The Bureaucracy (Part 1)


The one thing we don’t consider amongst all the gushy gooeyness of getting married is the bureaucracy. When it comes to international marriage law there is a lot of bureaucratic nonsense to weed through before you get to say “I do”; although, technically, we won’t be saying those words in either of our ceremonies…anyway, you get where I am going with this. Of course one can rely on the Germans to make this process as complicated as possible with just a hint of ludicrousness; although to be fair the Chinese side is giving us Kraut’s a run for our money.

The first order of business is the certificate of nubility, or in laywoman’s terms, proof that one is not attempting to lead a polygamous lifestyle; yet in other words, a paper proving that when filling in official forms you still need to tick the box “single”.

Right from the onset, it is a challenge to fight back the feeling of incredulity that overcomes one upon reading the requirements for said certificate. First of all, as a German national resident in China, I have no way of obtaining this legal document via the embassy; instead I, or a legal representative of mine, who through some miraculous turn of fate managed to receive all my documentation via post, (it is not uncommon for letters and packages to take up to three months to arrive in the Middle Kingdom, if they care to show up at all – and you thought your post office is slow?), have to go to the local registrar’s office to apply for this lamentable legality. I mean, squeezing in a short trip across the world shouldn’t be a big deal, right?

Then, of course, one cannot forget the whole host of documents needed to apply for the aforementioned attestation:

One of the most entertaining pieces of information I received on the matter is that the birth certificate I need to provide on my part is currently out of date. Curious, I wasn’t aware such documents could be updated, nor that the Germans now seem to believe in reincarnation. So, on my side, we somehow need to get to Frankfurt for an “updated” birth certificate (my parents now live in the Southwest near the French border and I am just around the corner in China).

However, besides birth certificate 2.0, all I need to provide is my passport and the filled out application form; my inofficial fiancé on the other hand is a lot worse off than me.

In order for my application to go through, he needs to supply

Passport (or certified copy)
Police registration
A certificate of nubility
Birth certificate

…all of which need to be translated into German and notarized, which will cost masses of time and money; not to mention the frayed nerves. So, let’s have look at this fun list, shall we?

Since he will not be joining me on the Christmas trip back to Germany, which as luck would have it is coming up in only two month’s time, he needs to provide a certified copy of his passport. Well, at least the notarization business doesn’t need to worry about its income with all the notarizing we will be doing in the coming months.

Now then, certificate of nubility. Please explain to me how it makes sense that to get my certificate of nubility, it is a prerequisite to show my fiancés certificate of nubility? How does that even work?! What if he needs my CoN to get his? It’s a catch 22, a vicious bureaucratic cycle with no escape; does no one share my disbelief at how non-sensical this is? Apart from the fact that it is a mystery to me, how it is relevant whether Mr. Li is single when applying for proof that I am. Anyone care to enlighten me, be my guest!

Next issue, the birth certificate; this is another question altogether. The Chinese administration differs substantially from the German one due to the “hukou”, a family registration system. While Chinese do have birth certificates, they are legally of little consequence; it is the family hukou that has legal ramifications. Ironically, I only just published an article on that topic in the Oktober 2014 issue of the Nanjinger magazine (shameless plug). The birth certificate, though, is just a meaningless piece of paper from the Chinese point of view; and so it is not uncommon that the document in question is “misplaced” as was of course the case with Mr. Li.

While some German offices do accept the hukou instead of a birth certificate, after perusing a number of German-Sino marriage bureaucracy forums (the fact there are forums entirely devoted to this topic is all the proof necessary of what a hassle it is; and if you don’t believe me just read a few of the dispiriting comments on there), I found that some registrar offices insist on an actual birth certificate issued by the hospital that witnessed the event in question. Since we would like to try and get this sorted on the first attempt, my future mother-in-law has the ungrateful task of acquiring a new version of the lost document.

This is where it gets really interesting. Because the acquisition of birth certificates is actually closely linked to illegal practices with the aim of transferring one’s hukou, it is now incredibly difficult to obtain one in China. This means, the family has to use their Guanxi (connections) in order to even be able to get the certificate, ironically for legal purposes.

But wait, there’s more. Lady Luck also decided that it was her day off when my future Chinese mum went to the hospital, in which Mr. Li was born. They have all the information about children born between now and 1990 on record; anything earlier than that is stashed away in some type of archive. Mr. Li was born in December 1989. Oh, the irony; here I was joking all along how glad I was, he wasn’t a “90后”, which translates to Post-90’s kid, a generation that has difficulty in being taken seriously by their older peers for their techy, geeky upbringing at the turn of the millennium, and as it turns out, it would have been so much easier if he had been. Then again, I am already 2.5 years older than him, a concept many Chinese find strange at best, and concerning at worst, so let’s keep the unconventional age difference to a minimum.

Therefore, for now all we can do is wait until the archives have revealed that, yes, Mr. Li was in fact born in that hospital, and we may continue our travels on the road to bureaucratic hell.

I wonder if Germany and China are just such a terrible pairing due to their love for time-wasting bureaucracy. According to my sources, a British friend was able to get their CoN from the embassy in Shanghai. What are your experiences with international marriage bureaucracy? I would love to know, whether you are also caught in this documentation djungle!
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