Tying the knot in Paris

Commentary, December 1997
It should come as no big surprise that for foreigners getting married in Paris this is no Las Vegas-slam-bam-thank-you-mam-you-may-now-kiss-the-bride affair.

In fact, the process of getting your nuptual papers together can be so cumbersome that the administrative hoop-jumping really tests your will to commit to your partner. In other words, at this moment in social history where the numbers don’t look favorably on the chances of succeeding at marriage, and in a country where the stigma of cohabitation is “nul,” you really have to want to do it. It’s clear that Nike is not a French company; no one here can “Just Do It” or anything else for that matter.

The US Consulate confirms that Americans call long distance at all times of the day and night with their romantic and kinky requests to take the vows on top of the Eiffel Tower or at Notre Dame at midnight. One of the funkiest was a request for a Catacombs ceremony on Halloween in the presence of the exhumed bones of Maurice Chevalier. Hey, it takes all types to make a world.

Admittedly, Paris should be a swell place to get married, great photo ops, top notch flowers, champagne, and “pièce montée” (wedding cake) are all readily available, and of course, out-of-town guests prefer trekking to Paris than Peoria or Reading, Pennsylvania, like last year’s gig when your nephew Clem finally got serious and popped the question to his old standby Mandy. Get hitched in Paris and you give ’em two reasons to get on a plane.

No, the problems aren’t with the party but the papers.

Firstly, if you think that just because you’re two willing adults with  lawless blood tests that you’re gonna become man and wife (“entre autres”), guess again – you need to start with an office of documents:

1) “Quittance EDF” (electric bill). Note: if you light by candle in Paris, you’re not even considered a person. So turn on the lights and get your name on the freaking bill.

2) Carte nationale d’identité. A carte de séjour and a passport will do. If you don’t have a carte de séjour, or if only one of you has a carte de séjour, go directly to jail and do not collect $200! One of you, in all cases, must have resided here for at least 40 days immediately preceding the marriage. And if you’re both American, then both must comply with this. And, if you think because you’ve lived in Paris for over 40 days, or even 40 years, that you can dash off and get married somewhere cool like the Mont St-Michel or on a TGV to Marseille, get real. You can only get married in the town where one of you resides, and it must happen at the Mairie. Churches, etc. come later, but that’s your business. (Church and State split up a long time ago in this Catholic country, and don’t forget it.) To be legal, all marriages must be performed by a French civil authority. So your friend the ship captain, your cousin’s rabbi, or the spiritual leader of the Yoga Church of Endless Love won’t do the trick here. It’ll be more like the Mairie of Malakoff or the Mairie of the 19e!

3) “Justificatif de Situation Militair.” Americans can get away with a sworn affidavit on this one, unless you went AWOL in the Mecong Delta or denounced your country during the Gulf War crisis.

4) “Attestation sur l’honneur du domicile.” If you don’t understand why you need this as well as your electric bill, you’re being far too logical to live here. Go home; you’re not ready!

5) “Copie intégrale de l’acte de naissance.” This one is fun. If you figure out the difference between the “copie intégrale” and the “extrait de naissance” par contre, you are more than ready to make France your home for life. In France your birth certificate is valid for three months, and only the town hall in the place where you were born can issue you a renewed document. Being born outside of France, you can provide your  original birth certificate – not a copy – but you’ll probably have to supply a translation, but not just any ol’ translation, one that’s been translated by a translator “assermenté,” in other words, officially recognized by the State, and thus, not cheap. The Consulate offers lists of these chosen few.

6) “Certificat médical prénuptial.” This is no biggie. Any doctor can do it. Of course you’ll need to get a blood test at your local laboratoire (remember syphilis) and sometimes a chest X-ray.

7) “Certificat de célibat.” This simply means that you are single and you are eligible for marriage. Yanks don’t have these. We just do it, remember?, and rely on lawyers, lots of them, later. The Consulate will give you the equivalent in the form of a sworn affidavit for 10 bucks.

8) “Certificat de coutume.” Very interesting concept. The French authorities want to make sure that the customs of your native country are not incompatible with French law. If you come from Mali and you have three wives you might run into a complication or two. If you come from Newark, New Jersey and you have three wives or husbands, I strongly advise that you lie profusely. In any case, the Consulate can provide another affidavit of law that gets you over this wall.

If you’re not dissuaded yet, bravo. Dig in and do it. You’ve proved your love and devotion to your imminent spouse. But, buyer beware: the rules at each Mairie are subject to change and local interpretation. So any of the above may no longer be valid.

The champagne, I promise, will be great though!