April 7, 2008

Oh Switzerland, must you be so difficult.

Posted in Cultural Differences at 6:18 pm by Jess

One of the biggest concerns about our wedding was finding someone to marry us. The two obstacles we encountered were 1) Religion (Jon being a Jewish convert and me being Agnostic) and 2) An outdoor ceremony.

Our first thought was to have close family members and/or closest friends take turns in reading texts, poems etc. I felt this option was viable because I am not very religious, (thus I don’t need religion for the wedding to be a formal, fully profound event) and so the things I would like to be said should come from someone who knows me and Jonathan. However, having family members speak, instead of witness and enjoy, was odd and less than agreeable.  When I mentioned the idea to my mother she completely balked, “Then it’s an informal get-together and not even a real ceremony. The non-affiliated air of the officiant is important!” she said. She always does articulate things better than I do…

We lit upon a seemingly perfect idea. There is a family friend of Jonathan who is very spiritual and who knows us both well, as I gave him English classes when we lived in Neuchâtel. So, he knows us both but not enough that it would be awkward.

Long story short, he refused to speak for us on the grounds that he is part of a highly orthodox/strict religious sect. Something more similar to a cult I believe. He and his whole family have subscribed to it and not only can they not aid a non-religious wedding, they may have to consider coming at all if we really cannot “think of the true center of a wedding, God.”

Next up we tried the civil hall officiant. She married us officially. Oh yes, we are married already. For over a year. I suppose I can let the cat out of the bag (or have I already?) since we finally told our parents recently too. The logistics of a marriage in Europe are that the legal “real” marriage takes place at city hall. It can actually be a whole wedding ceremony with guests etc. Some people choose to do just this and not have a religious ceremony. Others choose to have the “Civil” wedding, either alone with the two witnesses or with a few close family along, and then have a larger religious wedding. This latter ceremony includes the church wedding, the cocktail hour and the reception dinner. The thing is, no one here can seem to understand why Jon and I want to have a “Second” ceremony if it is not going to be religious, and we have already done the civil.

Well, because the civil marriage is not generally separated from the ceremony in America, I do not feel married yet. Legally I am, and thus I have the visa and permit to live in this country and stay with Jon. However, from my upbringing, a marriage takes place in front of friends and family. There are vows and rings exchanged. Promises are made. It is a witnessed event. Therefore, I am (and nor is he) emotionally married. I literally do not know the date of the civil papers we signed, and I am currently experiencing all the normal cold feet of a woman approaching her first marriage.

But I digress. So, the civil attendant would not preside over a short ceremony in the outdoors because it would be “unethical.” I don’t get this, and I cursed about it for some days. She could legally do it, but she chose not to because she believed it would morally nullify what we did in her office. She also added that it was very strange that we were having an outdoor wedding.

Yes, brides in America, please be aware that you are LUCKY to be able to basically choose the most random of places and then turn them into a location for a (religious or not) wedding. Here it is pretty rare for the ceremony to take place outdoors, and the vendors and officials all seem very confused by it. We were even shocked to discover that the site where we will marry has only been used twice as a marriage!! (I mean, it’s a GEM! And now we get to work out all the kinks with the site because they really only have little experience with wedding arrangements. Sweet. ) Basically people here only do this kind of ceremony if its religious, thus it would be in a church…

So what to do?

The solution came this past week, when we met with a local Protestant pastor who is very open-minded.  Finding her was a little difficult because we originally called a pastor in the village in Jon’s original birth village (Yep, he was born at home). They said we had to call the pastor of our current village, since that is where the “connection would be.” They then said that their pastor was a visitor from another nearby village, and then eventually we tracked her down. She is, as I said, open minded. She has given us a book to read and for us to pick out the readings that we would like, and then she said she will merely “surprise us” with one reading of her own choosing. The only negative side is that she is insisting on a much longer ceremony than I wanted. I was thinking forty minutes max; She says an hour. Also, though I liked her and am very happy that our day will have the formal air everyone expects, I don’t like the feeling that I am not “allowed” to deviate from normal tendencies. It is logistically nearly impossible, and then the people I spoke to about our predicament were very wary of the idea of a creative wedding given by friends and family. I feel like I’ve lost a bit of me in this passage, even if I am happy with the outcome. But I was too nervous to dissapoint people with a “too informal” ceremony, and still am. It isn’t just about pleasing us two, in fact I want my close family and friends to feel a real and deep set of emotions along with us, and if they really feel that wouldn’t happen with a more “creative, mixed ceremony” then for me it’s not worth it.

Oh well. You win some you lose some. On to the next thing!


1 Comment »

  1. rswb said,

    40 minutes? An hour?? That is a looong ceremony! Ours (which was non-religious and which we wrote in its entirety, plus the legal bit which had to be said which was about 5 sentences) was about 20 minutes including all the alphorn playing and standing around!

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