The Bureaucracy (Part 2) – Towel brain, legalese and endurance


International wedding bureaucracy

“This is a lot easier than I thought it would be” I knew the instant the thought flashed through my mind that I was kidding myself and sure enough…

The countless horror stories on German forums I had read should have been a warning, they should have prepared me for certain failure and yet, I was naive enough to hope that my case would be different, that somehow through a miracle, we would make it through the jungle of bureaucracy and come out the other side unscathed and married.

So, after I described in the first post of this series, I had done some research and found out which documents Mr. Li was going to need in order for me to apply for my certificate of nubility.

After scrolling for hours and hours through even the last corners of the German embassy website and going through a number of documents in legalese that twisted my brain so much, it resembled a wrung-out towel, the conclusion I came to was that if we asked the German registry office about what was needed, they would know (after all the embassy website in China said to check with them for local variances in the requirements).

My mother went to the registrar in Germany and was told about the four documents and that they had to be translated in Germany by a certified translator. That, according to them, was it. After Mr. Li’s mother used her connections to get the usually impossible to get birth certificate and all the other documents, she sent it to me and I DHL’d it to my mother in Germany (I figured the only ones I can trust to deliver documents to Germany and not lose on the way is a German company, right?). My mother received them and brought them to a certified translator, who took her time and 170€ to write up the German versions. Then my mother dragged the documents to the registry office, where, because the colleague my mother had been in touch with was on holiday, they lay around for a week.

At this point it was mid-December, I was set to go to Germany in one week, during which time I was supposed to get my certificate. After all it’s not like Germany is just around the corner and I can’t pop by just anytime I feel like it.

Thursday afternoon my mother gets a call.

“These documents are not valid,”

the lady who has just returned from her relaxing holiday tells her.

“They have to be legalized by the German embassy in Beijing.”

Thank you lady on a holiday, you just ruined my entire family’s Christmas. In all fairness, my parents live in the tiniest town in the South of Germany, where international weddings are a rare thing and so these people usually do not have to deal with all the rules and regulations involved in a Germano-international marriage. So, who can I blame; as obviously I wouldn’t want to blame myself? Let’s blame the government and their stupid, stupid rules.

So after we found out that we had wasted valuable time, we were trying to figure out what exactly it was we had to do. Because getting Chinese documents legalized might sound easy in theory. In practice, it really isn’t.

What the embassy legalize is in fact merely the signature of Mr. Li and of the person who issued the official documents. Furthermore, they do not legalize original documents but only notarized copies that have been stamped and translated into German (or English, I hope; we will have to send an email as the embassies NEVER answer the phone and pray for a response).

So, once we have issued notarized copies of the original documents in Hohhot and sent them from Inner Mongolia to Beijing, Mr.Li has to run to the embassy to get them legalized; this means taking a day off work and losing that day’s salary, as his company is run by Ebenezer Scrooge.

Once he has gone through this process, he has to send the documents to my parents’ in Germany and then we can only pray that we don’t need to get them translated in Germany again. Otherwise, I might just get violent.

We were debating whether to send the original documents my mother had back to Hohhot for Mr.Li’s mother to get the notarized copies; however we also found out that the documents are only valid for 3 months and the birth certificate runs out on 10th January. Hardly enough time with all the running back and forth that is involved.

Also, the original documents had been signed by the translator to prove their authenticity and the translations stapled to the back, ruining them for any official purposes in China.

So, now my poor future mother-in-law (well, if we ever get through all this a nonsense anyway) has to do the whole thing again; including using her connections at the hospital to get the birth certificate, they are technically not allowed to issue.

A not so global village – making international marriage as impossible as possible

This experience of bureaucratic hell just makes me think how ironic it is that every day we speak about how small the world is becoming and how international borders are breaking down and all the “one world, one love” prophecies and how far from the truth this is in relation to our legal situation.

I understand that there need to be laws in place to ensure a person cannot marry as many people as they want in different countries or simply marry for visa purposes, but I think that current laws in Germany are just absolutely outdated and unreasonable.

I mean I already commented on the irony that to get my certificate of nubility I need to get Mr.Li’s – so what if the Chinese said the same. But overall this whole jumping through hoops is just absolutely over the top in my opinion. There is a very vivid German idiom that describes perfectly what we are currently going through:

“It’s as if someone is laying stones in our way”

to make things as difficult as possible. Well, to be honest, I feel as if I am drowning in a sea of stones (ah, so melodramatic).

But let’s be serious, my mother told me of a Russian-German couple that went through the same hassle and in the end just gave up and didn’t get married because it was just not worth it. A German-Chinese couple in my parent’s town had the same problems we did with the three month validity and also had to get the documents issued a second time before succeeding. Luckily, my mum is a tough cookie and a challenge such as this will only make her more determined to beat the system and get me that bloody certificate (I was just about ready to call the whole thing off when she told me).

The thing that irks me the most though, aside from this ridiculous labyrinth of legal ludicrousness, is the fact that a couple of weeks ago I spoke to a young guy from Australia who told me that after going through all the motions to get the certificate, when he got married to a young Chinese girl in Nanjing, they didn’t even need the silly piece of paper at all. Sadly the Inner Mongolians, where we need to get married due to Mr. Li’s hukou, insist on the certificate.

While again there is always the possibility of bribing them to turn a blind eye, we do want to one day return to Europe and it might get a little awkward explaining to German authorities how we have a marriage certificate without them ever having issued a certificate of nubility for me. Yes, they are that organized they would know. In conclusion, no corrupt wedding for us.

The one lesson I have learned from this is to never trust anyone who gives you “official” information as probably they have absolutely no clue what the heck they are doing. Oh yes, and that my mum is awesome, but I knew that already.

In honour of this painful procedure and hopefully to help any of you, who are facing the same issues, to not fall in the German legal trap, I plan on making a little infographic, which will hopefully help you to not make the same mistakes we did (once I know for certain how this whole confusions process works). If you are facing the paper wars as well, good luck!

Here’s to showing those bureaucratic buggers that they can never stop a determined English woman and her Chinese in-laws.

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