How to get married in Poland (the atheist way)

My girlfriend wanted me to propose to her. So we went to a jewelry store and we bought an engagement ring. And she was happy. I asked her when we should get married. And she did not understand the question.

My girlfriend did not realize that if she wanted an engagement ring, she would have to get married shortly after receiving it. She was happy to stop proceedings once she got the ring. I, on the other hand, do not understand why a person would get engaged without getting married. For me, it is like making a meal and moving it straight from the cooker to the trash can.

After some discussion, we compromised on our initial preferences for a wedding date (her, sometime in the distant future, possibly before one of us dies; me, the next day) and we settled on sometime within the next three months. In the end it was four months. And a half.

Church weddings are hugely popular in Poland, but if you want a church wedding, I cannot help you, because both I and my now-wife are atheists, and I know next to nothing about church weddings. All I can tell you about church weddings is that you will have to set aside a year to do it, you will have to obtain documents from the church in which you were baptized, from the church in which your beloved was baptized, from the church you currently attend, from the church your beloved currently attends, and from the church in which you wish to marry. Furthermore, you and your beloved, both of you virgins and of opposing genders, naturally, must attend a twelve-week course in which a priest, also a virgin, hopefully, will instruct you on how to live together as husband and wife, and on how to have safe sex without a condom. The latter instruction may or may not involve props. That is all I know about church weddings. The rest of this article is for secular couples on an express ride to hell.Il_Mamba_Nero
We went to the registry office to set a date for our wedding. The official congratulated us on our decision, but she was sorry to inform us that in Poland, you cannot simply set a date. There are rules, procedures to be followed, forms to be stamped. Particularly if, like me, you are not Polish. We needed to go to Warsaw.

In Warsaw, we needed to visit the British embassy and obtain a form called “Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage.” This form tells the Polish authorities that I am not already married. A sensible requirement. After all, I have been told there are many tax advantages to being married, and the more people you can marry, the more tax advantages you can enjoy. It is unfair to those who only marry one person at a time.
I printed a blank copy of the Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage as well as a Notice of Marriage. I printed three copies of each in case something went wrong. We went to Warsaw.

As we drove to Warsaw we followed the directions of Google Navigation, which at the time was in beta mode. It took us on the fastest route, along the back roads to the main highway between Berlin and Warsaw. The back roads are slow, but rather than going along the national roads, which are sometimes slower, it saves time to use the back roads to get to the highway, where we can race directly to Warsaw. Google is a thinker. This would have been a great idea but for the fact that it was a particularly snowy April, and the back roads were covered in ice. Our journey to Warsaw was very, very long. For the return trip we chose the national roads, and our journey was only very long.
In Warsaw, we went to the British embassy. It is one of the biggest and grandest embassies in the city, and I do not know why the British government, at the time of writing a member of the European Union, needs such a big and grand embassy in Poland, a fellow member of the European Union. When I saw the building I imagined the Ambassador playing many very important games of Minesweeper in his or her massive office, waiting for something, anything, to happen. Since then, as Edward Snowden-related events unfolded, I have come to suspect that the building is housing a massive surveillance operation, and that the Ambassador is listening to every Polish person’s conversations. I feel for the Ambassador. As any Polish person will tell you, the Polish national pastime is complaining, and Poles are very, very good at it. The British Ambassador to Poland must be a very depressed person.

We approached the security building, itself the size of a small embassy, and the guards asked us to hand over all of our electronic equipment. This is what we had: two mobile phones, two Kindles, one MacBook Air laptop, and one Samsung Galaxy Tab. All of our equipment did not fit through the slot. It was embarrassing. Why did we have so much equipment? To be honest, I do not think I can give you a satisfactory answer. It seemed somehow important that we take all of it to Warsaw with us. In Warsaw, we used none of it.

Inside the embassy, we sat in front of a glass window, and a lady explained the procedure to us: I was to fill out the Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage and give it to her. Then my fiancée and I were to fill out the Notice of Marriage and she would post it on the embassy notice board. The Notice of Marriage was just that: a notice of our intention to marry. It would remain on the board for twenty-one days, and if nobody lodged an objection or said that I was already married, she would stamp the Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage and mail it to us. This stamp cost me 700PLN (£140, €170, US$225). I would like to point out that this money does not go to the Polish government. This money goes to the British government (in fact, all the governments charge similar ridiculous amounts). Your own government is ripping you off.Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 21.36.18
Before we could post the Notice of Marriage, we had to fill it in. It is a simple form that asks for your address, your marital status, the date you wish to marry, your beloved’s address, your beloved’s marital status and the date your beloved wishes to marry. With any luck, you will both wish to marry on the same day. I wrote “bachelor” as my marital status and my girlfriend wrote “single”.

“No,” the lady said. “You have to write ‘spinster’.”

“But I don’t want to,” my beloved said, picturing herself as an old lady surrounded by cats whom her friends avoid because they cannot take the smell.

“Too bad, you have to.”

My beloved was not happy.

“Right, before I can post this on the notice board, I have to ask you three questions. Are you ready?”

“Yes,” I said. I like quizzes.

“Question one: are you already married?”

“No.”

“Very good. Question two: have you been living in Poland for longer than three months?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent. Question three: are you related to the person you wish to marry?”

“No.”

“Wonderful!” she said and she stamped the form. She then walked to the notice board and pinned the form to it. At no point did it seem to occur to her that somebody could lie about these questions.

“Excuse me,” I said, “has anybody ever lied to you?”

“No, but we used to only ask the first two questions, and then once we had a man who wanted to marry his niece, so now we ask three questions, just to be safe.”
She finished adjusting the Notice of Marriage form and took a step back to admire her work.

