Monday, January 12, 2009

Trouble in Paradise

This morning when I went downstairs to check our pigeon hole for letters, I found another stiff envelope addressed to the pair of us. Turning it over I saw the return address was - as I had suspected - Scotland. Back in the warmth of the apartment I opened the envelope and admired the lilac floral card, emblazoned with the words ‘You’re Engaged!’ I was touched when I read the words inside, the three signatures at the bottom belonging to my dad’s colleagues. Colleagues who, despite them having worked alongside my dad for years, I have never met. How kind of these people to have thought of me, to have shared in my joy, to have gone to the effort of buying a card and sending it all the way to France, in order to congratulate me and to show their support.

Smiling, I place the card with the rest of the ‘Congratulations’ and ‘You’re engaged!’ cards that line the mantelpiece and I consider for a moment the fact that every single one of those cards have come from my family, from my friends. I remember the piles of beautiful, thoughtful engagement gifts we received while in Scotland too, that wait for us in my childhood bedroom back home, too heavy or fragile to have squeezed into our suitcases when we made our journey back to Paris last weekend. No gifts from the French side of the nearest and dearest. No cards, no gifts, no warm wishes.

Is it a difference in cultures, I wonder, or could this sinking feeling I have been harbouring over the past week prove right? Do the French make less of a big deal out of an engagement than in Britain, or is it simply that FP’s family think he can do better for himself than to choose to wed a Scottish girl?

This past weekend was spent in Dieppe, staying with FP’s grandfather and his partner. We sat down at the table shortly after our arrival to begin the aperitif and to toast the New Year. FP squeezed my hand under the table and said, “We’d also like to make a toast. We’ve got some good news. Over Christmas, we got engaged.”

I hadn’t expected cheers and whoops of joy, but I had expected someone to crack a smile at least. All we got instead was an “ah yes, we’d heard. Your mother told us.”

I was taken aback. I mean, seriously, that was all they could come up with?! Don’t pull a lip muscle smiling or anything, will you. I sprung forward with my left hand to show off the ring, trying to fill the strange silence that had formed where there should have been ‘congratulations’ and hugs and la bise. Very quickly – too quickly – the subject was changed, as if we had said nothing at all.

Afterwards, during the meal, I couldn’t shake off the feeling of disappointment. Was this really a normal way to welcome joyful news within a French family? Perhaps it’s not joyful news to them at all, I contemplated. I hadn’t considered that just because this was my joyful news, it mightn’t please everyone.

In between the cheese course and dessert, FP and I were left alone for a minute or two while our hosts busied themselves in the kitchen, fetching the Galette des Rois.

“Well that went down like a led balloon.” I whispered to FP in English. He raised his eyebrows at me.

“What did?”

“When you told them we’re getting married. They didn’t even crack a smile, never mind congratulate us! I get the feeling no one in your family wants us to get married…”

“I know…” FP replied, looking down at the tablecloth and playing with a bread crumb. “I guess it’s because it wasn’t a surprise to them. Mum had already told them.”

The hostess reappeared and I sat back, rearranged my features to make my face look interested in the conversation again. But my mind flit from one worry to another. Suppose they hate me? Is it because I’m not French?

Before FP proposed to me, he asked my parents whether it was okay with them first. I wasn’t there, obviously, but I did hear later that my dad stood up, a beaming smile on his face, and gave FP a hug, saying ‘Welcome to the family, son.’ After the announcement was made, we spoke about the wedding, when might it be and would it be in France or Scotland, and it was clear that both my parents and my brother were completely over the moon for us.

Telling the rest of the family and my friends was fun too. Even my grandpa who pretends he is completely against marriage gave us a toast and said congratulations after he had jokingly gave us his commiserations. My best friend, Zannie, invited us both to her house the day after Christmas for an aperitif with her entire family (her grandparents and uncle included) where we were hugged and congratulated and given gifts. Everyone was asking us questions about the wedding, everyone was interested.

Which is why it’s extremely difficult to not get upset when any time we try to talk about the wedding with FP’s family, we get greeted with a completely contrasting scene where the topic is quickly changed at the soonest opportunity. Or so it seems to me, at least.

It’s really very sad that although I should be jumping for joy right now and excitedly planning my wedding, the lack of enthusiasm that I’ve been met with from FP’s family has really begun to kill off any happiness or excitement I had in the first place.

It’s at times like these when I would give anything just to spend some quality time with a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine and my lovely, straight forward, always-pleased-for-me mum.


