We’re back with the second part of Michael’s series on proposing abroad. Just recently Michael proposed to his Japanese girlfriend, Yuki, during an epic trip they both took through Europe. Read the first part of this excellent series, An International Guide to Proposing Abroad: Part I, to learn just how he planned it.
Let’s rejoin our hero for part 2, where Michael pops the question at posh French restaurant Michel Bras. Let’s hope it all goes well!
Proposing Abroad: How to Find the Ring
It was February. I had Yuki’s mother’s permission, our vacation was completely booked, and I had made final arrangements with Michel Bras to give us a table with privacy. Everything was set… except for the ring. I had two months left, and I had no idea what to do and where to start.
I’ve heard many beleaguered woes of men who have yielded several months salary to buy the ring, and yet when it comes to it, I don’t think money is the issue (No money = eat bananas = solved). The difficulty is selecting the ring itself. There are as many variations to ring possibilities as there are Google searches for “donkey sex,” which is to say, a lot. I should know – I read the analytics for TravelSexLife.
I could have been a millionaire and choosing a ring wouldn’t have been any easier. The first few times I stepped into an engagement ring shop, I left disappointed and bewildered. It should have been easy to walk right in, take a look behind the counter, and say, “That’s it!” The problem was, even if I knew exactly what I wanted the ring to look like, I lacked the vocabulary for proper ring selection (The 4 C’s, of course. Hello? Anyone?). That, and I had no idea what she wanted.
As I lived an incredible distance from her family and friends, I never had enough time in person to ask anybody which kind of ring would suit Yuki – not that my pride would let me ask them in the first place. A sudden phone conversation with her about engagement rings could very well blow my entire plan. To proceed then, it became clear to me that the conversation should take place in person, and that it’d have to be a just-clever-enough discourse so as not to be too obvious. As I’m not nearly smart enough to weave such a misleading web on my own, it became clear that the only way forward was getting her drunk.
For Valentine’s, Yuki travelled an exhausting ten hours by train to spend a week with me in my town. Every night, I’d come home from work to a delicious meal and a wonderful conversation, and we’d stay awake far too late into the night laughing, drinking, and watching movies. The alcohol was the easy thing. Starting a conversation about rings without seeming like I was up to something? Impossible – unless you watch the film, The Time Traveller’s Wife, in which a man proposes by placing a ring on his girlfriend’s finger while she’s sleeping. Knowing the scene was coming up, I started pouring the drinks at an accelerated rate.
“Wow, what kind of proposal was that?” I asked, trying to gauge her response.
“Romantic, don’t you think?”
“It’s not for me. I mean, personally, what if she woke up and she didn’t like the ring?”
“But that ring was lovely, don’t you think?”
“Pause. Let’s have a look.”
It worked. Her casual acceptance of the ring on-screen led into what appeared to be an intensely intrinsic philosophical search for the meaning of rings. That, or I wasn’t understanding her mix of drunken English and Japanese properly. At the end of her talk, I headed into the bathroom and took notes:
A very thin, elegant, silver band (preferably 1/3 the width of a normal one). Shiny diamond. Not too big, but not small, either. Size 11, but a nine could fit.
And she remembered nothing. “Do you want to watch the movie again?” I asked.
“No. I hate sci-fi.”
One week later, I was in i-Primo, a lovely, conflict-free engagement ring shop, speaking in Japanese about the exact look, cut, clarity, color and carat size that she wanted. The custom-made ring – the most significant purchase of my life – arrived just two weeks before our departure.
How to Become Better
“What do you want to eat?” Girlfriend X says to me.
“Oh, I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” I respond.
“I’m asking you.”
“Well, I’m easy. Anything.”
“Okay. How about filet mignon?”
“Oh, really? That’s a little expensive.”
I can see her jaw begin to tighten.
“Okay. Then you pick.”
“How about… I don’t know. What else do you want to eat?”
She doesn’t answer.
“Okay, okay. Filet mignon is okay. I just… Okay. Filet mignon. Great!”
…and that’s the kind of ongoing conversation I’ve had, more or less, with every girlfriend of my life. If there’s a person with less initiative for the small things in relationships, that person needs therapy.
Upon deciding to officially propose, however, I found an opportunity for self-growth that I couldn’t pass by. I decided to make more decisions in our relationship, such as where we would meet, what we would do, or how I would handle conflict. The result was an increase in my confidence, a boost in our connection, as well as a newfound respect for all the people who had ever put up with my aforementioned indecisiveness.
While I think that making the decision to propose has the potential to be a nerve-wracking, exhausting, and challenging endeavor, I would encourage anyone desiring self-growth to seize the momentum and usher themselves into maturity.
Proposing Abroad: How to Get the Ring Through Airport Security
A guy goes to the airport with his girlfriend. He thinks about proposing to her as soon as they arrive at the hotel. At the final destination’s airport, there’s a problem. His check-in luggage is lost. The engagement ring was in the luggage. His head explodes.
A guy goes to the airport with his girlfriend. The engagement ring is in the ring box, in the carry-on. Airport security stops him and says they have a problem. They find the ring box. The guy panics, and tries to conceal the secret by snatching the box away. Somebody screams about terrorists. His head explodes.
A guy goes to the airport with his girlfriend. He keeps poking his pinky into the small pocket of his jeans to make sure the ring is still there. His girlfriend doesn’t understand why he’s so nervous walking through security. The metal detector never goes off. He breathes a sigh of relief, and partakes in a glass of the airport’s box wine for a silent victory.
Guess which guy I was?
It may not occur to some the spectrum of disarray that can get between your engagement plans and her finger, but I’m pretty sure that airport security comprises at least 73% of those possibilities. I wasn’t going to let that happen to me, so I made a checklist that I’d like others to consider before traveling through airports with engagement ring in tow.
