Tag Archives: German Chinese wedding documents

Jet-Set Wedding (Part 3) – Part-time Bureaucrats and the King of Pandas

Restaurant Inner Mongolia

After we managed to acquire our translation, we were off to the registry office. Since I am a foreigner, said office is not just the regular registry office but instead a “special one” across town. We found out just how special it was when we arrived to find that the registrar was not there. Mr Li’s mother had been trying to contact the kind sir since Saturday to no avail and repeated calls to his office on Monday morning while we were getting our stuff done were of course to no more successful. His colleagues tried to appease us by informing us that due to the fact that about only 50 marriages between foreigners and Hohhotians take place a year, the registrar worked on a part-time basis and was currently “in the countryside”, which is probably code for sitting at home drinking tea doing absolutely nothing at all.

I think the question I ask myself most whenever I deal with bureaucratic entities in China is how on earth this country still keeps running considering no one in the administration actually ever does any work. Then again, it is probably necessary for them to be Lazy Larrys so that they can employ five people to reach the productivity rate of one regular person, in order to keep everyone employed and unemployment rate up.

After calling the Prince of Pandas, as he shall henceforth be known, he suggested we come back at 4.30 since he, and I quote, “might be around then.” But, you know, he couldn’t be sure of course, and it wasn’t like we had a plane to catch. A call to his supervisor though seemed to take care of the small issue of when he would bring his derriere into work, thus we were given an appointment at 2.30pm and left the building accompanied by a lot of swearing on my part. To my German genes, these situations are infuriating to say the least, and it is all I can do to keep myself from getting physical. With regards to our new appointment we were told to be absolutely on time, since the registrar had to leave at 3pm for another appointment (read more tea slurping, maybe some TV or card games).

So, in the meantime, there was nothing much we could do except go for a delicious lunch at a nearby Mongolian restaurant. I consider myself incredibly lucky insofar as I am a massive fan of lamb meat, or a lamb fan, and Mongolia is to lamb as Germany is to sausages. We had a most heavenly lunch of oven-roasted lamb and stewed lamb with glass noodles and Sauerkraut, which for some strange reason is identical to German Sauerkraut. A frequent subject of speculation between Mr.Li and I is how the Kraut ended up in two countries so far apart and which country had it first.

To my utter surprise, I even managed to not get any grease or sauce all over my dress (you would be just as astonished if you know of my unique talent to get food everywhere while I eat except in my mouth, apparently, like a toddler just with slightly longer arms).

I also steered clear of the Mongolian milk tea; for some strange reason, people in these parts of the world think it is a great idea to add salt instead of sugar to said beverage; a concept, which I with my bourgeois European taste buds simply cannot accept.

After posing for some slightly surreal pictures in my German dirndl and Mr.Li in his black suit in a Mongolian restaurant, it was time for our next quest; celebratory alcohol!


The Dates (Part 3) – The Chinese Wedding

Calendar august wedding China

So after a lot of back and forth with regards to the Chinese wedding, involving certain Chinese superstitions, we had originally planned to keep it simple and set the date for 1st October. Although not a very auspicious date by any means (not an unlucky one either though), it is a very popular choice for weddings in China since it marks the first day of the national holiday, when everyone is off work and free to come. The temperature at this time of year in Hohhot is just about bearable and I had already made my peace with an Autumn wedding, when to my utter delight Laolao retracted her original statement.

“Since the two boys are cousins, not actual brothers, it is ok for them to be married within a year of each other”, she informed her daughter.

And so, once again, the date of the wedding was wide open. I knew instantly that it had to be August, since eight is an auspicious number in China but more importantly it would be warm in Hohhot (despite the hair-raising cold in winter, which is no stranger to averages of -20 degrees, summers can still climb up to 35 degrees). Since some of my best friends and family are making the long trip from China for this occasion, I then thought how great it would be if we could have the celebration sometime around my birthday, so I could get to spend it with everyone.

Since people will be arriving and leaving at different times, I quickly realized that if I wanted to make sure that everyone was there for my birthday, there was one sure-fire way to make it happen; have the wedding on that same day. So, in another example of German efficiency, I decided to combine the two (I sure hope I won’t regret that one day, this marriage better last!). This is only made better by the fact that my birthday includes not just one but two eights and to top it all off it will be my 28th birthday. Well if that isn’t enough auspiciousness to last a lifetime, nothing will help!

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.

It’s official! – The Proposal


Okay, so Mr. Li finally pulled it off; just when I was beginning to give up hope. For the last three months I have been waiting for the proposal, and yet when it happened I was entirely caught by surprise.

Mr. Li had spent the last months coming up with every possible excuse why he shouldn’t have to propose to me, including

“You want to take my name, so I think it is your duty to propose.”

He even had me so convinced, I got all irritated until I received a WeChat message promising me, he had something in store. Of course, it wouldn’t be us, if there had not been a few quirky moments.

First of all, he planned on surprising me, which was incredibly sweet but went slightly wrong for two reasons; one, he tried to get me back to the flat on time by telling me he wanted a Skype date at exactly 5.30 right after work. Thickhead that I am, I of course did not get the hint, and so 5.30 came and went and I was still at the office.

“Oh, he can just skype my phone”

, I thought and since said device was being almost eerily calm, I assumed that meant he was busy or stuck at work.

I strolled up to my flat an hour later. As I walked to the door, a delicious smell of curry wafted up my nostrils and I felt a pang of regret.

