My husband and I met each other when working for the same company in the U.S. It was an instant attraction. It wasn’t long before I officially moved in with him. After about two years together, our love grew very strong. The day then arrived when we decided to get married, which was soon followed by a request for my hand in marriage from my parents. What a sweet old-fashioned gentleman! The whole period was quite romantic. I’d share more details of that romance, but hubby told me that some details he’d like to keep just between the two of us. I must respect that. Instead, in this post I will concentrate on just the preparations and events surrounding a marriage abroad. From this point until after the wedding, hubby will be referred to as “fiancé”.
Once the engagement was set in stone, we began brainstorming about getting married. The where, how, when, who to invite, you name it. My fiancé was born and raised in Prague, Czechoslovakia (the country’s name at that time), though he had already been living in the U.S. for over 10 years. The vast majority of his family and friends were still in Czech Republic (the country’s new name) or Germany. We knew that one of us would have more wedding guests than the other. That fact was a major consideration in the wedding planning. Though my parents would/did certainly pay a lot towards my wedding, my fiancé and I felt that at that stage in our life, we should chip in, too. We both had good jobs, and felt that would allow us more say in preparations. It did.
We knew that getting married in Czech Republic would be much cheaper than marrying in the U.S., in many ways. We could afford a fancier reception. Not only was the food and drink cheaper in Czech Republic, but there is a Czech custom that you need not invite all of the wedding guests to the reception. Imagine how much money that can save? Whoever would join us for a trip to Czech Republic would also have a wonderful vacation out of it. We both decided that since we were settled in the United States that it would be nice to marry where his friends and family could participate. After all, the friends and family in the U.S. would have the advantage of seeing us more often. Plus, we figured that a second more casual reception (BBQ) could be had in the U.S.
After careful consideration, my fiancé and I decided that we would indeed marry in Prague. So, it was time to let his family know what was going on. We booked a cheap ticket to Amsterdam, in The Netherlands, and drove to see family and friends in Germany, and then in Czech Republic. At every stop, we delighted his friends and family with the glorious news. They had heard a lot about me previously, but it was the first time they ever met me face-to-face. All seemed very eager to attend the wedding. As for my family, we had visited most to share the news a few weeks before. Unfortunately only a couple of our best friends would attend the Prague wedding, and only my parents, sister (who would be my official witness), and her two young sons. My other friends and relatives would only participate in U.S. based celebrations.
While in Prague, my fiancé and I did a lot searching for wedding and reception venues. We even looked for good florists, bakeries, and other necessary service providers. At first, we planned to marry in a Catholic church (both of us were baptized Catholics), but we received a lot of discouragement or downright refusals from the priests. They suggested we rather marry in our Catholic church in the U.S., so we started to consider a civil ceremony in Prague instead. I will admit that we dropped the idea of ever having a Catholic wedding. To be honest, neither my fiancé nor I were that religious. If we were, then a religious wedding in the U.S. would surely have been possible.
My fiancé married a fellow Czech woman when he was in his 20s, and they married at the Old Town Hall in Prague, which dates back to 1338 AD (yes, that year is correct). It didn’t seem right to marry at the same place. Instead, we considered the New Town Hall in Prague. After all, I was the “new” wife, and the New Town Hall, dating back to 1419 AD (not so new) was also beautiful. It was also in a much quieter neighborhood with virtually no tourists.
We visited the New Town Hall, and indeed they had some time for our wedding at the end of May. May is not a popular month to get married in Czech Republic, because it’s considered bad luck to marry in that month. Neither my fiancé nor I believed in such superstitions, so May in the New Town Hall was a go.
I didn’t speak Czech like my fiancé did, so it was necessary to hire an official translator for our wedding. Not just to translate the wedding vows, but to provide an official translation of our marriage certificate, as well. With that, we found that a second marriage in the U.S. would not be necessary. Prior to knowing that, we thought we’d need a quick marriage in our local town hall in the U.S., which would have been far less romantic than the one in Prague.
An extremely large amount of paperwork and arrangements needed to be attended to for our Prague wedding, with multiple visits to various government offices and embassies. My fiancé did most of that work, sometimes with a friend. Other times I had to go along. We also worked closely with my soon-to-be sister-in-law to arrange for the last minute details. I have to give HUGE thanks and kisses to my sister-in-law for being so sweet and helping us with so many details relating to our wedding. Not just the wedding, but various receptions and after parties, coordinating the flowers and cake, and even finding my mother, sister, and I a salon to do our hair. She ended up being a crucial wedding planner for us. She even lent us her beautiful country house for our wedding night, and filled her fridge with lots of goodies. It was all so idyllic. Honestly, I don’t know how we could have managed all of that without Czech speakers and in-country help. I guess it would have been possible, but probably only if we hired a wedding consultant.
