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A Swiss Wedding ...

Part 1 – Civilly saying “I do …”


When I arrived here in sunny Switzerland just over 10 years ago I thought my knowledge of wedding customs around the world was quite extensive. During my time as a tour guide and resident manager for a large travel company I had been invited to weddings in many different places and had participated in everything from breaking plates in Greece to pinning money on the bride in Israel to staying more or less awake through a 3-day ceremony in India.

Nothing however, had prepared me for my first Swiss Wedding!

All began innocuously enough with an invitation to attend the aperitif of two good friends following their civil marriage at our local registry office – and on the following day to join family and friends at the church service and evening reception in a local restaurant.

Now, coming from a country where HATS are de rigueur at these events and everyone, but everyone, makes an effort to get a new frock, dust down a suit, pin on a suitably shaded buttonhole and find a hairstyle which doesn’t look too squashed when said hat is removed, I had my first surprise when we arrived outside the registry office. Not only was there not a single hat in sight – but some people were even wearing jeans!! Luckily, the white wine had already been poured and I could revive my reeling senses with a few sips – whilst surreptitiously nipping back to the car to place large four-weddings-style hat under a convenient coat on the back seat!

Returning to the register office, the crowd had grown – friends, relatives, grandparents, a crate of doves and a several large bunches of white helium filled balloons all conspired to fill the tiny square outside the registry office to bursting point. Excitement mounted as we waited for the ancient doors to swing open and reveal the “freshly baked” (as we say in Swiss German!) married couple.

And suddenly, there they were looking flushed and in love – and in JEANS! My goodness me – I really had that “wrong movie” feeling and couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that there was no flowing dress and delectable headdress to be photographed.  However, when in Arth do as the Arthians do – and get in line to raise a toast with the bride and the groom – all before taking a sip of course.  Now those of you who have read the Article of the Month for October 2004 – Settling in with the Swiss – will, by now, be old hands at all the clinking and chinking that goes on but if you missed it, take a moment to imagine the following scene: approximately 100 people milling around in a tiny square at 5pm on a Friday afternoon in the baking sun; each guest has a full glass in his hand; the bride and groom gaze down onto the crowd from the steps of the registry office and wave. Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that a communal “cheers” followed and everyone, as one, wished the couple well. But no, that is not the way here in Switzerland. Instead the bride and groom descended the stairs, picked up a glass each from the Tafemajor (more about him later) who was waiting patiently at the bottom of the steps – and then started to clink and chick and be kissed (three times) by every single individual well-wisher who had gathered! Approximately an hour later it was our turn to wish them well – with a glass of, by now, extremely warm white wine and an even warmer hug!

But back to that box of doves. There they were, waiting patiently in their crate till all the clinking and chinking and well-wishing and kissing had been completed, getting of course ever warmer and ever louder! The white balloons had in the meantime been moved so as to form a floating circle above the crate and create a circle of purity into which the bride and groom stepped. They were then invited to each take a dove from the box, say a few poignant words to each other whilst holding the doves and throw them into the air at the same time as the best man and the chief bridesmaid released all the balloons and the owner of the doves (which were of course homing pigeons) released the roof of the crate to let them all fly away. It came off almost without a hitch and the sky above the registry office became momentarily filled with white balloons and white doves - which would have made a fantastic photograph against the bright blue background of the sky had I not been so surprised by this turn of events that I completely forget to take a picture!

So there we had our two dear friends happily joined together for eternity, surrounded by friends, family and well-wishers from the village alike – and all that was left for us to do was to go home as the celebratory meal following the civil service was only for family members plus the two witnesses. However, as is the tradition here, the church service and the party for all was due to take place the following day – and I was certain that my hat would be far more suitable for that part of the event!

This article was written by Nicki Auf der Maur of Le Concierge Expatriate Services GmbH an escapee from British weather and British Rail for XpatXchange.