Friday, March 20, 2009

Marriage. Is it worth the Paperwork?

For a country as family obsessed as Greece is, where only 5% of all births are outside of marriage, they really don't make the process of getting married very simple. It could be that I'm a foreigner and so the extra paperwork, or it could be like this everywhere and I don't know any better. It's not like I spend my weekends jetting around Europe marrying strangers to compare the process with Greece.

With time ticking away fast and all my international pals still waiting for a wedding date (long-haul tickets, visas hotels, you know, those kind of minor details that friends need to have time to organise when they don't live in Europe), I finally decided to get my paper work started to register our marriage in July. And so far, the whole thing has put me right off marriage. Our little, non-legal, non-binding verbal ceremony last year which lasted all of 5 minutes was so much simpler and already left me with that "married" feeling.
The actual legal process is making me want to tear my hair out. And I have a lot of hair, but Greek bureaucracy has so many little convoluted sub-clauses, stamps, departments, papers, wrong paper - go back to start and impossible people, that even the thickest of heads can be rendered as bald as a baby's behind by the time you're done.

Mr Zeus's sister went to the local mayor's office yesterday to pick up Round 1 of registration forms, all in Greek. I wonder what do people do when both halves of the couple are foreigners? They get an instruction sheet detailing all the paperwork a foreigner needs to marry in Greece, written helpfully only in Greek, naturally.

First on my list of things to do was talk to the British Embassy, which I did this morning.

BB: "I was wondering what paperwork I need to get married in Athens?"

Embassy: "You need to get married in Athens?"

BB: "No, what PAPERWORK do I need to get married in Athens."

E: "How long have you been in Greece?"

BB: "More than three weeks." (not a lie, come on)

E: "Ok so if you have been here more than 21 days you need to bring your passport with you. Is your partner Greek? So you need to also bring a photocopy of his Greek ID. And EUR 133"

God dammit! Bye bye wedding shoes, jewellery and pre-wedding pampering.

E: "But I should tell you the Certificate of Non Impediment (free to marry in other words) is valid for only three months. When is your wedding?"

BB: "In July"

E: " Could you apply for it after three months if it's just a civil ceremony?"

BB: "No, because we're having a wedding party to go with the registration, and I can't get a date unless I submit my paperwork to the mayor's office, and I can't do that unless I get the certificate from you guys."

E: "Talk to the mayor's office, sometimes they accept the Certificate of Non Impediment for up to a year even if it runs out in three months. If you apply for the certificate now you'll get it in 21 days."

Which means April is when I'll get the certificate to be able to START the process of my paperwork down at the mayor's office, God knows how long that will take... not to mention things like proof of residence and everything officially translated into Greek, plus a 500 word essay on 101 Ways You Enjoy Being Screwed by Greek Bureacracy... Mmmm gustaro.

Tick tock guys!!! July is not that far! Why do I have a horrible sinking feeling that by the time we get the date it will be cutting it way too close for any of my friends to make it?

Screw you, legal marriage!!!!!!! I wish I could blame someone, but the truth is I totally believed Mr Zeus when he said "It's no big deal, don't stress." Perchance I should have paid attention to my friend who took weeks upon weeks to get her permission to marry and planned ahead of time because being a foreigner she has been on the receiving end of the type of bureaucracy not even Greeks dream of? *Bangs head on table*

Will you guys come to my wedding :'( ? It's going to suck ass if none of my friends make it.


Sesi said...

