Cross-border marriages are increasing in the EU. But what happens when couples discover that European union does not extend to the divorce courts?by Janine di Giovanni / December 15, 2010 / Leave a comment
I once had a practical Scandinavian friend. When she heard I was marrying a Frenchman, she was deeply concerned.
“I shall be married soon,” she said sagely.
“Will he be French?” I asked, because she had a history of French lovers.
She looked shocked. “Of course not. He’ll be Danish, like me.” Then she added: “It’s too complicated to marry someone outside your own culture.”
At the time, I thought my friend was overly cautious. I have spent most of my life outside my own culture, and had no problem with cross-border relationships. I am half Italian and I was born and raised in the US. I then moved to England and became a British national in my early twenties. In my late thirties, I moved to Paris to marry a Frenchman and have a child, and again changed nationalities. I now have three passports and absolutely no sense of identity.
Having spent two decades working as a foreign correspondent, I thought, rather naively, that my cultural sensitivity was highly tuned. I have lived in Africa, squatted for months in tents in Afghanistan and spent weeks on end in refugee camps in Gaza. France, I thought, with its bucolic lifestyle, great food and wine, retirement at 60, would be a breeze—the shortest cultural learning curve of my life. Also, most of my friends are from a mixed heritage: half something, half something else. It’s a rare thing for me these days to meet someone with two parents from the same nation.
Soon after my idyllic Alpine wedding, I realised I was wrong. From the shock of the French public hospital where I gave birth three weeks after my chaotic arrival, to navigating my way through the Parisian social structure, it’s been a long, hard slog. It has taken nearly six years to excise a feeling of rage simply from having to go to the town hall, armed with a battery of paperwork, to fill out tax forms. I have finally sought “acceptance” of the rigid French educational system; mothers who scream at their children if they fall down; and sharp-elbowed pedestrians with no sense of spatial boundaries who shout “Dégages!”(get lost).
All marriages are difficult, but my Danish friend was right—binational ones are even more trying. I began to realise this upon my introduction to French bureaucracy. Preparing for the wedding, I had to arm myself with all of my…