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A French Life: Vive la différence Anglo French Marriages

We look at Anglo French marriages: When Marilyn went on a skiing holiday to France she had more of an adventure than she expected. On the slopes she met a Frenchman who looked her in the eyes and wouldn’t look away – when she looked back into his eyes she was lost…

We met with Marilyn Catchpole-Dossat from London who now lives in Pas-de-Calais with her French husband Yves. We asked her if she thought that there were fundamental differences between the French and the British that made marriage between the two more “interesting”!

We don’t really argue – although my French is quite good, I don’t react quickly enough when I’m en colère (cross). So I tend to huff and puff and when I calm down I find I can say what I want; but by that time it’s all blown over. It can be really frustrating sometimes and I wonder what effect it’s having on my blood pressure!

How did we meet? When we first met neither of us could speak much of each other’s language; so how did we ever get together?  Well it was like this… I went skiing in France with some friends from work. It was what they call a Jumelage (twinning) trip. We all worked for British, French or German Telecoms.

He looked at me like no Englishman ever has…Have you ever noticed how French men (and women) never lower their eyes when they look at you? He looked at me like no Englishman ever has and continued to do so (to the point of embarrassing me) until I smiled at him.  After that he took me out on the piste and gave me some skiing lessons. His skiing was ‘poetry in motion’ and I literally ‘fell’ for him.

He brought his mother over to England to check out the wedding venue – he was 52 at the time! We corresponded by letter; we phoned (dictionary at hand) and visited as often as work would allow. Two years later we decided to get married; he brought his mother over to England to check out the venue – he was 52 at the time! That was my first experience of the French matriarch. She’s a wonderful woman I have to say, who now finds it amusing to call me her ‘beautiful daughter’ literally translated from belle-fille. The first time I met Yves’ dad he told me that he didn’t really like the English. We became very good friends though! He was the mayor of Volvic for twelve years, a very well liked and respected man in his community; he died at the age of 92.

There was never any question about where we’d live… Although I enjoyed my job, there was never any question about where we’d live; his work was so unique that he’d never find the same employment in England. His title’ Secrétaire Régionale ASPTT’ (Association Sportive des Postes Télégrammes et Télécommunication), Auvergne region. Actually, it was great for me as I went with him to many of the ski resorts and competitions and conferences. He would work – and I would ski. I gave up my job and we got married – pourquoi pas? (why not?)

His family decided that an English wedding would be chouette (cool). For us to get married in England there was a lot of form filling and correspondence with the Consulat General de France in London; requests of translated extracts of birth, marriage, divorce/decree nisi had to be obtained/paid for; and proof of identity and nationality provided.

When the big day arrived, the ‘Frellies’ (my term for French relatives) piled excitedly onto the ferry from Greenwich Pier to St Catherine’s dock and arrived at the Tower Thistle hotel for the ceremony, wearing their best outfits and big hats, which by the way, I had told them was an English tradition. They were totally bewildered that I wasn’t actually wearing one myself! We had a civil ceremony with music and chose songs that meant something to us both: ‘The Power of Love’ by Jennifer Rush and then Edith Piaf’s ‘L’hymne à L’amour’, finishing with Charles Aznavour’s ‘Formidable’ – all our guests were jigging around and joining in– it really was formidable!

French weddings are different to English ones… French wedding parties are completely different to English ones – the French stretch the day out well into the night and you don’t get your dessert or coffee until the wee small hours. In the end we had to tell our French best man that the natives were getting restless; it was now 8pm and high time he made his speech and let everyone get on with enjoying themselves. He gave a hilarious speech and kept saying “I yam verree appee” in his pigeon English and had us Londoners rolling about laughing.

French delicacies, pâtés and cheeses with ‘cockney’ jellied eels and seafood… We held our wedding party at the Greenwich Yacht Club, thanks to my brother who was ‘Commodore’ at the time.  Traditional food was laid out side by side with French delicacies, pâtés and cheeses next to the cockney’s obligatory jellied eels and seafood. A selection of lovely deserts and wedding cake were washed down with copious amounts of French Champagne and great British beer!

See Part II – when the honey moon is over and reality sets in…

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