• Marina Chaffanjon


Updated: Jan 28

When we started thinking seriously about our wedding... we actually didn't know what to start with... or rather where. Shall we get married in France? Or Russia? Or elsewhere? And if we are to get married on a neutral territory, where will it be? Then another, and even more delicate question came up: are we going to have a civil or a religious wedding? Or both? Shall we organise a small intimate party or a big who's-this-old-man-over-there style of wedding?

All roads lead to... Crete

You remember how different we are? So add to this our families who also had their views and you will get an idea of the nightmare of the initial stage of our wedding preparation. While fighting about all these questions, I confess, I thought several times that we'd rather get married just two of us on an island lost in an ocean. But if we didn't do it, it's because we both dreamt of our wedding as of a moment we would love to share with our close friends and family. We also both agreed that because a religious wedding in an Orthodox Christian Church is important for me, The Chef would do it. Non-practicing Catholic as he is, this was a big sacrifice and I appreciate it a lot! Now, to skip ahead, I can tell you that had he known in the beginning about the preparation with the Russian priest I would incite him to do, 2-hour masses in Greek he would have to attend, all the documents we would need to officially translate into Greek and the expenses we would need to carry to buy the material for the ceremony, he would have probably changed his mind!

Amidst all these discussions, in June 2016 The Chef's parents invited their children with their plus ones to Crete to celebrate their 30-year wedding anniversary. 30 years! I wish we could be as tender and loving to each other three decades later. The small village in East Crete that we went to is a place for those few tourists who, if they find it, enjoy a calm routine of their holidays: beach, Greek salad and ouzo (a Greek national alcohol drink), dinner in a tavern (one of the two that exist there) and bed. This lazy rhythm, simple but tasty food, transparent sea, olive groves and, above all, an almost unbelievable kindness of the local people, charmed us so much that we had this crazy idea - and what if we get married there? And indeed, why not? Greece is an Orthodox country where there is no lack of churches; you can almost be sure that the weather would be good in summer with no surprises; the island is fairly well connected with Russia, France and, although less so, Dubai. Finally and what is even more important, considering the distance, most of our guests would come for a bit longer than just the day of our wedding, so we would be able to enjoy their company. Thus, the choice was made! We would say "YES" to each other in a tiny chapel on a hill overlooking the sea. Magnificent!

A marriage of convenience?

But what about the civil wedding? - you would ask. Normally, even if people separate their civil and religious weddings, they try to keep these dates and venues close. But we soon realized that in order to let me live and work in France without a problem, we need to get married in France.... and the sooner, the better! In my case, postponing a civil wedding would have been a social-bureaucratic suicide and I would have minimized my already low chances to find a job in France to zero, considering the current unemployment records in France and overall "enthusiasm" about immigration. So we took the decision to tie the knot officially right after we settled down in France in The Chef's hometown.

I like the French expression that could be literally translated as "in a small committee". And it is exactly what it was, a home party "in a small committee" of 14 persons of our close family (my mother and sister came from Russia for this occasion, whereas my father and brother couldn't join us) and witnesses from each side. In the morning we all went to the mayor house to register our wedding. It is a fairly ugly building, but with a nice flower garden, which saved the group pictures. The civil ceremony was quite short and very "civil" - we just signed the contract after the Mayor's short speech - but it was still touching and I dropped some tears. After the contract was signed and numerous group pictures (none of which is perfect as we didn't have a professional photographer) were made, we came back home.

"Take part" or invitation?

Another French expression that I really appreciate is the French for mother-in-law - "beautiful mother" who is a part of you "beautiful family": beautiful father, brother, etc. It is clear now that in France it is impossible to have conflicts with your in-laws when you are a-priori of such a high opinion of them! So my "beautiful mother" invited some of her close friends to the ceremony and the aperitif, but not to the dinner. This is an absolutely normal approach to weddings in general - normally a lot of guests are invited to the church, a few less to the cocktail and just the closest ones - to the seated dinner. Each guest receives an invitation card for the part of the wedding they are invited to. For example, if you are invited to the cocktail and the dinner, you will receive two small cards inside your faire-part (literally, take-part, or an announcement of an important event, i.e. wedding, birth, baptism etc.). If you are invited to a cocktail only, you will have just one card. The faire-part alone without any cards can also be given, but only to those not very close people who are NOT invited to the wedding. The faire-part therefore is a form of announcement of happy news. It contains the information about the newly weds, their parents if they wish, the date and venue of the wedding ceremony. If the recipients (including the non-invited ones) wish, they can give a gift to the bride and the groom.

It took me time to understand this whole faire-part culture, especially the part about selective invitations. In Russia, if you are invited to a cocktail but not to a dinner, this is an insult for the guest. You'd rather be not invited at all, than be considered as a second-sort guest. I have to say as well that in Russia we can afford to invite all for a seated dinner for two reasons: firstly, the cocktail traditionally does not even exist, people sit down directly at the table, therefore, one thing off the wedding budget; secondly, Russian weddings are usually quite small, 30-80 people maximum.

Lost in translation

The day before the weather was amazing and it was summer hot, but the night wind brought clouds and we lost about 7 degrees in temperature. The garden party plan was replaced by a dining room one. The Chef's father bought for the occasion Russian and French flags, which made a nice background for the royal family-like photos. My mother-in-law polished her silver and took out from her chests old family embroidered napkins; she also sewed cute sachets for dragees, a local wedding tradition, and hand made heart-shaped name tags; finally, we bought a few cute flowers in tiny buckets - the table was sublime!

Civil wedding table decoration

During the cocktail we made a speech about our story: The Chef was speaking in Russian and I - in French. It was both funny and touching, short and meaningful. It's one of those speeches that makes you cry and laugh at the same time. The Chef was stressed, his hands trembling, and I was shining. Everyone was happy and smiling, the ambience in the room was amazing. It's perhaps one of my strongest memories.

Out of 14 people at the table, 12 spoke French and only three and a half (The Chef only speaks a little) - Russian. My little sister is learning both English and French, but if her English allows her to communicate, her French reveals that her teacher is not paid for second-language classes and therefore always cancels them. As a result, I had to translate all table conversations for my mother and my sister. This is a hard and tiring job and usually leaves both the amateur interpreter and the person who she/he translates for unsatisfied. My mom and sister were feeling lost and I couldn't keep track of all the jokes and conversations at the table. I'm not worried though for our big day - all the texts are translated into two languages and, most importantly, I will not be the only Russian person my family will be able to communicate with.

Our wedding weekend unfortunately didn't finish with a classic American scenario of the newly weds leaving together by car. It was just the contrary. Sunday night we parted: The Chef left with another woman (a friend of mine) for Paris and I moved with my mom and sister to Lyon for another three days before going together to Moscow. This was a necessary evil because I had to apply for my spouse visa from my home country. Well, the good news is that next time it will all be different as we will stay in Crete for a couple of days after the wedding and we will leave after that together, as we now should always do as a married couple :)

To follow...

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