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On top of the Aubrac mountains in Laguiole, France, there sits a three-star Michelin restaurant and hotel by the name of Michel Bras. My girlfriend, Yuki, an admirer of the hospitality industry, had dreamt of coming to Michel Bras for a decade. Only open for six months a year, getting a table for dinner and a room for two, in addition to financing and planning a trip to France, and arranging for the transportation to get to Laguiole is, by no means, a simple feat.
Yet on April 18 of this year, there we sat. Outside, the snow stormed, inside, the atmosphere remained casual and decadent. Yuki was two glasses ahead of me on the wine, and took delight in each of the dishes as they were presented to us. Sitting there, taking a bite of something deliciously French, she declared that it was easily the best day of her life.
‘This is the time!’ I told myself, drumming my fingers across my suit jacket. I excused myself to the restroom, and felt my inside-pocket to double-check if it was still there.
It was – which could only mean one thing.
I was moments away from proposing.
We’ll resume in just a moment, but first, I’d like to recount the steps that were fundamental in getting to this point. If, by reading “three Michelin stars,” you assumed that this vacation getaway to France came with the luxury of being wealthy, I understand. I would have assumed the same.
But I wasn’t wealthy. I didn’t just casually spring up to the mountain tops of France. I didn’t even know what a “Michelin star restaurant” was. And I was unemployed, which should lay to rest the presumption that I was awesome at the time of my proposal. Everything that came to fruition was the result of months of pondering, saving, planning, aching, hunger and anticipation. I believe that, should somebody out there hope to aspire to make a romantic proposal abroad, they can follow along with my story and keep in mind the various steps it took me to get there.
And so while this guide provides the context of my own personal experience proposing abroad, it’s by no means exclusive. That’s right. Parts of it might be just as applicable to those hoping to propose closer to home or to those proposing on a budget. And as for those proposing to someone in or from a different country? Let this guide help spur you onward.
As spontaneous as I consider myself to be, I found that there wasn’t a single moment during my relationship when that spontaneity bug made any real decisions for me. I had waited my whole life for some kind of ethereal whisper to tell me “she’s the one,” and did so at the expense of my anxiety-prone rationale. Emotionally, I felt I had found a great, hilarious, beautiful partner. Logically, I had excuses A – Z that I held onto, convinced that A – Z would iron themselves out when the passion overtook me. I’m going to hold off on proposing, I had told myself, until I wake up with a passion for marriage that’s as unwavering as a man’s morning glory (but perhaps a little less specific than that).
Yet, I frequently found myself making hints to Yuki that I would one day marry her. “You won’t,” she said, sitting across from me in a cafe, sipping some cold milk tea sometime in mid-August. “You always want to marry your girlfriends, but you don’t do anything about it.”
“But I’m definitely going to propose to you,” I said. “We just need to be together for X amount of time, do Y together, save Z much money, then I’ll feel blah blah blah” (I’m sure I sounded like).
“That’s an excuse,” Yuki told me. “You just have a lot of excuses. If you actually wanted to marry me, you would just ask.”
‘Holy shit,’ I told myself, stirring some whipped cream into my hot chocolate. ‘This would be as unromantic a moment as ever to propose.’
Yet she was right. I was committed to an unspecific set of beliefs that really had nothing to do with my actual relationship to her. Prerequisites and conditions are acceptable, if not essential, to any relationship, but if I actually took the time to assess my A – Z thoughts, I found there was a whole lot of BS in-between.
What I needed to do was sit down, take a look at what I wanted and then make a decision. Simple.
Three hours later, sitting on a train, headed back to my town, I knew the answer.
Upon making a decision, many other men in my shoes might have taken a train straight back to their loved one and asked for their hand in marriage. I had that impulse myself, until I realized I was a tad more attached to the idea of a more elaborate, romantic proposal than to ride the wings of spontaneity. I may not believe in the existence of “soul mates,” but this was the woman I wanted to raise a family with, and I’d be damned if I had to ask this question more than once in my life.
If I was going to do it, I was going to do it well.
Yuki, an aspiring sommelier, has an intense passion for great wine, rare foods, and the hospitality industry. My proposal could very well take place in Japan, except that a proposal here, at a fine restaurant, would be an entirely Yuki-centric proposal. Plus, catching the crowded midnight trains in Tokyo, after proposing, seemed a distinct disservice to my ambitions to say the least.
