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!


March 3, 2008

The Proposal, Part II

Posted in Cultural Differences at 10:19 pm by Jess

For months after we had our secret official wedding, Jon and I did not discuss an actual wedding ceremony. Then, during the summer, the subject began to surface. We both felt ready for the next step, and what felt like the real step for us: a ceremony in front of cherished friends and family.

As we discussed engagements and weddings, and mostly how long one could be engaged before holding the ceremony, we fell upon yet another cultural difference. The Swiss don’t usually give engagement rings, and certainly not diamonds! As you can imagine, this was no light-weight discovery. Jon showed me the most impressive and popular wedding bands, and my face crumbled in dismay at the sight. Then Jon researched what people spend on engagement rings in America, and he felt his own staggering sense of despair. Worse than the price for him was the discovery of what the perceived expectations around an engagement ring were.  For the next six months, as he and I batted around the subject of engagement and a proposal in public terms, Jon also began to fret heavily over the subject of the ring.

When we visited America, instead of keeping his eyes at eye level to take in the sights around him, he would screen the feminine left hands that passed within his sight, and then let out a long sigh. Sometimes he would get downright pissy, and say things outloud like “Why do you even need a diamond ring, you Americans. Is it just to show off? Do you know where those stones come from!?” Throughout those moments I tried to remember that he was not angry at me, and to keep in mind that the man was encountering this subject, and the weight of the price and expectations, for the very first time in his life. Facing the thought of disappointing the woman he wants to marry must have been staggeringly rough (must be for even American men at this step), but so was swallowing the fact that he was going to be doing this for me only, and because it was my culture.

At times the subject saddened me. I said, “No diamond. Forget it.” I cried a few times.  I wanted to feel that he desired to make this effort for me. Then I was forced to ask myself tough questions: Why do I want a ring? Do I need one? Is my cultural expectation really grounded on anything?

In the end, I decided I did want a ring. I did want a proposal, preferably on one-knee – another idea I introduced to an increasingly shell-shocked boyfriend/husband. Did I need a ring? No. Did I want one? Yes. Did I need a diamond? No. I wanted an opal to replace a ring my favorite, inherited ring which I lost the dayI flew to meet Jonathan in Hawaii. What I wanted was a visible testament to his desire to make me happy, and a piece of tangible proof of our mutual commitment. The world sees this ring and, in my head, knows that I have committed myself to someone. Why do I care if the world knows it? Because I think this ring, or perhaps it could be anything I could wear everyday, is also a living compliment to Jon himself. With this ring, I pick him, above all else.

Also, I give him tangible proof. Perhaps not diamonds, or even a nice watch, but I try to give him tangible proof too. I hope our lives are filled with small exchanges of it.

As it turned out, my mom had  a loose diamond taken from my deceased grandmother’s wedding ring, which she decided to donate to Jonathan. One night he sat me down at the kitchen table and said, “You know that your mom is giving us a diamond. I will find a way to make you a ring, but from now on the conversations stop – this is my project.” As usual, he greatly exaggerated his ability to keep things from me.

Fall was one long season of torture. My engagement ring, which Jon continued to inform me is beautiful, was hidden in our apartment. I was leaving for the United States in Early November, and he still had not told me when he was going to propose.

This ring has been a series of small discoveries since our “final” conversation. Once I stumbled upon a piece of paper accidentally dropped into my personal “mailbox.” It was a drawing of the ring. That was discovery number one. Fortunately for him I had the good sense to crumple the paper before my eyes registered the design.  Then there were other discoveries, accidental, which meant that I knew where it was made, and I hoped, the relative time-frame he might give it to me.

For example, one day Jonathan seemed to have a temporary loss of memory and told his father in French where the ring was coming from, while I was standing in the room. I had to remind him, in French, that I understand French, ya know… for future reference.

Once the rings physical existence was somewhat known business, Jon thought it was acceptable to leave me in Neuchâtel one afternoon while he went to the ring maker and checked on it. I thought it was torture!

Then one weekend, about a month laster, while eating dinner at a colleague’s house, I I happened to walk past the open door to the coat closet, and I saw his colleague passing Jonathan the box.

Eek! I was only feet away.

From then on Jon teased me ruthlessly by showing everyone but me the final product – the ring he had hand designed for me. And I had only to wait, and hope in utter selfishness, that it came before I left for America for two months.

March 2, 2008

Cultural Tradition: The Cortège

Posted in Cultural Differences at 4:21 pm by Jess

Aside from the two seconds during which Jon and I say “I do,” or rather, “Oui” (There’s another cultural difference, that whole Famous Two Words thing is obsolete here!) the part of the wedding that I am looking forward to the most is the Cortège. I am looking forward to it for so many reasons: For the organized fashion of a caravan of cars all following us; for the antique car Jon will be driving, for the feeling of cruising through country roads with views of lakes and mountains; for the horns blaring for thirty minutes without pause; for the children racing through fields to grab the candy thrown from cards onto the roadside, for the elderly and adults waving to us from balconies as we pass through small villages; and finally, for my American guests to see, as I have every time I have been a participant in someone else’s cortège, that the Swiss can be loud, let-loose, fun and crazy.

