Saturday, February 10, 2007

Another mixed-marriage in the family

In France my parents-in-law had decided to take Marc, Nina and their three cousins on a two-week beach holiday. The village de vacances had a club for the children, which would keep them all busy with games and activities. This was to help out my sister-in-law, who had four children and worked with Jacques’ brother all summer long selling clothes at beach markets. It would help me too, and I planned to visit my mum, who had been sick. The children were excited to go off alone and I was sure they would practice lots of French. When I picked them up after the holiday they were glowing with sunshine and they had had a fantastic time. Nina’s French was dramactically better and she was chatting non-stop to Manon, her cousin just a year old than her. Marc was relaxed and had enjoyed his time with his close cousin, Francois.

In August Jean and Nora got married. They chose the church near to Jean’s house, in the small village where we had lived three years before. It was a traditional marriage, the bride was in white, the house decorated with bamboo and coloured ribbons for good luck and the family had organized a vin d’honneur after the ceremony in the garden of Jean’s house. Musicians played as the couple walked the short distance to the church and Nina and Manon held up Nora’s train. It was perfect, except for one thing, there was no-one from Nora’s family present, although she had a few friends there. Nora’s family were in Kosovo and either could not come, or would not come. She had one married brother in Switzerland, but he could not come either. It was hard for them to travel and visas were hard to get. Luckily French weddings are not so formal and everyone can sit where they want, if it had been an English wedding one side of the church would have been the bride’s family, the other the groom. I thought to myself that I was an honorary member of Nora’s family.

As is the tradition at the church door the groom enters the church with his mother, and the bride with her father. Since Nora had no family present Jacques father, Rene, was chosen. Nora seemed very uncomfortable with the idea and arrived at the alter looking tearful. I thought to myself it would have better to have dropped the walk in the circumstances, but no-one seemed to have thought about Nora. The service proceeded with Nora replying to the wedding vows and praying in perfect French, amazing since she had only starting learning French three years ago. The celebratory village drinks were a success, the sun shone and everyone was in a good mood.

Later we ate a wedding dinner at the same ferme-auberge or farm-restaurent where we had celebrated Nina’s christening. The food was excellent, as always, and the guests were chatting loudly and toasting the couple. But as the evening wore on and I ended up in the back room feeding baby Gabriel I saw Nora. She looked suddenly sad and I asked her in English what was wrong. ‘I miss my family’, she simply said and I knew exactly how she felt. We smiled and hugged and she went back to being the charming newly-wed she was. I hoped that she would be able to invite some of her own family for her next family party. In the darkness I sat and thought about how when we fall in love with someone from another culture we never think about the actual wedding will be, or how we will feel without our clan around us.

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