I had been in France for about 5 months when I finally received the date and time for my appointment with the OFII. (The office where they certify your visa application with an interview and medical exam.) I was a bit concerned about the exam. I had never been overly fond of doctors but the Hell of 2014 gave me a particularly strong aversion to them and all things hospital adjacent.
The OFII office was located in Orléans, the city famously saved by Joan of Arc in 1429. It’s about an hours drive from Chartres. When I arrived, there was already a queue of people waiting outside the door. I seemed to be the only one who failed to realize that we all had the same appointment time and it was going to be on a first come first served basis. The doors opened and everyone piled in. There was one small elevator that took FOREVER. The first batch of people got on and we waited patiently for the next spot. When it finally returned, the elevator was still full with the same people. At this point, my inner New Yorker took over and I found the nearest stairwell while grumbling something along the lines of “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!”. Before I knew it, everyone in the hallway was following me. Three flights of stairs later, would you believe we beat the people in the elevator? Seriously. We did.
We were ushered into a waiting room. As everyone now knew I spoke English, I easily struck up a conversation with the two women sitting next to me. This process, like most things in France, was slow and laborious so we had plenty of time to get to know each other. The first woman was an American who had played professional basketball abroad for 8 years. She was going back to the states in a few months to join the WNBA in California. I had marked her as an American when we were waiting outside the building. She was tall (too tall), black, and dressed in sweatpants and sneakers with a baseball cap. Her very demeanor screamed American. Those who know me would never call me fashionable. I’m much too lazy for that. It’s a good day if I manage to do my hair. I admit I often wear sweatpants and sneakers when I run an errand or go to the barn. Inevitably, someone will ask me “Are you on your way to the gym?” or “Did you just come from exercising?” Such are the French. You wear sweatpants to workout ONLY. Personally, I just don’t see the point of getting dressed up to wade in horse poop.
The second young lady caught me by surprise. Outwardly, she was a perfect representation of a typical French woman. Petite, expertly put together with a sort of carefree style. But when she opened her mouth the most charming Australian accent came out. We talked for hours (yes, we were there that long) As it turned out, Jess was an Australian native who taught French and was currently living in France with her Moroccan fiancée, Saâd.
We hit it off immediately. We exchanged numbers and made plans to get together again soon. (I managed to visit again during the Joan of Arc Festival) Each time we met, I learned a little more about Jess and Saâd. Theirs was a fascinating tale filled with the requisite trials and tribulations of a proper love story. They had decided to have a civil ceremony in France and the wedding ceremony in Morocco.
After numerous attempts and some quick maneuvering (they only received two weeks notice), Jess and Saâd were finally given a date to get married. I was honored to be invited. The ceremony was to be held in the town hall.
Now, one thing you must understand about the United States is that it is quite young as far as countries go. We are barely out of our diapers historically speaking. This is painfully evident in our country’s architecture. In France, there’s a 16th-century cathedral on every corner. Castles are so numerous, that they are used as office buildings. So when someone gets married in the town hall in France, they are surrounded by gilded moldings and elaborate crystal chandeliers. The oath of marriage is taken sitting in thrones straight out of the pages of Marie Antoinette. It definitely gives a certain gravity to the event.
I was the first to arrive at the Town Hall. They kept the list of all of the marriages for the day in a log. When I approached the front desk, I gave them Jess’ last name. The woman consulted the roll and told me there was no one there by that name. I said ‘Are you certain?’ she checked again and told me ‘Yes.’ So, I thought maybe I was in the wrong place. No one had arrived and the ceremony was set to start shortly. Was it possible I had the wrong building? I called Jess (BAD DECISION) and told her that their names weren’t on the roster and I wanted to confirm that I was in the right place.
For future reference, if you are ever attending a friend’s wedding that has been notoriously difficult to get approved by the state and your friend’s names are not on the roster, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT call the bride and tell her this. This, of course, sent Jess into a panic. I immediately went back to the front desk to try again. I think the combination of my American accent with her non-french last name made for a very challenging translation for the clerk. Jess’ name was there behind Saâd’s. The woman was very apologetic but the damage was done. I tried to call Jess back to tell her everything was ok but I couldn’t reach her. Oh dear god. What had I done?
Jess arrived looking stressed to hell. I felt horrible. I had been pacing back and forth the whole time alternating between trying to reach her and looking out for her at the door. I apologized profusely and told her everything was fine. Truth be told, it really wasn’t my fault but if I had kept my big mouth shut, everyone would have been a lot less stressed out.
The ceremony was lovely. It was light on poetry and heavy in legalese but the room transported you to a different time and blanketed everything in pages from a fairy tale. The officiant was kind enough to translate everything for us into English. We finished the evening at a quaint little restaurant in the center of town.
The Moroccan ceremony was scheduled for July. Given that I had never been to Morocco, it seemed like a great excuse to go. I mean, how often does one get invited to a Moroccan wedding? I had plenty of time to prepare. I had no idea what I was in for.