This week we made the map of the route, in order to pass to our guests at the end of the ceremony before leaving. Normally there are two whole cortèges: from church to cocktail and from cocktail hour to reception. We’re just having one (no church). Everyone files into one long line of cars, so mostly people can just follow us, but given red lights, people need directions too – hence the maps. They are handed out along with a large sack of candies, each wrapped individually in plastic.

The key to the whole thing is the honking. From the second the leading (our) car begins to drive, the entire caravan begins to honk insanely – sometimes to a rather interesting beat – and doesn’t stop until we arrive at the reception. The honking alerts all villagers, and especially kids, that there has been a wedding and we are coming. Kids run down to the street to catch the candy thrown from cars.

If you like this idea, try incorporating it in America, and telling people in advance what to expect. Also, drive the route beforehand so you know exactly how you want to drive it, and what potential traps there are for getting lost. Google Maps gave us a set of directions online beforehand, but when we started to drive it we found a MUCH prettier road just along the lake to take, and it was only five extra minutes long.

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!

February 20, 2008

Choosing Locations: Our Dinner and Reception Location

Posted in Cultural Differences, Wedding Locations at 12:57 pm by Jess


Maison Vallier, Cressier

We had five appointments in various parts of Neuchatel one Saturday in November, about seven months before the wedding. Honestly, at eleven a.m., after seeing the first possibility, which is in my all-time favorite village, I was ready to sign for that one. I was literally smitten, jumping up and down with excitement, both at finding a place that I loved so quickly, and at the prospect of freeing up our Saturday. However, Jon wanted to be practical.

We visited a sad little place in a random village, then a large place up in the mountains with a grand view of the lake, the valley and the Alps. However, the man who ran the establishment was such a rude and absolutely arrogant person that Jon and I walked out saying, “There is no way we are putting our guests in his vicinity.” So, sorry to tell you, but guests won’t get the Alpine-Lake view over dinner.

The next place we visited was a farm converted into a restaurant which specializes in regional cuisine. We were tempted to book it, because the couple who own the restaurant know Jonathan from his teenage years. It was a big surprise, and that touch was a nice idea. However, the room really didn’t speak to us, and the road – like many mountain roads in Neuchâtel – was extremely windy and narrow. I got road sick on it in the middle of the day. Not the kind of road I wanted my guests driving down after dinner and dancing.

So, I am pleased to say, that bright and early the following Monday, I was able to call and reserve the original, first place that we visited. WOW, I don’t think I could be happier. It is an historical home, in a village that I adore, which is near the lake, close to the highway, and therefore, very close (and flat!) to the hotels in either Neuchâtel or Morat. Ironically, long before we seriously talked about marriage, I told Jon that “if ever we did” I wanted to be married in this village, my favorite village in the Neuchâtel area. While the ceremony is not there, it is in a better place, and we are able to come to this same village for dinner!

Having booked this place now, I can honestly say that I could not be happier with our choices. For me, they are perfect.



The Building Next Door


The Maison Vallier from Exterior


This building is 200 years older than my Country!!


The front door, where I will hang our DIY Wreath


View behind building – The vineyards will be greener!

So we showed up on a Saturday morning to check this place out and plan the seating arrangements. This is one of the greater examples I have of cultural differences.  Your wedding location person of contact is probably a professional looking person, possibly in a collared shirt, with a notepad. He or she points out things to you, and leads you around.

Our person of contact is the concierge, who lives in the village, and who keeps the keys. She showed up at ten a.m., already drunk. To be perfectly fair, this is totally normal in this region. It’s a more rural region, a farmer region, and also a (bad) wine region. So a lot of people can be found in smoky packed bars at ten a.m. on Saturdays. Sundays too.

She had on working pants and a parka. Her nose was the tell-tale sign: She has the same bulbous, vein covered nose that so many older people have in this region. It’s a side-effect of alcoholism. I really had a hard time looking at it. But, she was very nice. She did not “show” us anything; She stood in the background, timidly, and let us explore. We started to erect a few tables, and it was kind of cute how she inched forward a few feet to watch, but still refused to say anything.

We had a few questions, but she directed, in slurred words, to call the city hall on Monday. All she does is keep the keys.

At one point a sudden burst of noise erupted – loud laughing voices. It turns out that there is a “cave” in the building – we had walked right past as we went up the stairs, but the door was closed and we did not notice. A few extremely drunk people came up the stairs to inform us that they were done drinking and were leaving and we had to leave! The concierge meekly tried to explain that she had the keys. It took a few tries, but eventually they understand and then suddenly they were shaking her hand, hugging her and saying “Oh but why didn’t you say…” Just as fast they all filed out the downstairs door and were gone.

