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Monday, June 12, 2017

My Chinese Marriage License

A pair of 结婚证 [jiéhūn zhèng]- marriage licenses. Image source.
So we did it~ we got our marriage licenses. Woo very exciting, but I'm not counting us as really married yet, because we haven't had the wedding yet. We just chose to do the legal part of getting married in China instead of the US, because of visas and paperwork and legal things.

I'm not going to go around telling our American wedding guests that we're already legally married, because they might think it means our wedding isn't a "real" wedding. Come on. The US goverment, with its laws about visas and green cards, does not have the power to make our wedding any less "real." Even though we're already legally married, I decided for me it doesn't count as married married until the wedding.

In China, actually, getting legally married is always a totally separate event from the wedding itself. Typically a couple will get their marriage license a few months before the wedding. For this reason, "wedding" isn't really the exactly right translation of "婚礼 [hūnlǐ]". Every dictionary will tell you that "wedding" is "婚礼 [hūnlǐ]" and "婚礼 [hūnlǐ]" is "wedding", but, not really. If we're coming from the context of American culture, we understand the word "wedding" to mean "a big celebration where people become legally married" and there really is no such thing in China. You become legally married, and you have the big celebration (婚礼 [hūnlǐ]), but not on the same day. But that doesn't make it any less of a "real" wedding, and it doesn't make our wedding any less real.

[Related: Getting Engaged Isn’t Exactly a Thing in China]

Here's what we had to do to get our marriage license:

First of all, we had to get a photo taken. It was pretty much the same style as a passport photo, except with two people, and the background is red. (Because red is the color for celebrating weddings.) Hendrix and I actually went to a photography studio that has fancy clothes and does photo editing so it comes out really nice.

Here's what Chinese marriage licenses look like inside. Image source.
Also, I had to go down to the US embassy in Shanghai and get a document that says I'm not already married. And wow, you guys, going to the US embassy, as a US citizen, you feel like a VIP. There's like tons and tons of Chinese people waiting in line, probably applying for visas, but you get to cut the line and go past everyone, to this special room. Also, fun fact: If you are white and show up at the US embassy and then talk to the security guards in Chinese, they will think you are weird.

So anyway, I got the "Single Status Certificate." It was really easy- the US embassy gave me the form, and I filled in my name, fiance's name, etc, checked off the box that says I've never been married before (there was also a box you could check if you were married and then divorced/widowed) and then some official at the US embassy signed it. I had to raise my right hand and swear that all the information was true, I guess because they're not actually going to check. So anyway I got that.

Then we had to go back to Hendrix's hometown to get the marriage licenses. See, China has something called the "hukou system." A 户口[hùkǒu] is a very official document that says the address where your residency officially is. Whatever city you're officially a resident of, you have to get the marriage license there. (Or rather, at least one of the partners has to be a resident of that city.) A lot of things like buying a home, where you can send your kids to school, etc, are related to the 户口[hùkǒu] that you have. And you can change your 户口[hùkǒu], but apparently it's a huge pain, and it's hard to get one for Shanghai because EVERYBODY wants a Shanghai 户口[hùkǒu]. So the point is, we couldn't get the marriage license in Shanghai; we had to go to Hendrix's hometown, because that's what his 户口[hùkǒu] says.

So anyway, we went back to his hometown, and we weren't 100% sure if the government official would be in the marriage license office that day, or if they would suddenly tell us we needed some other paperwork, so we added an extra day to our trip, just in case.

But everything went well. ^_^ We filled out a form and showed the guy all our documents- passport, hukou, singleness form- and he typed it up and printed forms we had to sign. Signing that form felt incredibly anticlimactic (I mean, I've signed lots of things in my life, you guys, it didn't feel special...) but that's the moment we became legally married. The government guy printed the marriage licenses for us and we had to glue the photos in. In China, a couple gets 2 marriage licenses- one for each person. Also, you can't get married to a same-sex partner- Taiwan is super close though, so hooray~

Later that day, I was talking with Hendrix about how we each had to glue the photo into our own marriage license. We used a gluestick that had liquid glue inside. I said, "Wow I don't think I've used a gluestick since I was like 10 years old!" and Hendrix said, "oh, good, because I was thinking you use a gluestick like a 10-year-old kid but I didn't want to say anything." See, in the US a gluestick is generally used for arts and crafts projects, and most of us only do those kinds of projects as children, but in China it's seen as an office supply item, and when you submit receipts or whatever, you have to use a gluestick to stick them all onto one sheet of paper. See also: my confusion when I went to the post office and bought stamps and stared dumbfounded at the little jar of glue on the counter, like apparently I'm supposed to glue the stamps on myself? What if I put too much and my postcard gets stuck to 6 other pieces of mail? And then the post office employee just did it for me because I obviously had no clue. ANYWAY the point is I definitely put way too much glue on my marriage license.

The fee for the marriage license was 9 kuai, which is about 1 or 2 US dollars.

Hendrix and I spent the rest of the day scrambling around to find a place that would give us a notarized English translation of the marriage licenses (just because we'll probably need that in the US in the future) and periodically looking at each other and exclaiming "we are MARRIED!" Then we went out to dinner with his family.

After we got legally married, I started referring to him as "老公 [lǎo gōng]" (which every dictionary will tell you means "husband") when I'm speaking Chinese. Before, I referred to him as "未婚夫 [wèi hūn fū]" (which every dictionary will tell you means "fiance", but it seems to me that Chinese people don't really use this word much, because, as I said, getting engaged isn't exactly a thing in China.) In English I still use the term "fiance." After the wedding I'll say he's my husband.

Hendrix, on the other hand, has been telling people I am his "老婆 [lǎo pó]" (which every dictionary will tell you means "wife") since we got engaged, or maybe even before. Seems like in China, people are less strict about using exactly the corrent term?

Update: OKAY I just asked Hendrix why he was calling me "老婆 [lǎo pó]" before we got legally married. He says "老婆 [lǎo pó]" and "老公 [lǎo gōng]" are informal/slang terms for "wife" and "husband." In something more official, like a news article or important paperwork, the words "妻子 [qīzi]" (wife), "丈夫 [zhàngfū]" (husband), and  "爱人 [ài rén]" (spouse) would be used. But if you're just chatting with your coworkers at lunch, you would definitely use "老婆 [lǎo pó]" and "老公 [lǎo gōng]". So, he claims, since "老婆 [lǎo pó]" and "老公 [lǎo gōng]" are for informal conversation, it doesn't really matter if you're literally legally married, you can still use those words.

The point is, translation is hard.

To sum up: Hendrix and I got our marriage licenses. This is very exciting, but I'm not exactly sure how to feel about it, because in China this works so much differently than in the US. When we got legally married, there were no vows or intense emotional moments of love, it was just writing down our names and passport numbers and signing it. And for me, at least for the American/English-speaking part of my life, I'm not counting us as really married until the wedding. I hope nobody thinks our wedding isn't a "real" wedding.

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Please enjoy this adorable Chinese song, "Marry Me Today":


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