60. So You Want To Marry A Frenchman
Why don’t we have PSA’s for things like dating, making dinner, and puberty like they made back in the 50’s? There are still videos shown to high schoolers (I viewed them over a decade ago: chock full of boy band references, ripped jeans and flip phones), but none of them had the gravitas, the “we’ve got to make this one count, boys” that the 15-minute shorts of the 50’s had in spades. The narrator’s timbre carried authority. He was the same preppy, baritone, news-y accent who was the host of radio shows, the persuasive voice of national advertising campaigns, and the one who delivered each grave news bulletin of the war shown before movies. He spoke with an urgency and importance that made each syllable feel like a monumental event, one that today both makes you laugh, and gives you a feeling of patriotism.
So, you want to marry a Frenchman? Why yes, you there! Well, there are a few things you should know before you enter in to such a complicated and arduous task as marrying a non-American! You need to be studious, immovable, and ready for any eventuality, from a missed form here to a flexible wedding date there. The motto for all international fiancé’s is: anything can happen!
Long ago, back in 2018, C received a job offer in Lausanne, Switzerland. We had plans to marry, of course, but as an American I already had my citizenship and a relatively affordable healthcare plan as a single lady (put your hands up), with a moderately successful small piano tuning business that allowed me to pay my taxes each year and not worry about where rent would be coming from that month. Things were coasting along. But as it tends to do, life changed on us in a big way all at once with this job offer, and C was gone within a few weeks. Thus began the inevitable path to marriage, international-style.
My family, both blood and friend, were supportive and loving, going with me to find the dress pictured in my head somewhere inside a mega-mall in the Dallas metroplex. The dress was then carefully packed in the top compartment of my suitcase, wrapped in two layers of thin plastic, and protected with my puffiest coats.
Arriving in Geneva, bedraggled, I boarded the train to Lausanne with my fiancé, whom I hadn’t seen in a solid three months. He had already filed for his work permit through the company, found us an apartment, and was sleeping on the Japanese tatami he had purchased for our bedroom (more on that next week). My process was only just beginning.
The first thing you must know, dear reader, if you wish to marry a Frenchman who works in Switzerland, is that you must remember the 90-day rule. Until you have a different VISA, you are a tourist; and therefore only allowed in the country for 90 days at a time. In addition to Switzerland itself, this includes all of Europe. That means that after 90 days, if you don’t have a document allowing you to stay, you better get the heck outta dodge and off the continent, or deal with the consequences! No matter how much an overseas plane ticket costs (they become surprisingly more palatable over time without ever decreasing in price), you must do what they say or good luck being welcomed back to the land of Heidi, fondue, chocolate, and the hills: all of which are very much alive with the sound of music.
After getting to Lausanne in the fall of 2018, wedding dress in tow and with shoes that Sharon ordered off of Amazon, I was totally ready for my “planned” courthouse wedding. Soon I came to realize that no, not everyone in Lausanne spoke English. Mundane tasks like going to the grocery store, finding a place to buy running shoes, and telling strangers that I couldn’t understand them had to be adjusted to accordingly.
Soon you will find out, however unexpected and jarring the news might be, that you may not have done all of the planning you needed to accomplish your dreams of a November wedding in downtown Lausanne. Maybe you’ll be at the apartment one morning, pestering your fiancé like a horsefly buzzing in his ear, about when you should make plans to go to the courthouse. He will call the courthouse, and then be told the news that he then translates to you: the best thing you could have done was to have gotten married in America.
When I received this news, a freak out of epic proportions ensued, driving C to leave for work 15 minutes early and leave me melting into a puddle of self-pity on the couch, drenched in morning sunlight and watching the early shadows move across the ornate filigrees of the centuries-old postal building in the distance, indifferent to my despondency. The reason why I cared was simple, yet adjusting to my new reality took a two-hour conversation with Victoria, my sassy American friend and guardian angel who aided me during my fraught moving journey back in August. We’ve remained close, checking in at least once every week or two to keep tabs on the other. She answered the phone on the second ring.
“Hey! What’s up?”
“Girl, I’m just having a freak-out right now.”
