February 28, 2008

The Proposal: Part I

Posted in Cultural Differences at 11:48 am by Jess

Truth be told, Jon and I have been legally married for over a year. In Switzerland the church marriage is secondary. First and foremost is the civil marriage, which takes place at city hall in the village, town or city where you live. Often couples choose to have two wedding celebrations – one at city hall, and wearing a different, colorful dress, and the second at the church. Guests come and celebrate it, dress up and throw rice .Other times the city hall experience happens with only the “temoins.”

Temoin means witness (I have quite the story about that coming up!!). To marry in Switzerland you need a witness to sign a piece of paper in front of the city hall clerk. That person is your bridal party (since a bridal party like we know in USA does not exist here). The position has a deep significance in terms of friendship to the Swiss, but there are no further duties beyond signing, and from what I have observed, the witnesses don’t stand up with the couple at the ceremony, and certainly don’t wear matching outfits. However, I have seen photos of Swiss weddings with small bridal parties in matching dresses, so I know either these are expat brides, or the trend is drifting over.

Back to me 😉

Legally, I could only enter the country a certain number of times in a year. In the fall of 2006 I had already surpassed that, and surpassed the number of months I was allowed to stay in the country. Around Halloween of 2006 Jon and I began to discuss this, because I was flying home to USA for Christmas. Would I be able to come back in?? It was such a stress and headache.

The two of us have talked about marrying each other since three weeks into our relationship. It’s true – we talked about it rationally, and fantastically, but we just knew right away. So once I came over to Switzerland, even if it was slightly illegal, I was living here, with him and this became my home. All along we felt that we were living as a married couple, but we just had not gotten to that step yet, and we still wanted to wait, to explore and discover each other’s bad sides.

Meanwhile, Switzerland is notorious for keeping tight tabs on all of its people, and especially foreigners. They truly count everyone, and they know where you live! We have heard many stories of people getting the infamous knock on the door a week after their “length of stay” expires, and being exported to the airport by the local police. For this very reason, I made cookies once a month for all of my neighbors – just to keep any potential rats on my side! It sounds silly, but we’ve also heard of someone being ratted out by local neighbors, due to the Swiss culture of strictly abiding by the rules, and their innate skepticism of foreigners. Finally, we decided we’d had enough of the stress of logistics. We want to be together, to live together, and to not worry about me being exported. So, we decided to marry at civil hall, in order for me to receive the permit to stay.

To be honest, this day meant relatively little to us. As this custom of a huge celebration at city hall is not what I had grown up with, it was not something that had a “meaning” to me. Jon and I talked long and hard about what a wedding meant to us, and we decided that the city hall experience was a technicality for us – a detail – and the wedding would be in front of friends and family, with an exchange of vows. We were not quite ready for that – only just a matter of time and money – but we were on the track and knew it. So, we chose two witnesses, went to city hall and it was over in five minutes. No rings, no dress. Nada. We had a drink at a nice hotel afterwards, and then I went to boxing practice.

To this day, I struggle to remember the date.

It sounds horribly unromantic, but that was the point. I have always dreamed of my wedding day with friends and family, and had never dreamed of, or heard of, this city hall wedding. Honestly, we did not tell anyone because we did not want to hear “Congratulations.” We truly wanted all the emotions – ours and others’ – to be reserved for the day that we considered our wedding and marriage day.

It would be another year, living exactly the same as we had before, before I was proposed to. And, like all things when you live in another culture, that came with its own stresses!

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1 Comment »

  1. zephyr sloan said,

    eventhough marrying like this is quite an unromantic manner…the way yuve put it forward i could only think “aww, how romantic!”
    its nice to see both of you loving each other this way and cherishing your love and being okay by not going public about it…


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