Elena & Flo's ad-libbed, tri-lingual, French castle wedding

May 14 |

The offbeat bride: Elena, illustrator, graphic designer, marketing guru

Her offbeat partner: Flo, Software Engineer

Location & date of wedding: Chateau du Mont Joly, Sampans, France — September 5, 2009

What made our wedding offbeat: Flo's family lives in the French countryside. He really wanted our wedding to take place in his hometown. We, however, live in Austin, TX. Planning an event on the other side of the world meant we couldn't meet with vendors, see venues, or shop for decorations.

So we turned to the internet for help. I got my dress from the amazing Chrissy Wai Ching, who worked with me remotely to develop a one of a kind design, which was shipped directly to France. Jewelry, rings, accessories, shoes – were all bought online and Fed-Exed to France. We found Etsy artists and independent studios, who brought our other ideas to life, which were much cheaper than buying from stores. We had no great vision, but as time went by, we started to see a distinct theme and color scheme develop, so we accidentally ended up with a "green/brown/orange" color scheme, and a sphere-and-feather motif.

We arrived in France three days before the wedding, all we brought with us by way of decor was some dried petals, paper lanterns, and string LED lights. We ran around home goods stores like crazy people. We finally ended up in IKEA where we got decorative twigs, dried plants, candles, pebbles, and wrapping tuille. We enlisted siblings to help put everything together on the night before the wedding in the basement of the venue, and the staff helped us put everything up. Phew! Just in the nick of time!

Our biggest challenge: Oh, the bureaucracy of a French wedding! I am Russian, and had changed my name when I became naturalized as an American citizen many years ago. The French system is so convoluted that they refused to marry me with my legal name, insisting instead on my birth name which I haven't used for over a decade. We had to appeal to the Russian consulate in Houston to issue a document, only to learn that it wasn't sufficient. So, upon landing in Paris, instead of going straight home to my in-laws, we had to drive to the American Embassy to get this mess straightened out. My marriage certificate still has two names on it, but at least it has ONE right one.

Another big challege was mitigating the guest list, which included some people who spoke ONLY French, ONLY English, and ONLY Russian. Some creative seating arrangements, some very helpful tri-lingual friends, and a LOT of champagne ensured that everyone understood each other, and multi-cultural friendships were formed by the end of the night.

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My favorite moment:First, the owners of our venue, Chateau du Mont Joly, were incredibly accommodating and worked their butts off to make sure we got exactly what we wanted. I had no time to even think about getting a cake, so had made peace with the idea that there wouln't be one. But at the end of the night, the whole staff brought our this chocolate volcano-looking thing and cookies plastered all over it, with little flares going off. Not only was it absurdly delicious, but they had totally captured the mood of our whole party.

Flo's dad gave an amazing toast in three languages – French, English, and Russian, which he had apparently practiced for days unbeknownst to me (he only speaks French), bringing the Russian crowd to their feet in a standing ovation.

We did not have a band, or live musicians, so Flo's friends, who are professional DJs, brought their equipment from the next town over, and totally rocked the night. We danced our butts off til five am.

Basically, at the end of the day, three cultures came together perfectly and threw an ad-libbed, noisy, happy, delicious party. I hope the rest of our join life continues to be summarized by those words.
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My advice for offbeat brides: My advice would be to keep an open mind and a sense of craftiness when dealing with challenging situations. Because we simply didn't have the option of doing it the easy way, we had to keep asking ourselves: how else can we achieve this?

By dealing with individual artists, jewelers etc – we managed to save a ton of money and all our wedding stuff was highly personalized, and richly meaningful.

The little craft session with our siblings in the castle's basement the night before the wedding was an awesome little party by itself, and we managed to make our tables pretty amazing.

I would say, keep looking for opportunities in different places, enlist help, and learn how to say thank you in many different languages!!

Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

  1. It is so charming that Flo's dad took the time to learn his tri-lingual wedding toast!
    That cookie/cake fire is a masterpiece!

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    • Actually those cookies are a very very posh and expensive (and utmost delicious) dessert, called macarons. Making a cake out of them is a brilliant idea!
      In Paris, people from all over the world queue at this one bakery to buy them, craziness!
      http://www.laduree.fr/

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  2. Your wedding looks fantastic, you clearly have a flair for design and decoration :)

    I was wondering (if you're reading) did you mix languages at dinner tables? We have a similar situation (although only two languages – French and English) and I don't quite know what to do: we don't want to effectively segregate our families, but on the other hand, we want people to be able to talk to each other.

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  3. Wow! This story made me tear up! The surprise cake! The tri-lingual toast (with standing O!), the dreamy location and the very striking couple! Congrats!

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  4. Wow! Is it a cake? An explosion? A Dalek going mental? Whatever it is it's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.

    Congratulations to both of you and all the people who came together to make it happen. That's a pretty tough situation but you made it work and it all looks fantastic.

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  5. What an amazing wedding and couple :)
    Great feature! ZoeandDoyle are making my guy's ring as well. Awesome shop!

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  6. This made me tear up. How sweet and beautiful and fun. :)

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  7. I love this wedding! The collision of cultures is one of my favorite elements of offbeat weddings… and yours takes the (flaming, cookie-covered) cake! You are a beautiful couple.

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  8. Hannah, as far as seating arrangements, we definitely mixed up the younger crowd. So our friends, siblings, etc – were seated at tables where all languages are spoken. We just made sure that there was someone at each of those tables who could translate if needed. The older folks we generally seated within their language group. It worked really well.

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    • Sounds like a good solution. Thanks for the tip :)

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    • These invites are gorgeous. Sooo jealous. The whole wedding just looks magical and brought a tear to my eye too. Congratulations!

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  9. To clear things up about the French administration (which can indeed get convoluted at times): the only legally valid name is the birth name. You can change your name, when marrying for instance (in this case you borrow your husband's name), but for administrative purposes, your name is your birth name. I guess Elena knows that by now, but other OBBs might not.

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  10. GASP! That castle is so amazingly beautiful! And I spy gorgeous matryoshkas on the wedding table. Win!

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