A Franco-Scottish affair: How to plan a bi-cultural wedding

On Sunday 1st of September, my wonderful fiancé and I tied the knot after 4 happy years together: we had a humanist ceremony at Edinburgh's Institut Français d'Ecosse and an evening reception at Linlithgow Burgh Halls – Linlithgow’s a pretty Scottish village and the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. The day was amazing and everything we could have hoped for but, despite being ultra-organised and fluent in both languages, organising the wedding was a bit of a bumpy ride. If you think planning one wedding is hard work – as indeed it is – how about two weddings in one?

Here are 10 things (I had to stop somewhere) you’ll have to consider if ever you’re in the same position:
  1. Travel – before considering who to invite, bear in mind that not everybody you’ll want at your wedding will be able to attend if it involves a trip abroad. And guests may tell you they’ll come but don’t count them in for definite until they’ve checked travel and accommodation. Other guests who you’d never imagine would be able to come may surprise you. So, on the one hand, one bridesmaid dropped out but, on the other, we were very touched that my 85-year-old grandparents made it all the way from Spain.
  2. Expectations – with two cultures come two sets of expectations. If like me you think that Scotland and France are quite similar (Auld Alliance I hear you say), you might be in for a shock. Where’s everybody going to sit, what’s the bridal party going to wear, who gets to do or say what – these are the kind of questions you can expect to have to, if not answer, hear. A lot. Initially, this was pretty stressful as it felt like nobody was going to get what they wanted or expected. But in the long run, it turned out to be the very thing that unified everybody, as in “I know this seems odd, but it’s just the way they do X in Y country and we’re doing our best to have elements of both countries”.
  3. Administration – I’m a professional translator after all and should know about complications with French paperwork. I’m on the French Consulate’s website and certified translations of birth or marriage certificates are my thing. However it’s not the same when you have to jump through the hoops while sending a trillion emails, deciding on lace and flowers and finding shoes for your page boy. British administration: tick. French administration: 3 months and an awful lot of forms later: tick (and phew!).
  4. Invitations - when I gave my parents their invite, they went “Oh, it’s very, er, different” or something along these lines. Forget whether you want flowery language, a modern or traditional approach. You’re going to have to work out how to fit all the text – that is original text and translation – into one card. And don’t forget your target reader, which for us meant a good dose of politeness on the English side and a detailed description of food on the French side.
  5. Readings - as you do, we spent weeks carefully picking readings we loved with a special significance to us: extracts from novels by Guy de Maupassant and Charlotte Brontë and poems by Victor Hugo and Alexander McCall Smith. Typically, the only thing left to do would be finding readers. But as linguists will know, with great authors come great translation challenges. Read 4 weekends of hard work. I’m particularly proud of my husband’s translation of Hugo’s poem.
  6. Ceremony - having a humanist ceremony meant we could have a wedding which was truly about us. First we had to find a celebrant willing and able to rise to the challenge and Tim Maguire was our man. We knew from the start that it would involve a lot of work: we wrote (and translated) the story of our relationship, what we loved about one another and what marriage meant to us and even our marriage vows – mine in French, Douglas’s in English. The final version of the document was 8 pages long including the translations, which Tim performed smoothly in under 30 mns.
  7. Speeches - something I have to say I didn’t miss not being involved in. As with the ceremony, if you do English-French-English-French, you put your guests (especially the bilingual ones) through death by interpreting. My husband was careful to break his speech into manageable chunks and sometimes swap things around to keep people listening. My sister/chief bridesmaid played a slideshow with French sound over pictures with English text - an ingenious way to tackle the two languages. And Douglas’s brother/best man finished off with a quick introduction in deliberately bad French (complete with Yorkshire accent) followed by a “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m the brother who doesn’t speak French” snappy speech in English only. I think linguistic balance was achieved brilliantly.
  8. Music - here again we wanted to have a mixture of French and English. And also a bit of Spanish which we both speak and a bit of Italian as Italy’s where we got engaged and some of my family’s from. In the end we didn’t actually hear much of the vin d’honneur music as we were outside for pictures but when we listen to the playlist at home, it brings back beautiful memories of the day.
  9. Culture & language barrier - I’m sure your guests will all keep entertained on the day but the ones who have travelled are likely to need help before the wedding. First with finding accommodation and booking flights because they don’t speak the language. Then you’ll be emailing flat owners to check what needs paid and when. And you know those last couple of weeks or days when you’re running around to get the cake and decorations to your venues in time? Well, try and squeeze in restaurant bookings for family reunions and airport transfers. Great happy times that have to be organised too.
  10. Honeymoon - with all the planning for the wedding, we decided to postpone the honeymoon. Now that things have calmed down a bit, we’ve started to make plans and it looks like the honeymoon will have French and English-speaking locations – which just matches the bi-cultural theme perfectly!
Obviously the whole experience was hugely rewarding in the end but dealing with two languages and cultures in one big day can be a bit tricky as you’ll probably have gathered!
Douglas & Amandine - special thanks to Ryan White Wedding Photography

Why choose me

Professional linguist with 15 years' experience
Translator, teacher & interpreter since 2004
Chartered Member of CIOL
Member of IAPTI

Translation experience
Certified translation of official documents:
- birth/marriage/divorce certificates
- diplomas, transcripts & references
- legal/medical/insurance documents
Academic articles/literary essays
Business/marketing communications
CRM software

Interpreting experience
Court hearings
Medical and work-related
Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010
Arts/cultural events
'Fixer' for French TV

Teaching experience
Language assistant at prestigious Fettes College
Teacher at 4 leading UK universities
- University of Oxford (ongoing)

First degree in English Studies
MSc in Translation Studies
Professional Graduate Diploma In Secondary Education (French & Spanish)