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Wedding bells keep ringing for the Swiss




Romance is in the air and on Valentine's Day thoughts may well turn to marriage – an institution which is still in very good health in Switzerland.

Couples are enjoying smaller, more select weddings, while new regulations allow for tying the knot in more exotic locations, including in a tropical climate at the zoo.

Provisional figures from the Federal Statistics Office suggest that there were 40,000 weddings in Switzerland in 2008, around the same as in 2007.

Marriages usually happen in two stages. Legally, a couple have to marry in a register office. This usually happens on a weekday and involves the marriage witnesses, as well as close family and friends.

The bride and groom may then choose, usually on a Saturday, to have a separate church service and reception. Also popular are special rituals or blessings held outside. Some newly-weds simply opt for a party.

"The trends at the moment are that the couple wish to have a small number of guests, that they want their guests to have a good time, that the meal is of high quality and that there is a stricter dress code," Janine Schmidt, a Bern-based wedding planner told swissinfo.

Schmidt, the country's first ever such consultant, has organised around 3,800 weddings, for Swiss and international clients, in her 12 years in the business.

She says that couples often come to her with ideas and it is up to her to guide them through the process to find out what is realistic and practical. Preparation is also important.

No kissing

"Many couples think the wedding service is like in the films where the vicar says that you can now kiss the bride. This doesn't happen in real life and they are standing there waiting," says Schmidt.

August is the most popular month for nuptials, she explains, mainly because of the good weather. Last year, it was boosted by the magical date of 08.08.08, with 6,069 marriages that month.

A typical bride is usually aged around 28 and her groom, around 31 years old. It is mostly the couple who - with or without wedding planner – organise and pay for the day.

For many, it is important to give their marriage a personal stamp. One of Schmidt's weddings involved a German-American couple, who wanted to give their guests a Swiss experience. This involved a boat trip on Lake Lucerne, and coffee and schnapps to the sound of an Alphorn.

Some couples have taken advantage of a relaxation of the rules governing weddings. A few locations are now recognised as register offices as well - including, since January this year, Zurich Zoo's Masoala rainforest hall.

Tropical wedding

Here temperatures rise to Madagascan highs of around 24 degrees Celsius and the humidity is almost 100 per cent. The flora is lush and there is a pleasing chorus of chirps and calls.

Alex Rübel, the zoo's director, says that there have already been three weddings in the rainforest and that there are plenty of bookings for the rest of the year.

"People like to be close to nature and it's a very nice place to get married," he told swissinfo. "It's not sterile, you are really close together with the animals."

In fact, so close, that the hall's residents have been known to become rather curious. "Because there are a lot of wedding cocktail parties, we have animals coming there and looking at them," Rübel said.

"At the first marriage we had a lemur coming and sitting in the middle of the ceremony, which is nice and people enjoyed it."

Big day, special dress

February is a busy time for bridal wear shops. At the family-run Zoro Sposa boutique in Zurich, co-manager Katia Zoro says that brides still want a special dress. If there is no church ceremony, it is worn at the post-register-office party.

"For around three to four years most dresses have been ivory and not white and what's also in this season is the empire line since [actress] Nicole Kidman married in that style," Zoro told swissinfo.

"We have a lot of glamour too, you can see a lot of Swarovski stones over the dresses and there are also gowns that show the figure, so it's very feminine this year."

Long lace veils and tiaras are also popular. However, this does not mean that the average bride is traditional – around 50 per cent of her clients opt for more trendy or sexy dresses, says Zoro.

"For the last two to three years brides have become well informed from the internet and magazines, so they come into the store and know exactly what they want. Four to five years ago it wasn't like this," she added.

For the register office, shorter dresses in light colours are generally worn. Men do not normally wear morning suits at their weddings, preferring a more classic outfit. Apart from the perennial black, suits in brown, ivory and with hints of gold are all being favoured by grooms this year.

...but no hats

However, hats – de rigueur in so many English-speaking countries – are not traditional in Switzerland and you might be hard pressed to find a suitable one in Zurich.

With the cost of the dress, from SFr1,600 ($1,385) onwards at Zoro, the photographer, the food – the most expensive item - and a more exotic location, a wedding can add up.

Consultant Schmidt says that a couple aged around 30 years old can expect to spend around SFr30,000 on their happy day. If they are in their early twenties, it may be around SFr22,000.

For Schmidt, there is a recipe for a successful wedding. "It's important that the couple are able to fulfil their own wishes, that they give the day structure and that the guests are informed about the day's programme," she said.

"The best weddings are, however, when the couple's love comes across."

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Bern and Zurich

Marriage facts

In 2007, there were 40,300 marriages, up 1.3% on 2006. July 2007 had 5,300 weddings because of the special date 07.07.07, according to the Federal Statistics Office.

Couples now marry at average age 28.9 for women and 31.2 for men, four years older than in 1970. Since 1950 men have been 2.2 to 2.6 years older than women on their wedding day.

On a less happy note, the total divorce rate in Switzerland has increased since 1970 when it was 13%. Nowadays the rate is 49%, the rise mainly coming from changes in the divorce law of 2000.

Valentine's Day is celebrated on February 14. On days that fall in a leap year, women are traditionally allowed to propose to men.

Love and marriage

The law states that the couple must be over 18 years of age, not married and persons subject to guardianship orders must obtain the consent of their legal representative.

The civil wedding is a public ceremony held at the register office in the presence of two adult witnesses. The spouses and witnesses sign the marriage register. An official family record book and marriage certificate is then handed out. A subsequent religious wedding can be carried out if the couple wish.

Wedding receptions often involve around 60 close family and friends. Around 120 people from the couple's wider circle of acquaintances may attend a separate drinks party beforehand.

There are normally no bridesmaids or best man at Swiss weddings. As in other cultures, the fiancé is not supposed to see his intended's dress before the ceremony.



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