Turns out the cave is in the building, but is separate. Does that mean that the cave could be rented out for the same day as our wedding? Quelle histoire! Can you imagine? It’s not even in a separate part of the building. It’s just a room half way up the stairs!!

What we did find out was that we rented the place for 700 Francs (roughly 600 dollars) and we can have it starting from Friday until Sunday when we are done cleaning.

Done WHAT!?

Oh yes, Jon informed me that we would be spending Sunday afternoon cleaning up after ourselves.

Is he crazy? I mean CRAZY crazy??!!

There’s another whopping difference for you. Well, not only do I have to take people back to Geneva to catch airplanes, but there is just no way that I am cleaning up that place the day after my wedding. Or doing it period. This is my bridezilla moment people, and I’m riding it full steam.

So, we are hiring the bulbous nosed concierge to clean it, at 40 Francs an hour.

February 18, 2008

Our ceremony Florist: Help me Pick!

Posted in Cultural Differences, Flowers at 6:11 pm by Jess

Saturday we accomplished four things on our wedding list.

First,  Friday night over an amazing fondue in their renovated-makes-me-jealous farmhouse, Jon asked his friend to be his second best man. (More on the bridal party structure later, with a juicy story to boot.) He was so touched, and it was really emotional for me to watch, because I happen to like this friend best of all of Jon’s friends, and they have not known each other that long, so it could have been weird.

Saturday morning we took our hangovers to the town of Morat. We are not actually getting married in this town, but five minutes away along the lake in a manor-turned-hotel. We met with the florist. I was nervous, because as always with vendors here, I don’t know what level of professionalism and options to except. I always diminish my expectations before meeting, to be on the safe side.


Morat, a fortified town on Lake Morat


Our Florist

I sound like a broken record, but I think that one reason contributing to the stress of planning your own wedding in America is the myriad of choices. There are so many choices, narrowing them down to what is supposed to be the “perfect” one is a ridiculous request. Here, the opposite is true.

We walked in to the tiny florist where discovered that there were barely any flowers on display. We went upstairs, and there were none. Instead they were selling vases, napkins, candles etc. We met the manager for our meeting, and the meeting took place standing up in the middle of the room among the other few customers and the knick-knacks for sale. There was no office, no computer. Morat happens to be in a Swiss German canton, but luckily she spoke French well enough that we could communicate.

Now listen to this, she did not even have a portfolio! She had one regular photo album that was only a quarter full with normal camera shots of weddings they have done. I should have been worried, but the woman had such a calm and professional air about her – truly her vibe, and her dress style, convinced me to stay calm. Fortunately I had printed off photos of what I was looking for. If I had not done this, the visit would have been a complete waste because she had nothing to show us!!

Lesson learned for planning your own wedding : Do the research and then take it with you to the vendors!!

However, of the ten photos I had, she was able to tell me that five were not possible because the flowers were not in season. I know a lot of budget tips say to choose seasonal flowers because it helps lower the cost. This was not our intention, we simply don’t have the choice to import. So, then there were two more that were expensive, and she was not sure of the availability. That left me with three choices, and you know what, they were my top three choices already!

Meanwhile, I mentioned I wanted one white calla lilly per bridesmaid. Check.


I was sure she would NOT have them, but she did have miniature ones!  This time she found a photo in an old crumpled magazine and we were able to confirm the four colors we could choose from.  So, Jon immediately chose the yellow for him and the rest of the boutonierres.


All in all, we decided everything within twenty-five minutes, which was great because it freed up our morning to drive the route of the potential Cortège (the fourth thing done), and I couldn’t have stood much longer. The only thing that was a little weird was that there was no major discussion of prices. She gave us a ballpark figure, but both she and Jon blew off this part of the discussion with a shrug. I notice that again and again with vendors. At home Jon and I count every penny on our wedding budget, but in person he will not insist, or EVER give the impression that we are watching pennies, and the vendor treats the subject like a minor detail. It is surely part of the cultural behavior to feel rich, in such a wealthy country, and to not ever discuss money. One cannot look like he or she is watching the budget too carefully, it seems.

 So I need your help. Which should I choose for my bouquet? Obviously the Callas are a huge theme already, but the peonies and lillies are more open and soft, and thus, a little more appealing to me as my own bouquet.

1. I hold white miniature callas. Goes great with the other flowers, but a little tight and compact for my instincts. (theknot.com)

2. Peonies, so fluffy. maybe a mix with the callas would be cool??(the knot.com)

3.Lillies, large and open (ftd.com)


Final, fourth option is that my two girls carry white Callas, The two Groomsmen have White Calla bout’s,  but then I have a yellow Calla bouquet, and Jon has a Yellow Calla bout??