I told her; she listened patiently from all the way over in the Italian section of Switzerland where she now lives. I explained how I already had been thrown a wedding shower; already bought a dress and shoes; already planned my jewelry and hairstyle; and most importantly, told all of my family and friends that I would soon be a married woman in Switzerland, by the late fall of 2018. I was embarrassed, feeling like I’d miscalculated one of the most important moments of my life.
“Look,” she said, “First of all, feel what you feel. I’ve been right where you are now. It sucks. Second, sounds like you just need to do what I did with my first husband, which is fly to Vegas and get hitched with a signed certificate, and bring it back to the Swiss. That’s the fastest way you’re going to get all of this done.”
Following a long day of self-reflection after our conversation, I took a bath, washed my face, and got dinner ready while I waited for my unofficial other half to arrive home from work. When I heard the giant front door open with a loud thuum, I walked up to greet C with a hug and a kiss wrapped together with a sheepish offer for truce. I told him how Victoria had given me peace of mind and a plan. I told him about Vegas.
C asked, “But what do you want to do?”
“Truthfully,” I replied, “I did have my heart set on getting married in Switzerland.”
He took out his phone and dialed the number of the American embassy in Bern that I had sent him earlier, and a voice answered on the other end, to which he introduced himself and began to describe our plight in French. After five minutes of indistinguishable dialogue, C hung up and turned to me.
“So,” he said, “It turns out that we actually can get married in Switzerland, but it’s slightly more complicated than we first thought.”
At this point, you may start experiencing chronic flutters and nervous attacks every-so-often, as you go down your list of numbers, calling the various embassies over Skype spanning all possible hours of the day. You will eventually come to read an article, and at the very bottom it will say in fine print:
For all residents of Tennessee, refer to the: Atlanta, GA Consulate General.
If you’ve lived in Nashville for over 8 years, you will then call the Atlanta, GA Consulate General at 10pm the following Monday evening, because on their website it states that the person who deals with VISAs is only available Monday through Thursday from 3 to 4 in the afternoon. When you call that evening, you will remember, to your horror, that Atlanta is only 6 hours behind, not the usual 7 like in Nashville or Dallas. You missed your window. Try again tomorrow.
Over the next several weeks I compiled form after form, and made certain of the locations where I would need to go to file them. I contacted the State of Texas in order to obtain three long-form birth certificates with the official state seal, sent to Sharon’s house. I had them rush delivered; they arrived in time for her to slide them into her carry-on as she traveled to Switzerland to visit me for a week. Sharon being a notary public, I had a stack of papers awaiting her authorization when she arrived, which promptly got filed away. I changed my tickets on United and alerted Cheyenne that I would be returning in January to work with him on FM, as well as to visit my family, and lastly spend one day in Atlanta, where I would file at the Swiss consulate in person and pray that nothing will have slipped through the cracks.
After months of planning and queasy heart pangs with each email asking the consulate to confirm or correct your present understanding, you will posses all of the forms you need: the Texas birth certificate, shiny and official, hot off the press and unaffected by the passage of nearly 30 years; your new Swiss passport photos, taken by a man in a little Lausanne photo shop (I look like exactly Joni Mitchell in my photos); your two copies of your bridegroom’s VISA and passport, and your own passport, copied twice, with your notarized forms, and your beefy VISA application. You check over them incessantly, even losing sleep over them the night before you fly back to the US. But make sure you don’t leave your wallet behind! There are some hefty fees required for application.
I had a nice, mexican-food-and-whisky-sipping-filled visit with my family before riding on another plane over to Atlanta. That night, lying in a comfy bed, I woke up nearly every hour. I finally got up for real, grabbing a quick workout before loading up my arms with food from the continental buffet, eating in my room, and taking a cold shower because I wasn’t patient enough to wait for the water in the hotel room to heat up. At 8:20am, I left the lobby of my hotel and walked across the street.
You will walk into a grand building that on the outside is branded with a large corporate bank logo. You will sidle through the impossibly clean and entirely transparent glass rotunda, walking over to the security guard stationed behind a sterile marble desk, modernist in design and surrounding him in a completed circle. You will ask him if this is the building that houses the Swiss consulate. He will say “yes”, and wave you on to the elevators.
