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Transatlantic: residence permit is a burden

Mollie and Karl

Mollie and Karl will tie the knot and celebrate their transatlantic marriage near Washington D. C. on September 11th. One may notice the prominent date, which is not exactly connected to merry celebrations in the United States. This might change - at least for the German-American couple and their 150 wedding guests, for they will soon remember September 11th 2011 and think of something positive.

Let us, however, rewind two years back.

Karl, a real USA fan, visits his friend Jesper, who is married to Anna in Washington D. C. Both Anna and Jesper work at a law firm. One day they drag Karl with them for an after-work drink. Mollie, one of Anna’s colleagues, also happens to be there, sipping a glass of cider.

USA Map

1) Washington D. C.
2) Shenandoah National Park
3) Omaha

Anna plays match-maker between Karl and Mollie and plans an outing. So a few days later all four drive together in a pick-up truck, heading for the Shenandoah National park in Virginia for a day of mountainbiking. Mollie and Karl get along very well from the start.

This is followed by a year-long transatlantic long-distance relationship, a successful marriage proposal and Karl’s relocation to the land of endless opportunities.

„My move to the U.S.A. and my integration into American society is a bit ironic, especially because I've worked for the Commissioner for Migration and Integration in Berlin for the last four years. So in a way, what I have previously written about in theory, I can now live out in practice,” says Karl. His strategy: To give himself completely over to the ecstasy of American culture. „I do things that are even too typically American for Mollie”. Karl visits NASCAR-races, listens to country music and cheers for the local American Football teams.

Mollie and Karl at an American Football game in Nebraska.

“Our German-American wedding will possibly be the highlight of this integration journey”, explains Karl. He adds: “Our different cultural backgrounds were far more positive than negative for our relationship. When it comes down to whom we really are, other things, such as personality, become more important. You can’t simply reduce things to culture or nationality.”

Mollie has a similar opinion: „Our differences are not so much attributed to ‘typical German’ or ‘typical American’ habits. They are a result of where and how we grew up.” Karl grew up in the liberal atmosphere of Berlin, while Mollie was raised in a rather conservative manner in Omaha, Midwest.

„There are things in a binational relationship that are just both fun and practical at the same time, such as the different languages. I can learn a new language and Karl can improve his English,” says Mollie. As a lawyer and historian, she can also learn a lot about German history. “Above all, Karl’s experiences from GDR times are something that I really like to talk about.” In general, “we can fall back to a big pool of interesting topics and issues.”

As for the food, Karl says: "I cook a lot of German food at home, and she really likes it. What I prepare is anyway much healthier than the typical American meal. We often invite friends to a German dinner. I also try to bake real German bread that you can hardly find here. The only problem is to get the right flour and fresh yeast." Life’s not always rosy in such a transatlantic relationship. “When I am homesick, Mollie can’t do much about it”, says Karl. The lack of flour is then the minor problem.

The residence permit often gives the couple a headache, too. "I'm always anxious when Karl goes out of the country. I told him he should stay here until he has received his green card" says Mollie. “Well, I’ve been in and out of the US quite often. So immigration officers get suspicious and have sometimes made it hard for me to re-enter the country after short visits to Berlin.” In the USA., Karl is currently doing his Masters in Organization Management. At least this couple can physically be together. This is not always the case. Nevertheless, the residence permit has been a strain to the relationship right from the start.

In addition, with a student visa you are not allowed to work for more than 20 hours a week. "If you want to run a joint household, this is difficult, of course."

Invitiation to the wedding in Dickerson, close to Washington D. C.

The couple is looking forward to residence permit problem-free life that will soon be a reality. Currently the preparations for the American-German wedding are in full swing. Mollie and Karl will draft up their own wedding ceremony, including traditions of both countries. In the US, the wedding begins months before the actual marriage ceremony. With the "Wedding Registry" the couple forms the base of their communal household. “At first, I found these traditions unusual. I had to come to terms with the fact that traditions like the wedding registry or engagement parties, where the couple receives kitchenware, bed sheets and towels as gifts, are an untouchable custom of the marriage rite here.”

German-American Wedding Traditions

American:

* A wedding website, for instance on weddingwire.com. On this site the engaged couple and the best man and lady of honour are introduced. Wedding guests can also confirm their attendance online

* Pre-specified wedding gifts

* Engagement parties some months before the actual marriage with gifts for the household

German:

* First the civil wedding, then eventually the church wedding

* Wedding guests prepare games or other entertainment for the couple

* After the ceremony, the couple opens the dance floor with a waltz

In case you know more traditions, please tell us on Facebook!