bureaucracySo, we are about to get married. I’m Belgian, Zuzana is Slovak. We are going to get married here in Slovakia.

Let’s focus on the official path to marriage first. Here are the official administrative hurdles to take.

-I needed to get documents in my home town in Belgium proving where I live, that I’m not married already, where I was born, etc. These documents then needed to be ‘legalized’ in Brussels, apparently to prevent people from printing these things from the comfort of their own home. In all, 4 documents needed to be legalized. Cost: 20 euro per page, for a total of 80 euros. Is this what the Brexit voters were opposing? If they were, I’m starting to feel a tiny smitch of sympathy bubbling up.

-Since we’re getting married in a catholic Church I needed to prove I had been baptized. To get that document we turned to the local Church of the town I live in. Luckily we didn’t need a translation for this, because these things are drawn up in Latin, and the Slovak priest knows Latin, as do all catholic priests, I assume.

Hey, here’s an idea, dear European Union, why not borrow this practice from the Catholic Church and adopt one universal language for all legal documents? I’m sure it would put a lot of translators out of business. A fact I wouldn’t be crying over and I studied to be a translator (one of my bad decisions, I’ll tell you some other time).

Oh, one extra outbreak of anxious sweat here: the priest thought the document looked ‘funny’. Aarrgh. Yet after staring at it for several minutes he finally accepted it. Turns out the Belgian Church doesn’t hand out the fancy documents the still powerful Slovak Church has at its disposal.

-My future wife needed to prove the same things, but for her it was a little easier, since she’s Slovak and there was no need for a translation

-We were also required to follow a 4 session course in marriage, taught by a catholic priest in Brussels, but I’ll tell you about that some other time.

The reality:

-When we took the documents from my hometown Aalst to Brussels, we were in for a huge dissapointment. After waiting quite a bit in what looked like a bomb shelter anno april 1945 in Berlin, and being checked TWICE to see if we weren’t carrying any bombs ourselves, we were told we didn’t have the right signatures. Our documents had been signed by a representative of the magistrate responsible for civil affairs in Aalst. No, it had to be signed by the magistrate personally. We had to go back to Aalst, explain and get the right signatures. Apparently for a case like that they have blank sheets of papers already signed by the magistrate and the clerk can pretty much print any document with the magistrate’s signature. In nine different languages. Slovak is not one of those unfortunately. Apparently the clerks should have know this the first time, but they made a mistake. In fact the guy who made the mistake and signed the papers the first time all of sudden explained the correct procedure out loud for all his colleagues to hear. He was embarassed, because it was obviously his signature on the papers that should have been signed by his boss, the magistrate. Extra cost for us: 20 euro, namely the train back and forth to Brussels. Total cost so far: 120 euro. Minor extra complication here: the office of foreign affairs that handles these requests had very restricted working hours because of the terror threat in Belgium. The office was only open in the morning and overflooded by people desperately waving documents, not suicide bomber belts.

-An at first seemingly unrelated problem arose in the mean time, while we were back in Slovakia: my accountant in Belgium urgently needed my identity card, no way around it, something to do with taxes. Since I couldn’t just go back to Belgium during the week, because of work here in Slovakia, we took a risk and sent my identity card to my mum. She took it to the accountant, he did his little magic, and my mum sent it back. We waited and waited, but it didn’t arrive, there was no sign of it for two weeks. The mail between Belgium and Slovakia usually takes a week. Since the wedding is drawing near, and there’s a deadline for filling in all the necessary application forms, we decided to go to the wedding registration office -or whatever you might call that-  in Banska Bystrica, my wife’s home town, to try and get the paperwork handled without my identity card. We did have a copy.

-Problem 1: the Slovak clerk seems very unwilling to start the procedure without my real identity card in front of her.

-Problem 2: The Slovak translator made a huge and rather fundamental mistake translating my birth certificate, she got my name wrong. In the translation I’m Wiliam. And not William. From a purely legal point of view the clerk can’t accept this.

