This is a long post but we really need
help, so please, bear with me. Even if you've never thought about
language and weddings if you know anything about Catholic or destination
weddings, missionaries, or had/want a guest to officiate your wedding you
might have helpful advice. I'm in a
bit of a panic and beginning to dread my own wedding. Google isn't helping and I haven't read any directly relevant
forum/message board posts. Maybe someone out there can help??? Or at least
provide some encouragement or feedback on broader issues to a bride on the verge tears?
Basically, I can't find an English-speaking officiant for our Colombian wedding
and I speak limited Spanish. This bothers me. A lot.
A lot of people seem to have multilingual weddings but I haven't found many
brides getting married in a ceremony in which they cannot understand the
It may be stupid to get this far without realizing
this was going to be an issue. It's complicated.
I’ve described the
situation below but since this is already a long post I’ll just explain our
led us to plan to marry in Colombia, but not where we live in Colombia, because
our families and friends present was more important than considerations
climate, landscape, and, yes, local language.
I didn't think this would be a problem because we were able to hire a bilingual
wedding planner who has planned weddings for several international couples
(always half Colombian) in the past. However, after hiring the planner and making a deposit on our
venue we discovered that the other international couples were either both bilingual
or they used the single English-speaking officiant recommend by our wedding
planner. Unfortunately (for us) this officiant is a "priestess" who
dresses like a fairy or a character from Lord of the Rings. Nothing wrong with
that, it's just not our style. At all.
I'm brainstorming ideas to find an officiant or work around the language issue.
Here's what I've got:
1) I still have trouble accepting that we cannot find an English-speaking
officiant. Granted, you can’t get ordained over the Internet – but
in Colombia clergy, notaries (bit different from U.S. notaries with more legal training),
and judges can perform weddings. And Pereira, Colombia is one of three
medium-sized cities in the relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan coffee-growing
region. I asked my fiancé, a lawyer himself, contact lawyers with international
practice areas in Pereira asking about English-speaking notaries or judges. He
is working on it but it’s not looking good. (Just occurred to me - maybe online expat communities like Internations could help...just writing this gave me a new idea!)
2) Christian missionaries. What about
churches that send missionaries to Colombia? Perhaps they have international
clergy in the country? Maybe one of them speaks English? I'm not very religious
myself and I don't know much about missionaries. How would I find them? Are
there churches with active international missionary efforts that are flexible
about marrying an interfaith couple who don't belong to their church? (I was
baptized Methodist and last practiced with a wonderful Unitarian Universalist
church in Boston but that was 10 years ago. I've contacted the Unitarian
Universalist Association about an international presence but they have no
churches listed for Colombia.)
3) Cartagena, while 600 miles north, is a popular destination wedding location.
Perhaps they have more English-speaking officiants but I haven't had much luck
finding any in English Google searches. How do couples normally find officiants
for a destination wedding? Through their venue or wedding planner? How would we deal with travel for the officiant? (Travel is simply harder in Colombia. Cartagena is a 17 hour drive. There is one direct flight per day, in the morning, requiring a 1 or 2 night stay - what if they cancel that flight the morning of our wedding? Or connecting flights via Bogota. Which is kind of connecting in Dallas to get from New York to Miami.)
4) Reconsider a Catholic ceremony. I'm not sure looking for an English-speaking
priest is easier than an English-speaking notary or judge but it broadens our
options. I’m not against a Catholic ceremony since I learned that I would not
be required to convert and it does not have to include a full mass. My fiancé,
the Catholic, is actually less receptive to the idea but we agree we would
rather a Catholic ceremony to the priestess suggested. And on a bright note, I
have been able to contact an American Catholic priest I met several years ago
who is receptive to providing us pre-marital counseling, via Skype, but we
wouldn’t be able to do the full marriage preparation course with him.
5) Maybe we should just get married in Spanish (read: sign the paperwork) with
a notary before our wedding and find an English-speaking "officiant"
to conduct a ceremony, even if they can't technically marry us in Colombia. But even then, how would we do
that? None of our guests immediately come to mind as an officiant. Has anyone
had a ceremony officiated by a guest when it wasn’t immediately obvious to them
to do so? Advice?
6) Hire an interpreter. I don’t really
like this idea but it’s possible to hire an interpreter to translate between the
officiant and me. Personally this seems like a nightmare. Maybe I’m over
sensitive due to my own personal failure to acquire basic
fluency in Spanish. Other brides – how would
you feel having your own wedding ceremony interpreted to you?
7) Last, and my least favorite, talk to the
priestess. See how flexible she is. Would she perform a more traditional
ceremony? In more traditional dress? Is her outfit really that important? Why
do I have such a visceral reaction to it?
Am I overreacting? To the priestess? To an interpreter? Am I
making this a bigger problem than it is? Your thoughts are welcome.
(Just please be kind...in other words, please tell me nicely if you
think I'm overreacting.)
Thanks in advance to anyone who reads this far!
Miriam (& Andrés)
***** The Long(er) Story *****
American, my fiance is Colombian. We met in Colombia. He has always lived in
(depending on their social & economic situation) may still have a difficult
time getting tourist visas to the U.S. Therefore,
we feel compelled to marry in Colombia if his friends and family will be able
Also, my fiance's hometown, where he still lives (and I live 4-6
months per year) is in a region of Colombia that is often affected by guerrilla
violence. Perhaps you know of Colombia's violent past - Marxist
guerrillas, Pablo Escobar, or narco trafficking. Colombia has come a
long way and *most* of the country is safe for tourists. Please don't
read this as a reason not to travel to Colombia - it is more complex
than that. Protest-related road blockades can cause fuel or food
shortages and restrict ground transportation. The highway between our
town and the closest international highway was bombed 6 times in
December 2014. There is a local airport and life within the city limits
is safe. But living here requires a certain amount of flexibility and we really don't want to worry about how the
state of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC (a terrorist/guerrilla group) might impact
our wedding day. Plus two of my closest friends are in the
require special permission to travel internationally and, I'm told,
would *never* be granted for this region. So for these reasons we are
getting married 6 hours north of where we live. Even
though we are familiar with our destination, we don't have a local
help with planning and we have to travel (three days, minimum, since
it's not safe to travel parts of the route via bus after dark) to meet
with vendors and such.
Three years ago I left my job as a college professor to
travel the world while continuing to work as a researcher part-time,
remotely. I met my fiance during my first visit to Colombia. While I've
spent the last three years traveling full time (spending 4-6 months a
year in Colombia) my fiance has never traveled outside Colombia and
Ecuador. Nonetheless he is fluent in English - self taught, often
through music and movies. I, on the other hand, am stuck in the
verb-noun, verb-noun stage of Spanish so I lack the precision afforded
by proper use of articles,
prepositions, and such. I have conversations in Spanish, but they aren't
eloquent, are often limited by my vocabulary and I have trouble
understanding people if they speak
to fast (aka normally) or have an unfamiliar accent. In other words I
can interact with his family but if I need to say something important or
precisely, I need Andres to interpret.