“There,” she said. “That stays up for twenty-one days, and if nobody objects, you will receive your Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage on the twenty-second day.”
I asked her if anybody had ever complained in the history of the British Embassy in Warsaw. She told me no. I wondered, of the approximately sixty million British citizens alive today, how many, within the next twenty-one days, would walk into the embassy, look at the notice board and recognize me. I guessed approximately zero. Still, I decided, it was best not to tell anybody. You never know who you’ve pissed off in the past.
Perhaps feeling guilty at having lightened my wallet so dramatically, the lady offered us some extra advice, this time for free. I needed to get another copy of my birth certificate, because the Polish authorities were planning to keep my original. They would take it from me and never, ever give it back.

We left the British Embassy, had an adequate but expensive lunch, and we left Warsaw. I am always amazed at how efficiently capital cities can relieve you of all of your money.
In the following twenty-one days, nobody lodged a complaint against my intention to marry, and on the twenty-second day, a courier arrived with my certificate. My beloved and I went to the registry office in Wroclaw, armed with our Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage, a certified copy of my birth certificate (the original is actually a copy too, so the certified copy is a copy of a copy), a date for the ceremony, a translator, and a decision on our married names: I would keep my name and she would combine her name with my name. In Poland, this is something you have to decide before you can set a wedding date. We did not take all of our electronics to the registrar’s office. In fact, by this point I was becoming disillusioned with the gadgets I owned – they were not fast enough. I needed an iPad, I decided, but anticipating the cost of what was to come, it was unlikely I would be getting one any time soon.

“When would you like to get married?” the registrar said.

“June the thirtieth,” we said.

“No, that date is already booked up.”

“July the sixth.”

“No.”

“July the thirteenth?” We were due to fly on our honeymoon on July the fifteenth.

“Maybe. Let me check.” She checked. We waited.

“Yes, that is okay. Now, what will your names be?” We told her.

“And the names of your children?”

“What?” I said, thinking perhaps the translator had made a mistake.

“What names will your children take?”

“But we don’t have any children.”

“No, your future children. What names will your future children take?”

I looked at my beloved. She looked as confused as I felt.

“What do you think?” I said.

“I don’t know, what do you think?”

“Should we talk about it and come back later?”

“If we do that then we’ll lose our slot and we won’t be able to get married before the honeymoon.”

“Good point,” I said. “Both?”

“Okay, both,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, “the children which do not yet exist will have both of our names.”
The registrar nodded wisely. We had made a good decision. We were going to be a good married couple. Our children were going to have good and happy lives, even if they themselves were imaginary. She recorded the information and the date of our wedding and walked to another desk and returned with a credit card payment terminal.

“That will be xxx zloty (£xxx, €xxx, US$xxx), please.” I have forgotten how much this part of the procedure cost. I stopped counting after I paid what I considered to be a ridiculous amount of money for the Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage, a piece of paper which does nothing except tell its reader that I told its writer that I am not married.

Here is the unavoidable fact about weddings: everything connected with a wedding costs money. If the word wedding is involved, either in print or in thought, expect to pay above the odds for whatever it is you want. Just like a parent will pay anything for a child’s medicine, people know that those who want to get married will pay whatever it takes to make it happen, and the more you have already paid, the more emotionally invested you have become, and the more you will be prepared to pay. (At a later date, I will write about home renovations – they follow the same principle.)

After arranging a wedding date, things were relatively simple: we bought some expensive rings (my attempt to secure wedding iPads instead of wedding rings was unsuccessful); we paid for our expensive honeymoon; I bought an expensive suit; my wife arranged for an expensive stylist to come to our apartment in the morning; and we arranged a venue for our party.

My wife searched online for “wedding dresses” and found one on Amazon that she liked. Having realized that anything involving the word “wedding” automatically increases the price, she then searched for “prom dresses” and found the same dress from the same company for a fraction of the price.Wedding_3
The other one saving we managed to make was with a party venue. We chose a vegan café that I frequent most weekdays for lunch, and we asked if they would be willing to host our wedding party. Perhaps not realizing that they could charge whatever they wanted and we would still have paid, or perhaps just because they were nice people, our party ended up being much cheaper than we anticipated. Handy tip: hosting your wedding party in a vegan café can reduce the number of guests (and thus your final cost), as some people seem to be afraid of vegan-related things.

The best thing about wedding parties is that everybody brings you presents. I love presents. Unfortunately, they are usually practical home presents, such as glasses, plates, home store gift vouchers, and not fun presents like computer games, books or electronics. I had hoped that since wedding iPads were out, I might find one among here, but I was again disappointed.

So what has changed from boyfriend to husband, from girlfriend to wife? Not much. I regularly forget to wear my wedding ring and I spend the day wracked with guilt, hoping my wife will not notice (she always notices), and the alleged tax advantages have not emerged. Since my wife owns an apartment and I own nothing, I have technically married into property and climbed one rung on the social ladder, while my wife has gained the same last name as a famous poet, which puts her in good standing among her literary friends and colleagues. Our imaginary children are doing well – they are quiet and well-behaved – although since they and my wife all have the same last name and I have a different last name, I feel as if I am the odd one out, and I am considering changing my name to match the rest of my family’s.

One thing has changed: my wife and I have both noticed that between us, there is a stronger sense of unity. We are a team and the world has no choice but to see us as a team. If somebody has a problem with one of us, then they have a problem with both of us, and what affects one affects the other. I consider my decisions more carefully, I spend my money more carefully (I still have no iPad) and I save more than before. I just wish I could remember where I left my wedding ring.

Copyright©2017 Bohemian Breakdancer

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