had never even been to a French wedding before, I didn’t speak the language fluently, and didn’t even know where to start.

La Dîme de Giverny, France

After visiting several chateaux and domaines and even an open-air cathedral, we chose La Dîme de Giverny for our surprise birthday/wedding weekend!

Enter brilliant idea: “let’s do a surprise wedding!” As in, let’s do a get-together with some friends and family (like a lunch!) and on the way to this “lunch” we could randomly make a stop at the city hall and get married there on the spot.

Enter brilliant idea: “let’s do a surprise wedding!”

No stress. Little planning. No expectations.

Jérôme had never even heard of a surprise wedding but liked the idea of doing something totally different and fun. Except, he envisioned a real party… and we could do it all as a surprise party for his 40th birthday.

Great idea! Great timing! Throwing a big party for a 40th birthday would be a perfect cover. One problem: this now means that I have even MORE responsibility in a language that I didn’t speak well. And we are back to doing a full wedding. And I mentioned that I still had never even been to a French wedding?

Jérôme arriving for his “surprise” party… all of the guests had his face on a stick when he walked in the room, which was ACTUALLY a surprise!

Just kidding. Enter <stress and meltdowns>.

After taking on wedding research as my full-time job, the stress was mounting… and I was cracking. I came upon some wedding planners in the south of France and everything I saw of theirs clicked with me. They were up for the challenge and quickly became our literally-secret weapon. </stress and meltdowns>

We planned the event for just under a year, and all of our reasons for wanting to do it were totally validated through the experience.

5 reasons we chose a surprise wedding (and it was awesome):

1- We wanted our wedding to be a natural extension of our lives.

Doing a surprise wedding immediately broke the mold and allowed us to imagine our wedding “from scratch.” We are no ordinary couple (I mean, who is, right!?). Our relationship is a dance of culture, language, and nationality. A constant flow of lead and follow, give and take, teach and learn, mix and match, and we wanted that to be reflected.

2- Keeping it secret meant we weren’t constantly fielding the expectations of others.

I didn't want a traditional dress. While there are MANY that I loved (ahem, Lorafolk, ahem), I opted instead for this gorgeous gown from BDHLN. Turns out many people still think you *have* to wear a traditional, white wedding dress at your wedding. Guess what?! You don't! It's YOUR wedding and YOUR dress! Doing a surprise wedding meant I didn't have all of our friends and family telling me that I had made the wrong choice.

I didn’t want a traditional dress. While there are MANY that I loved (ahem, Lorafolk), I opted instead for this gorgeous gown from BDHLN as I wanted something that I could wear again. 

Friends and family have often very opinionated views on what YOUR wedding should be like and they can get pretty upset if you don’t “follow the rules.” We (mostly) avoided this, and it gave us so much freedom.

For example, turns out many people still think you *have* to wear a traditional, white wedding dress at your wedding. Guess what?! You don’t! Doing a surprise wedding meant I didn’t have any I didn’t have many of our friends and family telling me that I had made the wrong choice.

It also turns out that French and American weddings are quite different. We would have both felt out of place in the other culture’s wedding, as would have our families. Neither of us is particularly traditional, nor did we have a felt need to do things “like everyone else.” So we kept the stuff we liked, adapted and added other things we wanted and cut out the stuff that wasn’t significant to us.

3- Our wedding was our 007 project, and we worked really closely together on it.

I would venture to say that we would have never worked that closely and meticulously had we gone with a more traditional approach, where it tends to be the bride that does the majority of the planning.

We ended up telling our wedding party about two months ahead of time (surprising a wedding party of 8 just hours before the wedding was working out to be way the hell too complicated), and then it was super fun to have our closest friends in on our big secret project as well.

4- We focused a lot on our friends and family

Two of our best friends officiated our wedding and made it incredibly special.

Since we had already been officially (but secretly, aside from our witnesses and immediate family) married for 8 months, the whole point of doing this wedding was to celebrate with friends and family, so we worked extra hard to incorporate them and make their experience unique and memorable. I created a Facebook Event for the cover-party and thus we had ongoing interaction and discussion amongst our guests for the 8 months leading up to the wedding.

5- The day-of was SO fun.

The dance party started as soon as we were “officially” (or, I guess it’s unofficially?!) pronounced husband and wife! We, followed by our wedding party, danced down the aisle.

One of my favorite parts about our wedding was that I literally hung out with all of the guests and had a glass of vin chaud 15 minutes before the ceremony! Of course, they had no idea that that was the case, but it was so fun and void of stress to hang out with everyone at the pre-cocktail. I mean, who normally does that at their wedding?!

We were proud of having pulled it off, we were happy that each detail reflected us and we were thrilled to have the chance to spend time with friends and family in a weekend that was designed for us to enjoy being together, not just to follow customs.

In the end, everyone had a good time, and most of all, WE had a blast.

If you are thinking of doing a surprise wedding (ha, especially one that includes people sleeping over night and having a 2nd day together), it will not necessarily be EASIER, but it will certainly be memorable but it will give you plenty of freedom to make decisions that you may not otherwise make.

As we drove home at the end of the weekend, Jérôme said to me with a sense of satisfaction and pride in his voice,

“Well, I don’t think we made a mistake by doing a surprise wedding.”

A few features on the interwebs:

“La plus grande surprise n’était pas pour nous, mais pour nos invités !”  | The Reporthair
Un mariage surprise à La Dîme de Giverny | La mairee aux peids nus
Wedding video teaser | Pocket Film

The DREAM TEAM that helped make this a reality:

Photographer: Ingrid Lepan | Wedding planner: Wanderlust Wedding |  Flourist: Lily Paloma | Venue: La Dîme de Giverny | Video: Pocket Film | Wedding Dress:  BHLDN and Sessun Oui | Shoes: Rachel Simpson and Remix Vintage | Rings: Jenny Kwon Designs and Frank Gef | Hair and MakeUp: The Reporthair | Stationery: Me! Bonjour Melissa | Wedding cake: Synie’s | Catering: Melhan Traiteur  | DJ: L’atelier des Emotions | Furniture: Be lounge



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