-Problem 3: We find out the Slovak foreign police has made a mistake. 5 years ago I shared an appartment in Slovakia with my best friend. In the files of the police I’m still registered as someone who is permanently living in Slovakia, but oddly, without an address. Officially, at least according to my Belgian documents I am not. And whereas I do reside in Slovakia, I don’t have any permanent address here, nor do I have a Slovak residence permit nor do I need one. The foreign police around here is lax compared to terror fearing Belgium. Anyway, the clerk says she can’t accept this. We need to go back to the office of the foreign police in Bratislava (several hundred kms away) and explain. You need to know: these people are hiding. The Slovak foreign police are confused as to their proper role in society and act like undercover agents. Seriously, this office is nowhere near in the center of Bratislava and they are literally hiding. You can’t find them on google maps almost, and they are camping between some appartment blocks with no obvious roads leading up to their building. AMAZING… So we have to go back there and sort this out, which will be a challenge, these people are not known for their quick grasp of exceptional situations.

-Problem 4: Nowhere can you find this info online, so you have no way to prepare yourself, but the clerk tells us that since the wedding will be in Slovak, and since I understand Slovak well, and there won’t be an interpreter present, I have to put on paper that I agree that the ceremony will be in Slovak and I have to sign this document. But wait, I can’t just sign it, noooo, that wouldn’t cost us any money. We have to legalize my signature, which means going to a notary and letting him/her check if it really is my signature. Which will cost x amount of euros. Oh, and the application for the wedding itself costs 75 euro, because I’m a foreigner. Total cost so far, not including the trips to Banska Bystrica and back to Bratislava: 275 euro, translation, legalization, train rides in Belgium included.

In the end we manage to hunt up my identity card. It appears the local Slovak post office in our neighbourhood in Bratislava has it lying around somewhere. For some reason we never got one of those yellow slips of paper in our mailbox urging us to go and pick it up. If we hadn’t had the sense to go and ask there, they would have sent the package back to Belgium after the required 18 days. All this thanks to my mum who was careful enough to send the package ‘recommandé’, which at least gives it a tracking number, but at an extra cost.

A tiny complication there: in order to receive the package I have to show my identity card to the postal clerk. My identity card is IN the package. Evetually the nice civil servant let’s us open the package in front of her so she can verify that what we are saying is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God. We get my identity card back, I don’t have to go the Belgian embassy in Vienna, Austria to arrange a new one or a temporary one at the cost of x euros. Why the Belgian embassy in Austria? Because Slovakia no longer has a Belgian embassy, to save costs, they have merged it with the one in Austria. All we need to solve is the thing with the foreign police. A tiny problem I haven’t mentioned yet is that the clerk in Banska Bystrica, based on the legal documents, thought my father’s name was Bruno-Paul, whereas I had stated his name was just Bruno. This almost devolved into a heated discussion, but eventually she accepted the name Bruno. It turns out I know the name of my own father, yes!

This little bureaucratic oddysee has taught us one thing, or to put it more correctly, it allowed us to put a lot of self-help literature we’ve consumed over the years into practice.

Before we went down to the offices to sort out the complications we got ourselves in the right state: namely polite determination, we are going to stay calm, but we are not leaving empty-handed. We dressed nicely, because the way you are dressed is the way you’ll be addressed. We know these clerks are just doing their job and they can always make exceptions, they just don’t want to get into any trouble themselves. So you have to give them the feeling it’s ok to make an exception. They are most likely to make an exception if you put up a calm, polite, but very determined front.

Results:

The Slovak priest accepted a slip of paper that wasn’t up to the standards of the Slovak Church. One clerk in Aalst acknowledged that one of her colleagues had made the mistake and not we. The clerk in Banska Bystrica filled in the right forms even though she had two perfectly legal reasons not to: my lack of a real identity card and the different first name in the translation of my birth certificate. The only things she couldn’t solve was my incorrect status in the database of the foreign police, but other than that she did do all the other necessary bureaucratic steps. The clerk at the post office let us open a package that strictly speaking she couldn’t hand over to us, since I couldn’t show her my identity card.

Ok, we’re off for a little chat with the foreign police now.

Then we verify that my signature is actually my signature and that I do understand Slovak.

And then we get married, on the 20th of August, once and never again. The financial and bureaucratic implications of a wedding are enough to put any divorce lawyer out of business. I understand even less now why some people put themselves through this ordeal more than once. My wife, usually of the same mind: ‘William, this has been a costly affair, there’s no way we are ever getting a divorce, understood?’

Understood.

Live an authentic day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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