No. I knew that in order for my proposal to be right, it had to mesh geographically, emotionally, thematically and align with both our interests. She loves wine. I love traveling. Ergo, escargot. France.
Recalling that at some point she had mentioned a restaurant in France that she had been wanting to go for ten years, yet was always entirely outside of her budget, I texted her for the name.
‘Why do you want to know?’
‘Shit!’ my logic texted to my ambition. ‘She’s on to us!’
‘Because… though we’ll never be able to go there, I was hoping I could practice preparing one of their dishes and make a lovely dinner for you.’
‘Michel Bras,’ she texted back. ‘Romantic. But impossible. They’re one of the best in the world, you know.’
Genius, Michael. Pure genius.
A few days later, I connected with a friend who spoke French, we contacted Michel Bras together, and I wrote them several times. I started by begging for a room for the night and a table for two. After a few months of consistently reminding them that Michel Bras was Yuki’s dream restaurant and that I intended to propose in their establishment, eventually they told me yes. Or “oui” to be precise.
With that, I then knew the exact place and the exact day I was going to propose. My fate, from here, was in their hands.
Three onions a day, six carrots a week, beans, lentils, spinach, eggs, onions, carrots and canned tomatoes. That was Monday through Saturday, with some other greens, spices and the occasional eggplant thrown in for flavor. On Sundays, I allowed myself alcohol, ice cream, and potato chips. A sudden tear in the ass-seam of my work suit meant re-learning to sew (and poorly, at that). What, you actually thought I was a rich man?
A proposal needn’t be expensive or elaborate, but I was aching for the opportunity to re-focus my diet and stop spending money on junk anyway. I wanted to look my best, feel my proudest, and afford anything Yuki or I wanted to see, do, eat or drink while we spent April in Europe. I knew I’d get a generous bonus upon the completion of my work contract, but I wanted to pay off the ring and the night at Michel Bras in cash. Credit card debt is the kind of disease that permeates my memories with regret. The last thing I’d want (or Yuki would want, for that matter) is for a dream vacation to weigh us down in the future. The only way to make this happen is to save money. And save money – as well as an inch or two on my love handles, is exactly what I did.
So from August until April, a few birthday celebrations and the occasional drunk-night-out withstanding, I stuck to a focused diet, saved money, and watched my free time and wallet expand exponentially. It may take an incredible amount of determination to make it through eight months of fiscal responsibility, but being a man who allows money to burn a hole in his pocket, I must attest that the benefits are well worth it. By the time April rolled around, I was wealthier in spirit and in cash than I had ever been in my life.
Asking the family for your partner’s hand in marriage is so… traditional? Western? Weird? I debated with myself about doing it in the beginning, as it’s not a Japanese custom to do so, nor is it one that I grew up thinking necessary to do.
Then again, it’s not just Yuki I’d be marrying. Not only would we be joining our families together, but for the first time in both our family’s histories, we’d be making our families 100% more internationally-flavored. Forevermore, my family would be connected to Japan, and vice versa. In this sense, it felt wrong to ask Yuki without first seeking her mother’s blessing. After all, she’d be as married to America as I would be to her daughter.
Some people opt for a dinner with the parents. Some will ask casually. Others, not at all. (It’s not for everyone, as each person has differing ideas of what it means to be a family, but leave it to both of us to love our mothers dearly.) As it was a rare thing for her mother and I to see each other, I opted to ask at the first, and only, opportunity we were alone together – while the girl was in the shower.
By no means am I a fluent Japanese speaker, but I do allot myself a considerable amount of time for Japanese study so that I may better communicate my feelings and thoughts. For safe measure, though, I prepared a speech months earlier with a Japanese friend, and threw on a suit as soon as Yuki made her way to the shower.
“Why the hell are you wearing a suit?” her mom asked me.
“It’s time to wear one,” I replied in my attempt to be casual through shitty Japanese.
“I’d like to ask you something. Can you spare a moment?”
With that, she turned off the television, and I spoke at length (I loved Yuki, I loved the family, I wanted to marry the family, and I wanted her permission to do so).
“May I propose to your daughter?” I ended with.
“Ii yo,” she told me, which is the English equivalent of “go ahead.”
Soon after, Yuki came out of the shower and asked me why I was wearing a suit. Her mother laughed, went to the store, and came back with a six pack of beer.