HOW TO PROPOSE IN PARIS
Getting engaged in the city of love…
Scatter the petals, dim the lights and strike up the violins- this is the story of what it’s really like to get engaged at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
As romantic engagement destinations go, it’s a cliché bigger than a heart shaped chocolate box- but sometimes clichés exist for a reason.
And if it’s a bit hackneyed to declare your love on Valentine’s Day, with all of Paris spread before you, it’s still a whole lot better than doing it over a steak and strawberries special at the local bistro.
And I wasn’t expecting it, either. Well, perhaps a bit.
My then-boyfriend, Simon, had already bought a trip to Paris for my Christmas present. And although I did happen to note that the dates fell exactly across Valentine’s day, I didn’t get too excited.
Despite the brick-sized hints I’d been dropping all over his feet for weeks, he didn’t seem particularly giddy, and I’d always assumed that men on the verge of a proposal were as keyed up as an over-strung piano, nervously practising their speeches behind curtains, and concealing Tiffany ring boxes in their briefcases. (Looking back, we only had blinds, and I don’t think he’s ever owned a briefcase in his life. But I’ve watched a lot of 1950s cartoons.) So I was hopeful, but not expectant.
We sped off to Paris on the Eurostar, and checked into our hotel – a charming little place called the Fleche D’Or, which might have been my boyfriend’s subtle yet brilliant way of invoking cupid’s golden arrow striking my heart, or might have been because they had a deal on.
Either way, it was cosy and charming, and we spent the next couple of days wandering the boulevards, marvelling at how very Parisian Paris can be, with its shrugging waiters, violin-playing buskers and flocks of doves swooping over the Seine.
We found a brasserie that was as Parisian as anything in The Aristocats, with paintings and candlelight and accordion music, and drank red wine out of carafes, exactly as you’d expect to do in Paris.
"...by the third day- Valentine’s day itself- I was beginning to feel slightly worried..."
But by the third day- Valentine’s day itself- I was beginning to feel slightly worried. There was no sign of nerves, ring-boxes, champagne or speech-practising, and I was forced to assume that he wasn’t going to propose at all.
I am a modern woman, but I’m also British. I wasn’t going to ask him myself and risk him saying “Yes” purely because he didn’t want to embarrass me.
So I was prepared to wait; albeit increasingly irritably. On Valentine’s Day morning, we took the Metro to the flea market at Porte De Clignancourt- truly a wondrous place, filled with the bric a brac of centuries- old rugs, murky oil paintings, 78 records, tattered postcards, sheet music and abandoned jewellery all jumbled alongside (almost) priceless antiques and specialist collections of antique maps and weaponry.
I spent so long poking about looking at stuffed bears and old guards’ uniforms, Simon got quite cross, and whisked me off for lunch at the market’s tiny brasserie.
This is every French Disney cliché you can imagine, with steamy windows, vast bowls of rabbit casserole, carafes of rough red wine, and a tiny old woman singing Edith Piaf songs in a cracked, wavering voice. I loved it all, and couldn’t understand why he was suddenly so keen to drag me to the Eiffel Tower.
“But this is so authentic and wonderful!” I argued. “Why would we want rush off to some tourist trap in the freezing cold..?”
He went a bit tight-lipped, so I gave in and we took the Metro back to the Eiffel Tower. There was a sign by the ticket office: “Due to high winds, the top level is closed today.”
His face fell, which was odd, given that he hates heights and feels funny halfway up the Great Orme in Llandudno.
“We’ll just have to go to the second level,” I shrugged. “That’s Ok, we don’t need to be up there for lon..” but he was bustling me into the lift, looking a bit white.
Up there, a few chilly families were wandering about and a scattering of chic French couples were looking at the view.
“Just do a little video for me,” he said, thrusting the video camera at me. (This was in the days before smart phones.)
“Why?” I asked. “You’re the photographer, not me, and I don’t know how to..”
“Just do it!” he said, so rather taken aback, I commenced my rubbish film of French people’s blurred heads and a few clouds, and then he said, “Now film me.”
This isn’t like him, normally he runs a mile before he’ll willingly have his soul captured by a machine.
I pointed it at him, and he said, “Will you marry me?” and waved a ring box in front of the screen.
I was so surprised, I screamed and dropped the camera, so our glorious engagement film was in fact five minutes of me shrieking, accompanying an experimental long shot of some floorboards. Quite French, in fact.
I have no idea why I didn’t expect him to propose up the Eiffel Tower, but after all my clod-hopping hinting, it still came as a marvellous surprise.
We celebrated that evening at the wonderfully romantic Brasserie Bofinger, which is as clichéd as you can imagine when it comes to Parisian romance- chandeliers, penguin waiters, seafood piled onto mountains of ice- and all the better for it.
"our glorious engagement film was in fact five minutes of me shrieking..."
So despite my spanner-in-the-works arguing and the closed top floor, (which was probably just as well, as he might have succumbed to vertigo after managing “will you..?”) our Parisian proposal was perfect.
And if you’re feeling marital this year, and plan to propose in Paris yourself, here are 5 things to bear in mind:
THE PERFECT PROPOSAL IN PARIS:
1. DON’T WAIT TOO LONG.
Don’t waste your weekend in Paris feeling nervous and building up to it- pop the question on Day One, get it over with, then you can relax and celebrate.
2. DON’T DO IT IN BED
As we all know, things breathed in the heat of passion may not be admissible in court- so shouting “marry me!” at an intimate moment may not be taken seriously. Ensure it’s obvious that you mean it- being fully dressed helps.
3. DON’T INVOLVE THE PUBLIC.
Flash mobs, smirking waiters, an entire restaurant waiting for her to say yes- it’s all very well if she does, but if there’s a shocked, echoing silence, that’s 200 other people whose night you’ve ruined. Keep it private.
4. DON’T GET TOO COMPLEX
A train to Versailles, a picnic, hot air balloon back to Paris, a moonlit tour of the Louvre and a treasure hunt based on the Da Vinci code to discover the engagement ring…no. The more complex you make it, the more likely it is to go wrong. Choose your venue, get on one knee, and get on with it.
5. ENJOY IT.
A proposal can be ruined by fear- it can also be ruined by spending the ensuing two hours updating your Facebook statuses, informing Twitter, and ringing everyone you know to tell them the news. But getting engaged is about just two people- and they’re not your Mum and your best mate.
Enjoy the romance- you can tell everyone else when you’ve both got used to the idea.