Anonymous said...

Oh Princesse, its not the feelings you'd hoped for a as newly engaged gal is it? That is horrible! Good on the all the Scottish friends though, that's how you are supposed to be when your friends/loved ones get engaged, you are truly happy for them, I'm really happy for you and FP and a little jealous!! What does FP say? Is it normal for French people to react this way? I have found some French friends to be a little cold, is it not something they celebrate/congratulate like we do? I think that its more a cultural thing than them not being happy about their boy being with a Scottish lass. Have you ever had bad vibes from the family before the engagement? They've been open and welcoming of your relationship with FP before the engagement haven't they? I know what it is, they are all jealous that they don't have a wonderfully foreign other half!!

Lis of the North said...

Princesse honey it's a French thing. Take nothing personally. The French don't do engagement cards, wedding anniversaries, Christmas cards, Easter cards and sometimes not even birthday cards.
Any family with any sense is going to be over the moon that their dearest boy has found a woman to make him happy forever, no matter where she comes from.
Look on the bright side, think how much money you won't be spending on greeting's cards ;) xx

Princesse Ecossaise said...

Kim You're right, it's certainly not the reaction you expect when you're newly engaged! FP changes his tune often. Sometimes he says it's just the French way, and other times he admits that it's a bit strange and he doesn't really know what's up. But it's true, his parents and family were always very welcoming. But maybe they're just not ready for this step. It's all very confusing for me!!

Princesse Ecossaise said...

Lis Oh my God, really?! Oh well that's such a relief! I mean it doesn't explain everything but it does make more sense. It would just be nice if people wouldn't keep changing the subject as if it's a taboo subject!! But still, to know that they don't do cards or gifts or go big into celebrating it helps me understand that side of things. Thanks Lis, you've made me feel a whoooole lot better!

Micah D.L. said...

I worked with a bride recently who got less-than-happy reactions from people she thought were her friends...saying things like "We don't support this marriage" and "We don't want anything to do with this"...and these were some of her dearest friends. Appalling.

Here's what I told her:
getting engaged, planning a wedding and subsequently being married are hard enough as it is...surround yourselves ONLY with people who support and encourage you. Naysayers be damned!

You will have a lovely wedding!

Zannie said...

Love you lots! (And FP :) ) Silly old grumpies may just take time to get their head round things, and as people have said, the FRench are different about long as you and FP are happy, that's all that matters. Can't wait to be your "lady" (WE'LL FORGET ABOUT THAT AWFUL WORD MY MUM USED!) of honour!!
Hugs n Kisses x x x

Anonymous said...

It really is a French thing, I promise. We have very good friends that got engaged and didn't feel the need to tell us for over 2 months. it was only when I saw her engagement ring and asked her, that she said, yea, we're engaged. Like, hello?!

You can tell how little Frenchies think of engagaments by the size of the ring...tiny.

I've explained to my Frenchie that our tradiation is to spend one (or is it two?) months wages on an engagements ring (ok, maybe outdated now) and his jaw dropped. French brides spend a month's wage on their wedding dress. It's cultural.

About the cards etc...My Fsmily in Law know that it's normal for Brits to send cards all the time so you can imagine how touched I was to receive 'Happy St Catherine Day card' and even Christmas cards from my bro-in laws. They have really started to make an effort concerning that but it has taken 3 years.... Again, cultural, don't take it personally. Promise, they'll be sooo happy on the day for you, and that's all that counts.

Esa said...

Hey princesse...I wish I had some words of wisdom, but all I can say is do NOT let their lack of enthusiasm damper your happiness! Maybe, as the years go by and they see how much delight you and your family take in other people's happiness, they might just learn a thing or two from you.

I just feel sad for people who can't just embrace a celebration. I love ANY reason to celebrate, and seeing how happy you and FP are together, even across an ocean and on a page, makes me feel happy inside. I think I'll just have to raise a glass to you from here...Salut!

Princesse Ecossaise said...

