French Couple Celebrates 78th Wedding Anniversary

While an estimated third of marriages end in divorce in France, and about 40 percent in the United States, Georges and Georgette Hebert beat the odds and celebrated their 78th wedding anniversary this month, defending France's romantic reputation.

A British couple, Percy and Florence Arrowsmith, 105 and 100, respectively, had held the record as the oldest married couple after 80 years of marriage. Sadly, Florence died shortly after the couple's 80th wedding anniversary.

The Heberts, both 100 years old, are now among the oldest couples alive.

The secret of their union's length: mutual understanding and -- obligations. "We were happy, we agreed on most things," said Georgette, "but also we had children." Of their four sons, the eldest is 68, while the youngest is 56.

"We got married, like everybody," she said.

Terry Prendergast, chief executive of Marriage Care, an England-based charity that provides marriage counseling, suggests it's easier for older generations to stay married for a long time.

This generation "had a different perspective about marriage and relationships," said Prendergast. "There was a big switch after the second World War, when people started marrying for different reasons."

Prendergast said that women took on men's roles while they were serving in the military, and that subsequently, "patriarchy was challenged and people began to marry for love, rather than a contract."

Today's marriages differ from yesterday's not only in their motives, but also in the different types of wedding ceremonies.

Despite her long marriage, Georgette Hebert does not have fond memories of her wedding day. "The wedding ceremony was not a lavish affair. We were not rich," she said.

The Heberts got married at church, "like everybody," she said. Following a local tradition, for the wedding meal, they didn't have wine, but cider, and another local specialty: rabbit stew with prunes.

The couple never left their native Normandy. "We have lived a simple life," said Georgette. "A hard life."

In 1929, when the Heberts tied the knot, cars were very rare in this rural part of France, and Normandy was dominated by small farms and local industries.

Georgette worked all her life at the local textile, "from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.," long days compared to today's average seven-hour work days in France. She now spends her days cooking and tidying the house.

Georges has been reading the local daily Paris-Normandy newspaper for 50 years.

His daughter-in-law, Therese, said Georges still has a good memory. "He can [recall] what was in the paper of the day," she said.

This month, the Heberts have drawn the attention of the French and international press, giving hope that marriage could work and last, but Georgette does not think she should give advice to young people.

"I don't need to look after young people," she said.

But her daughter-in-law cannot help but looking up to them. "They are amazing," she said. They are "very lively. Georges cannot hear well, so Georgette has to speak loud" if she wants to be heard. "But they are truly amazing -- there is no other word."

Laura Westmacott contributed to this report.