Sure I will don't worry!
Ok, so here is a few tips in dealing with Greek beaurocracy, which, I assume is just as horrendous as the British one, if I judge by what you have been told by your Embassy:
1. Always keep with your copies of your passport, stay permit, some paper proving you live where you live (DEH bill or OTE bill) and maybe even a copy of your Tax Statement, all nicely translated into Greek by a public authority, in multiple copies. Also, keep with a few copies of the "ΥΠΕΥΘΥΝΗ ΔΗΛΩΣΗ" form, which we use here to publicly declare something we cannot really prove..Ah, and carry with also a few passport sized photos: coloured and black and white. You may need all of these, or none, but it is always better to have this stuff with when you go, rather than delay cause you just didnt think of bringing with an OTE bill in your name.
2. Make sure you understand how the process goes: which place you need your paperwork done with in which order, what exactly does each place require of you, how many copies of this and that. DO NOT, i repeat DO NOT use online resources to find out what you need. Either call them and be VERY nice and polite to whomever answers the phone, trying to sound as stressed and as desperate as possible, indicating that you rely and depend on them by 100% to save your lif, OR go into the trouble to go to the officials in person to ensure you know what is needed. It is the best way to go around dealing with public servants. If you manage to make them feel that they take you under their wings, you are all set! Under no circumstances let them realize that you mock them or that you are in any way aggressive or frustrated.
3. Once you are sure about the process and the timeframe required (this paper will need 20 days, after which I will be able to apply for that process which needs 45 days or whatever), arrange your wedding date with that needed process time in mind, adding one month. So, if it takes your Embassy 21 days (which in reality is 29 days, because I assume it is work days they mean), you will need the entire month of April for that alone. Then May for the munipalicity, then June for what know I else, so plan the wedding for end of July.

Dealing with public services in Greece may be really tiring, however, if you know how to handle them, you can spare yourself huge amounts of pain.

Also, do not listen to your fiancee stating that its all gonna be fine. It won't, unless you personally engage yourself into making it be fine.

Finally, I think you may be unaware of the fact that there is also a small process required of you two AFTER the wedding. You need to list the wedding as having taken place with er...ΛΗΞΙΑΡΧΕΙΟ in your munipalicity, or it will get anulled within a given period of time. You will also need to create an ΟΙΚΟΓΕΝΕΙΑΚΗ ΜΕΡΙΔΑ or something of the sorts, stating that your family of two lives in this or that munipalicity. I never fully understood what this is or why it is required, however, it is required.

So, make puppy eyes, and go visit your local authorities:D

Psofofeggaro said...

Hehehhehe yep, as sesi said all those nice things are required.( Hey I still carry a weddding certificate in my bag for any case and 2 of my kids birth certificates :p)
Don't know if you know two that you have to make a weding announcement on a local paper and carry it with you, it is legaly needed to prove no double marriage, at least for Mr Zeus, don't know how it applies to you as a foreigner :/

bollybutton said...

Thanks for the advice pals. Psofo, I can totally see myself doing that with my future bollybrats, especially since I'm not changing my surname. I totally don't see the need to, I like my name. If I was going to change it I'd change it something cool like Bollybutton Queen of Sheeba the Third.

Maria said...