Micah I know you are sooo right when you say we need to avoid being around those who aren't 100% supportive and happy for us but it is quite difficult when it's FP's nearest and dearest. Oh I just hope so badly that things change over time. And if they don't then perhaps one of us (preferably FP) will have to say something along the lines of what you just said to me. Naysayers be damned!! :-)

Oh my dearest Zannie how I love you too and how I've missed you since we got back to France! Thanks so much for your email and your advice and this message. You are the best friend a girl could ever ask for, MAITRON!!! Heeheehee! mwah xxxxxxxxxx

Emmy God I am so glad to hear that (in a way)! I didn't mention it because I didn't want to make FP look suspicious or bad, but he hasn't even told his friends. When I ask him why not he just says that he doesn't have any friends, but that's not true! ANyway that's one of the things that hurt the most but if it's kinda normal for the French that it makes a whole lot more sense. And that's really sweet that your Frenchies family have taken to the card giving! Obviously they like you a lot!

Esa That was such a lovely, lovely comment, thankyou! I'm really touched, actually! Cheers!

curiositist said...

You shouldn't care whether they approve or disapprove it.They are unhappy people,in case they aren't happy for a young couple.

Lis ,you said no cards?!how boring!

Sev said...

This is definitely a french thing, like said Lis and Amy we don't do cards (I'm french btw) - either you see the person to say happy birhtday or anything else, or you call them, but never do cards - as for the engagement maybe it's less than a big deal than it would be in Scotland - i guess the wedding is the real thing, see my brothers and sisters have been engaged for 10 years.... still want to get married but not married yet so I guess people will get more excited when you have a date for your wedding. As for the ring, despite all the time i spent aboard I still don't understand why the bigger the better, it's just a way to show off to other people "look how much he must love me to buy me such a big ring" - i'd rather have a nive and elegant ring rather than big one - that's what i think but maybe it's because i'm french - for me the engagement is between 2 persons - of course you share it with your friends and family but I'm sure you'll see them getting more and more excited as a wedding date starts to emerge, it makes it more real than the engagement.
Honestly I'm sure FP's family are really happy for both of you, according to what i read before in your blog, they are found of you and seem very happpy to have you in the family - I guess it is something very normal for them that you get married and you are already part of the family so they didn't demonstrate as much as you would have hoped!
Anyway you are in a different country and people react differently s don't take it personnaly, the only thing that matters is that you and FP are happy... And by the way: Congratulations for the engagement.. i guess i should have strated with that!!!

Princesse Ecossaise said...

Curiositist I know I shouldn't care, but in the end it's FP's family and it means a lot to him that they are happy for us and therefore it means a lot to me too. If it were friends or distant relatives I'd care a lot less but very close family is important to us. Anyway I think it's really a whole mixture of things that have thrown people off; it's the wrong time to be planning something so expensive what with the credit crunch, and it's also a difference in culture. There's also the possibility that some people just aren't happy that we want to get married in Scotland as most of the people concerned are afraid of flying...Fingers crossed it's these reasons and not that they hate me!

Sev Hmmm yes I see your point there. It's true that nowadays people get engaged and then no wedding happens for years and years, so it's like nothing changes. As for the ring, I totally agree with you. My ring is very fine and delicate - yes, it's small, but it's mine and it's so special to me and it was still expensive. I'm happy to even have a ring, for a while we were too poor to get one and I just told FP I didn't care about the ring atall. Which is still true in a way, it's not about the physical, it's about the fact that we both love each other and are ready to commit ourselves to spending the rest of our lives together. I adore my ring because it's a symbol of our commitment but I would still be getting married even if there was no engagement ring.

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Emily Marie said...

I guess it is probably a French thing. I felt the same way after J and I got engaged last December 2007. We were in the US and my parents, family, friends and neighbors couldn't be more excited for us. Everywhere we went, people would say congratulations, how exciting... oh let me see the ring! J thought it was so neat how all these people he didn't even know very well were suddenly so enthusiastic for him. And then we came back to France....and no one gave a s**t! It was quite depressing was like all the excitement was over and I was left to plan the wedding by myself. I just didn't understand why we didn't get the same reaction from J's side of the family and why no one was excited for us. I mean we had just made such an amazing life-changing decision and were so happy and no one had anything to say! So cheer up, you're not the only one! Just feel lucky you have so many great people back home!

Princesse Ecossaise said...

Emily Marie That's such a shame! It really is depressing isn't it? In fact it's a total anti-climax is what it is. After having all the joy and excitement and congratulations from your own friends and family it's a total let down to then come back to France and see clearly that no one cares! Aww I'm so sorry for you, and for me and for all the expats who get engaged to French men who experience this same anti-climax. It's just not the way it should be.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how I managed to miss you getting engaged.

Epoustouflante! *

Mille felicitations

* my new word from French class yesterday :)