In French, sensible means “sensitive.” It’s a false friend, or faux ami, as we francophiles like to say. (However, in the English phrase “Don’t be so sensitive!” the correct French word is susceptible. False friend again. I could go on and on because I love this stuff, but this post is not a French lesson.)
It may be a French culture lesson, though. You see, I got married to a Frenchman today.
It was the sensible thing to do. I’ve been living here in limbo, with visiteur prominently displayed on the ID they issued me. Every year I have to renew it by sending in a pile of paperwork, and then I wait to get approved for another year.
As a lowly visiteur, I was entitled to the nationalized health coverage, which is one of many things that prove to me what a civilized country this is. The coverage includes incredibly cheap prescription meds too. (I pay two Euros for a tiny bottle of eyedrops that cost me $15 a month with a PPO in the States, and $50 a month with an HMO…)
But as a visiteur, I can’t open a bank account in my own name, can’t have a cell phone plan that isn’t pre-paid, can’t work in this country, little stuff like that. Not sensible.
In France, marriage is not a given. Look at my hero, femmebot extraordinaire Ségolène Royal who, though raised a good little Catholic girl, lived unmarried for decades with her partner, François Hollande, with whom she raised four kids before they broke up a couple of years ago. What would be considered at best an unconventional arrangement in the prim and proper uptight and intolerant US doesn’t even elicit comment here, and it certainly didn’t stop her from having a successful career in politics.
There is something else about France that works for me in a big way, something else that I find incredibly civilized and sensible: religious weddings have no legal validity here. It is so refreshing to live in a place that has institutionalized the marginalization of religion and the religious. The theo-dictatorship of the Catholic church remains fresh in this culture’s memory, and religion no longer has any power here. (No wackjobs telling schools not to teach evolution!) They meant it when they said “separation of church and state,” unlike some other places I can think of.
So it’s the law that, if you get married, you must get married at the town hall before you are even allowed to have a religious ceremony. Many, if not most French people stop there, by the way, just like we did, if they go that far at all. More and more straight couples just decide to sign a PACS (civil union) to “make it official” (145K PACS and 267K marriages in 2008). Originally created for gays in 1999, the PACS gives French couples all the rights and privileges married people have, without the negative, bourgeois connotations of marriage. But it’s not quite as good a deal for immigrants like me.
So, yes, we got married because it was the sensible thing to do. But that doesn’t in the least diminish the sweetness of it. It was a marriage in the context of the epic romance of my life, in a magnificent, 19th-century, neo-classical building facing the Panthéon, during the sunniest and warmest part of an abnormally lovely October day in Paris fucking France.
Thanks to all my true friends for realizing how much it means and remembering our big day.
In the next installment, details about the totally random ceremony and some pics.