Η ωρα καλη- καλα στεφανα-even without the στεφανα-Your post bring back memories of 30 + years- Do not stress, if a young 19 year old girl from America in Greece, for the first time can do it- you will-though it must be areief to blog about it.
Husband to be was 25 yrs, less than 2 years out of military service at time of heightened alert after Cyprus war- for those who complain, call up was for 3 years- he was out in 14 months because of being a head of family, & only because a compatriot officer from Mani bothered to tell him- his father was in his late 70's, his mother had died early, his brother had been killed with a hand grenade at 9- so he at least got to leave early-
Needless to say, he did not know anything about getting married- luckily, I ha helped my future cousin obtain her papers- it was my first day in Sparti- I was exhausted from the almost 6 hour bus rid from Athens(no tunnels then!), was actually sitting on a curb on my carry on & she came by- I had met her at the engagement party in Athens days before- which I had stumbled into in Kallithea, as it was a quick match- the relatives had to find a bride for my cousin quickly, because he was leaving stateside in 2 weeks( his job prospects zilch), and they would have forfeited ticket with no money to buy another- they went to his mother's ancestral land of Lamia-no go-one fmily had even prepared the coming out part- all the fod was sitting in the kitchen, but said cousin was not enamored- they went south to my grandmother's village in the lakonian Parnon mts-this girl was 19- I 18- and we tackled the bureaucracy- I was appaled at Bishops palace- first with the exhorbinant money for that time- equivalent oa week's min wages- the secratary was from γιαγια's village- he kept telling me it was same in state which I told him it was not- esp getting papers from church & city hall-
It turns out, the couple had had blood work done,at a microbiologist- those were useless because we had to get a paper from the pathologist (2 days wages) who did not examine anyone, but gave the certificate !-
By the next year, I was engaged, too- even though I had sworn I would not get married until 40 - my goal was my PHD (alas, I am am now back to where I started)-my fiancee wanted to wait- he was a rebellious hippie type- wanted me to go stateside, finish then return and decide-I was wary of this, because I had worked a $2 an hour gas pumping jobs while an honor student in college to save for year long trip-and I wanted my summers to go to Russian School- all this was not understood to a village community-
also, we were living and working in Rhodes- it was almost impossible to rent with out marriage certificate- we were told it was illegal-& it seemed to offend people- since I was to them obviously Greek( at least not English or Swedish), I had transgressed- then my mother came to visit ( her first time back since 1956) and insisted we marry-
so we went to Sparta, leaving our good paying jobs for no jobs to start marriage process- my mother leaving, we had to plan a wedding in less than 7 days! My experience year earlier helped- all was complicated that it was August-holiday time-
and it was the dekapentavgosto, meaning no weedings beforethe 16th-( this was 1978, your lovely New Democracy was in power- no civil weddings- fiancee wanted only civil, he said, ha ha, he would agree to religious ceremony in States- we actually went to American Embassy asking- Greek employees laughed at us- I insisted that I speak to someone with American credentials- ended up with the vice consul, newly arrived from Texas- we had been told in Rhodes that someone with Embassy connections had been married there- this was refused and denied-many years later ,here in Amherst, I met an Amherst alumn who had done just that-
Back to Sparti- the situation was complicated because according to Greek church law , I was underage until something like 23-males were of age a bit earlier- my mother being there, with my birth and baptisimal certificates, was confident- Papa Stavros, from her mother's village, at the Bishop's palace said ,"you are nothing- we need the father! How do I know you have not been divorced 4 times- which really set my mother off- they kept sending us to police station to get a paper as a ξενη,this was all in the hot August heat- it was km away- we just had to keep walng - i rememmer at leat 5 times- finally the commanding officer got sick of this- since I was Greek origin & he was going to call up the τραγοι( billygoats- offensive term for priests- & he did-next step- speaking to Bishop, who knew me directly to intervene- arranged to call my father in US- they were to arrange with OTE- church was deathly afraid they would get stuck with the bill- nothing doing- back to bishop & Papa Stavro, where we called form his offic- It must have been 3:00 AM,my father thought it was a prank with officious papa Stavro on the line, I told him to tell daddy that he was the bishop, daddy kept saying no civil marriage- which Papa Stavro blew up at- I grabbed phone-told my father
civil was out- just say no-and that was it- gave money for call- then off to find a church because of vacations-finally , my husband asked the kind rector at Metropolis if he could marry us- he said he had been waiting for us to ask! we
were freaked about the cost- then there weere "categories" of weddings- how many chandeliers were on were dependent on this- he said , no worries, you will have enough light! He even had our koumbaro give less money for cantors & sexton!-
Then I survived the wedding dress place ( yelling at the ladies who insisted I could not were a long veil, fiancee telling me to be nice- I told him iin US you are treated as a customer!
Thankfully, he and his gymnasium colleagues took care of rest of weeding details- subdued elegance on the dirt cheap- So Bollywood- it was & is an adventure- enjoy it-good parts and bad- it's bootcamp for marriage-
The weeding was tiny 75 at church- 45 at reception- reception at foothills of Tayegetos Mt, at his colleagues place- wedding cake and sweets, more friends- taxis same- when we have gone through alot of stress, we often remember our wedding, and remember how lovely it was, how people still remember the decorum, how joyful we were- and it does renew us- so carry on with Mr Zeus-
PS. God willing we will be in Greece- give us a tiem and place-