On the tenth floor, you will next arrive at a glass wall with a small, nearly transparent handle on the side with which you enter a room that nearly resembles a children’s day care: waist-high tables, three matching chairs at each, and a large, primary red and stark white painting of a cartoon cow in the sunshine, casting a slight pinkish hue over the floor directly beneath the fluorescents. Each lightswitch you can see is a vertical white rectangle by design, but then painted with a horizontal white rectangle with a red square border, creating a Swiss flag. A woman approaches and speaks to you through thick bulletproof glass. With an effervescent smile and a supportive nod, she slides the forms you need to fill out in person across the tray beneath the glass. You find your seat and start to fill them out.
Everyone is bright, chipper and full of joy at the Swiss Consulate General of Atlanta. Also in the air, however, is a mixture of atmospheres, consistent with that of hibiscus tea: naturally immense and abrasive, approachable when watered down (by my interaction with the ladies through the glass as opposed to being interviewed for the VISA in a closed office), and perhaps even a little enjoyable with their touch of added honey. You never forget, however, the disagreeable base of the concoction, ever present, lurking in the background.
I fill out the front page that includes basic information pertaining to me and C: names, places of birth, and oddly enough, even religious preferences. At the bottom of the page, it asks what our future childrens’ last names will be, and I choose C’s last name. Thankfully, I got to skip the entire next page because I could check the very top box in the far right corner, which was next to the phrase “I have had no children with this person”. Therefore, my offspring will be interrogated at a future date.
I giggle on the last page of the application while reading over a long paragraph. The Swiss government wanted to make very clear that it does NOT ALLOW marriage between any two blood-related parties, and that also includes those related by adoption. I then had to check a box that said “No, I am not adopted.” Which I thought was bizarre; but incest is gross, so I get it.
In the meantime I’m texting C, who is at work in Lausanne and possibly having a stressful day, judging by his mood and increasing detachment to my questions. It’s an eerie, ominous thing, this process. It requires a ton of assurity and a thick, viscous puddle of love keeping me upright through the wind like a tongue depressor floating in cooled caramel. The thicker the substance that holds one in place, the straighter one remains under questioning.
I can’t imagine what it would be like for a couple who were doing this on a whim. It just wouldn’t be possible to see it through to the end. How could it? Too many signatures, too many binding decisions certified on paper, printed in triplicate, and mailed to various governmental bodies. Each statement, picture, and moment between me and C has been scrutinized in the back of my mind over the past few days, like my saliva pooled at the back of my tongue. But it’s okay; It’s fine. This is my decision, and I love this Frenchman very much. I have made up my mind.
Through this process, at many moments you will simultaneously feel like crying, singing, sleeping, and going for a 10 mile run. None of it will necessarily make sense, but it is all necessary. At the end, the official who this whole time has faithfully answered your calls and emails will emerge from the back of the consulate to watch you sign the forms in front of her, and for good measure, make you assure her that you are not being coerced into this marriage and enter into it of your own volition. You will then turn to the ladies and say that they are the nicest governmental employees you have ever met, an admission that will seem a bit too flowery and hyperbolic for the Swiss-Germans. You will realize this about a millisecond too late, but they will take it in stride; they are billboards of Swiss pride, still smiling warmly, exclaiming that this is a joyous occasion, the marriage preparation. And it is, it really is. You recognize through your cloud of stress and flop sweat that you had forgotten you were still getting married. It will be in Switzerland, amongst these lovely people who keep smiling so broadly at you through the glass that you might burst out laughing.
I stand before the clerk as she hands me an itemized receipt. She tells me that my VISA is successfully applied for, and if my marriage preparation is swiftly entered into the record, I could have my residency documents granted before my 90 day visitation period is over. It’s just up to the municipality now; the government will work as quickly as it so desires and there is unfortunately no guarantee. If my 90 days expire, I’ll just have to hop on another flight back to the USA. But maybe, sometime very soon, they’ll let me know that I can stay.
Having filed all of your applications successfully, you will now make your way to the Hartsfield/Jackson Airport to enjoy a sushi meal at a fine dining restaurant in the E Terminal. You will eat a lot of sushi, because you are celebrating a job well done. Congratulations! You may just marry your Frenchman after all.