“One of the neighbours is cooking, it smells delicious. How I wish someone were cooking for me.”

I did feel a little suspicious when I noticed the mouth-watering smell seemed to be coming out of my own flat; but only for an instant, then the thought passed.

I opened the door and suddenly a figure jumped out from behind the bed. I screeched like a banshee with shock, which earned me a concerned look from the neighbours just unlocking their own door.

“Oh my god, I am being burgled!”

That was the first thought that shot through my head. (I now see how illogical it would be for a burglar to be cooking a curry in the flat of his victim…although at the time it seemed to make sense.) The next thought that followed was

“That burglar looks awfully familiar.”

You guessed it, it was Mr. Li; “burglar of my heart” (a title he later bestowed upon himself).
As I stepped into my flat, the first thing that caught my eye was the cleanliness.

You see, that was the second problem about Mr. Li’s unannounced visit; the pre-boyfriend flat clean, which I usually frantically complete the evening before his arrival, had not taken place. To make matters worse, this was a Friday with a filming appointment, and so I had spent the morning going through numerous outfit changes, discarding the rejects haphazardly on my bed and floor and leaving an array of make-up utensils strewn across the bathroom sink top as I rushed to work. To call the state of my flat chaos incarnated would be to flatter it. And so, around 1pm, Mr. Li stepped into this bombshell.

He later confessed,

“My initial reaction was ‘Oh my, a bomb went off in this place!’ For a short moment, all I could think was, this is the girl I want to marry. Am I sure about that? But then I thought of her pretty face and nice character and thought ‘What the heck’ and started cleaning.”

One of my constant complaints is that Mr. Li is terrible at making compliments and saying romantic stuff, but it seems he has recently stepped up his game.

And so he cleaned and cooked all afternoon, bless him. I have to admit, there is nothing sexier than a man who does housework. And yes, I am saying that partly because I hate doing housework. But mainly coz it’s true.


After welcoming me and complaining about my lateness, he directed me towards the cake. He had purchased a cream cake from HPC bakery, one of my favourite chains in Nanjing. Yummy! As Mr. Li later stated:

“Whenever I am being romantic, there is food.”

While I was unpacking the dessert, Mr. Li announced he needed the loo. At this point I had a hunch what was happening; clean flat, curry and cake, and then I noticed the pad was propped up in a suspicious fashion, i.e. he was filming this whole procedure.

“Strange moment to be going to the loo,”

I thought to myself.

Next thing I know, he marches out of the toilet with a humungous batch of roses. At some point I had informed him that there need to be hundreds of roses during a proposal; he “only” got 99. This example was, without a doubt, proof of how I have a big gob and forget half the nonsense I say, but it was incredibly touching to know he listens to my ramblings.

After handing me a bucket full of roses almost as big as myself, he started rummaging around in them. As I found out later, he was desperately looking for the ring box, which he had hidden in the roses.

The poor thing was slightly nervous, mainly because I had further announced that I did not want him to propose to me in my flat, because that was boring. However, for a Chinese man, who is not prone to excessive displays of affection, especially not in public due to cultural convention, that was asking a bit too much. In the end, I am glad he did not change his plans, since everything was perfect.

He did skip a slightly important part of the whole proposing, though…the actual proposal.

“So, I kneel down…and then put this on your finger, right?”

he asked.

“Didn’t you forget to ask me a question?”

I replied. And there we go.

He had to then rescue the curry, which had burned in the pot ever so slightly in the meantime; but to me was the most perfect tasting curry in the whole wide world, after that he proceeded in his cooking marathon to make my favourite dish, aubergine, potato and green peppers in a garlic-soy sauce. For this dish alone, I would marry him.

Then he presented me with another gift; an engagement iPhone. This might sound really silly, but the fact that he used his once in a lifetime opportunity to pre-book the iPhone 6 and then hand it over to me, that is true love. I always thought, that if he could marry Apple, he would. Luckily, he chose me!

As a sidebar, due to its extreme popularity in China, the iPhone is almost impossible to get, especially in smaller cities. Even in Beijing Mr. Li had to go to the store, where he had pre-booked the phone, and queue up for ages to get it. The “huangniu” illegal sellers were lining up to offer those who managed to purchase the iPhone to buy it off of them for RMB 300 extra. A number of people were caught trying to smuggle the phones from Hong Kong on to the mainland. China and the iPhone – an epic lovestory. Well, as I said, this illustrates the troubles and pains Mr. Li went through to get me the phone, I am truly spoiled!

The final, and in my personal opinion, best surprise was when he confessed he had not only recorded the proposal on the pad, but also a few messages in the morning and afternoon for me. At this point I was so touched I started to cry, what the roses, the food and even the phone had failed to do; the fact that Mr. Li recorded himself on camera, something he really does not enjoy, just because he knew I would love it; that was the moment right there, that I will never forget.

So, to sum it up, although I was convinced that our pre-proposal engagement had taken the surprise out of things, Mr. Li actually managed to give me the loveliest surprise on a great date (14/11/14).

“You didn’t think I was going to prepare on our three-year anniversary, did you?! That’s so predictable!”

he informed me later, and he was right. After a weekend of feasting on delicious home-cooked food and cake, and drinks and lunches with friends, I had to once again send him off to Beijing; maybe next time, he will get a surprise visit from me.

Engagement nanjing

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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