When my fiancé and I returned home to the U.S. after the preparation and family introduction trip, we were happy and excited about the progress we made for our wedding plans. There was still plenty to do, though. Exciting things like me picking out my wedding dress and accessories, my fiancé getting a new tuxedo, picking out rings, going with my mom and sis to get their clothes and suits for the little boys, and oh my, so many other things I can’t even remember. Flights to Europe were then soon after booked and accommodations reserved.
The day late in May was fast approaching. My then fiancé and I arrived a few days before the wedding. We stayed with my future mother-in-law, but kept busy tending to the last-minute preparations. My mom, dad, sister and her boys were due to arrive in two days, as well as some friends. My fiancé picked them up and I spent the day before the wedding showing them around Prague, a most beautiful city indeed!
On the wedding day, I joined my parents to get ready. One of my fiancé’s friends drove us to the New Town Hall. When we arrived, my soon-to-be brother-in-law greeted us with the traditional platter of miniature kolache (a danish-like pastry). I was beside myself with happiness, so much so that I didn’t even mind that it was lightly raining.
The wedding march song we chose ahead of time was from The Bartered Bride opera by Bedrich Smetana. It was being played by an organist. The interior of the New Town Hall was lovely, with decorations and paintings on the wall dating back centuries. All of my fiancé’s friends had received a wedding notice and the marriage hall was packed. The wedding vows were read first by an official of the town hall, followed by the translator. When the time came to say “I do”, I said it in Czech (“Ano”), as well as in English.
At the end of the marriage ceremony, my sister signed as my witness, and my now husband’s sister as his. We then stood and greeted all the guests as they passed by us in the receiving line. After more photos (taken by a photographer friend), my new husband’s youngest nephew threw rice at us, even though that was not a tradition in Czech Republic.
As mentioned, only a portion of the guests joined us for the reception. Perhaps about 35 people out of 80 or so. Our reception was in a lovely old restaurant in a private room decorated with old paintings and antique decor. The room included a bar (with service) and our beautiful cake. It was one long table, like as if it was one for royalty, with my husband and me at the end. We had a four course dinner with appetizers, soup, main entrée, dessert, as well as the cake. Sparkling wine and other drinks flowed all around.
After the dinner, but before the cake, my husband and I had arranged for the reception guests to join us for a short walk across the cobblestone street to a monastery where there was an exhibition of ancient paintings. That was in lieu of dancing and a DJ. The whole part of town was beautiful, actually near the old Jewish quarter of Prague. Our photographer then took beautiful black and white photos of my husband and I, and family in the environs. Only Prague could look so magical!
Left: Just one of many black and white photos on our wedding day. Right: The exterior of the restaurant U Cerveneho Kola (At the Red Wheel) where the reception was held.
That night, my husband and I went to my sister-in-law’s country home and built a fire in her fire pit. There we sat roasting fat sausages on sticks for a late night supper. The next day, my sister-in-law had arranged for my family and hubby’s to join us by the nearby lake pub for a traditional meal of roast pork and two types of sauerkraut and dumplings. This was in the heart of the Bohemian woods. My father noted how he liked seeing horses tied nearby.
The beauty of the trip was that my parents got to travel throughout Czech Republic while my husband and I left for what was a marvelous honeymoon in Rome, Italy. When we finally flew back to the United States, we told the flight attendant of our recent marriage. In celebration, she gave us a bottle of champagne. I’ll tell you, that wouldn’t happen anymore! Our marriage was in the late 1990s.
My translated marriage license was not only important because it showed proof of marriage, but it also explained the reason why in Czech Republic my new last name was different than my husband’s. This is the case in many Slavic countries. If my husband’s last name was “Novak”, I would be “Novakova” with the “ova” at the end for females. I chose to have the same last name as my husband in the U.S. without the “ova” added. Luckily it didn’t give me that much trouble at the Division of Motor Vehicles or the Social Security office.
In May, my husband and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. It’s amazing how time flies! Though we’ve had some personal challenges along the way, the May wedding certainly didn’t cause us any bad luck as a couple.