- Ask the manufacturer of the ring if it will set off any metal detectors at an airport
- Ask the manufacturer of the ring for a thumb-sized ring pouch to keep the ring in
- Sew the fabric pouch into the small pocket of jeans; sew small pocket halfway closed
- Keep the ring present at all times during travel, or at least until arriving safely at hotel
- Don’t put the ring inside the checked-in luggage
- Keep the ring box in the checked-in luggage – do not put in pocket as security will open it
- Make sure ring box is located in a secret, secret place
In order to ensure that I wouldn’t accidentally spoil the surprise at airport security, I planned in advance to get ahead of Yuki in the line. Somehow, despite having done everything else discretely, I found myself next to her, her hands clutching both our passports, amidst hundreds of potential terrorists unbuckling their belts and groaning at the long wait. Though I thoroughly searched my mind for any excuse to get a few people between us, I came up with nothing. Instead, I began to mentally prepare myself for proposing in the security line in case I had to pull it out.
Should anybody have the misfortune of walking through a particularly sensitive metal detector at the airport (note: gold shouldn’t go off), I’d suggest they be prepared for the same, or ask for a private security screening.
Proposing Abroad: How to Hide the Ring
Everything at Michel Bras was spectacular. Arriving there via an hour’s taxi ride proved both exhilarating and nerve-wracking (surprisingly, she was just as nervous as I was to approach Michel Bras, being one of the finer representations of professional hospitality in the world). When we got our room on the front line of the hotel, our view overlooking a snowy landscape, she nearly cried. Our personal concierge (aka my awesome confidant, Francois-Xavier, who had helped in planning my proposal for six months) explained a little about our room, brought in a huge bouquet of pink and red flowers I had ordered, and left us for the afternoon, ending with, “We will see you at 7:30PM.”
For the next thirty minutes, I stood back and let her run around the room taking pictures. I’d like to think that she’d want me to be a part of her photography session, but she insisted I move out of the way every time she examined a new angle of the room she wanted to cover. Happily, I yielded, and stepped outside into the snow. I’d be proposing in less than six hours time, but with the chill breeze against my skin, her ecstatic face etched into my mind, I felt a wave of joy. I turned my head to take a look at her inside of the room. She was taking a picture of me. ‘Turn around,’ she gestured. ‘I want to take a picture of you like you were, just a moment ago.’
When I made my way back inside, however, I heard the sound of rummaging. As in, through my backpack. As in, the location of the recently-and-confidently-relocated ring. I ran to the closet to find my fears coming to fruition.
“What are you doing?” I cried out, snatching my backpack away from her.
“I wanted some chocolate.”
Of course. This is what happens when you remove chocolate from your budget to save money: it will try to fuck you over with precise timing.
I peeked inside my bag. The ring box was slightly visible at the bottom.
This had been happening constantly for seven days. When we checked into a hotel, the ring went into my bag. When we checked out, it went into my inside-coat pocket. When she was cold, the ring went into the small pocket of my jeans. The system worked for the most part, until it didn’t. Those moments, such as the raid for chocolate mere hours before the proposal, were unpredictable, and (to be honest) hilariously terrifying. I had made it so far, plans unnoticed. Was it possible to make it all the way? Her hungering eyes, devouring the innards of my bag, convinced me it wasn’t.
“You’re just trying to keep the chocolate for yourself,” she said.
Yes, I was. But I knew if I kept clutching the bag, she’d be convinced it was a game, and she’d stop at nothing to turn that backpack inside out and spill the contents onto the floor. With that, I removed all the chocolates and snacks from my bag for her to pick at as she pleased. I snuck off to the restroom, and for what must have been the hundredth time, checked the ring box to see if the ring was still there. I relocated the ring one last time, into my suit pocket, and ate a few chocolates with her.
Proposing Abroad: How to Choose the Words
Sitting in a suave appetizer room with a fire roasting in the middle, sipping on some of Yuki’s dream wine, I’d never have assumed it was snowing ferociously outside, save for the floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Everything was deceptively calm inside, and I tried my best to follow suit. “You look so handsome,” she said, grinning at my face as I swept my hair behind my ears. “Why don’t you look like this all the time?”
In other words, I was doing a good job of hiding my panic. Until we moved to the dining room and the time drew near.
I had just returned from the bathroom, and the two of us were eating les tout premiers de Laurence & Bernard, which was… good (if I’m recalling it correctly). I don’t know. It’s hard to remember the taste of food when you’re about to faint!
“What’s wrong?” she said to me.
“Nothing at all!” I bullshitted, trying to put on my handsome face again.
“You look like you’re about to cry,” she said. “Are you sick?”
I had two options. I could either justify the emotions on my face with some lie about a fight I had in the bathroom, or I could go with it.
It was time to ask.
Slowly, I rose from my seat and knelt onto my right knee, careful to maintain eye contact with Yuki, and I reached into my inside-pocket. Her eyes widened, and I could see her mind beginning to connect the dots.
I pulled the ring case out and opened up the box. I spoke: “I love you. I want to spend my life with you. Kekkon shite kuremasu ka? Will you marry me?”
A few people in the restaurant took notice.
One of the servers, who had perhaps assumed by this point that I had chickened out, stood a bit behind Yuki, holding a very busy and heavy tray of food for us. He was paralyzed.
Yuki’s chin quivering a little, she nodded. Once, then twice.
“Will you wear this ring?” I asked.
Her eyes watered. “Ii yo,” she said, echoing the words of her mother. “Go ahead.” I put the ring on her finger.
“Of course I’ll marry you.”
I put one hand on her face. We drew each other in and we kissed.
With that, we laughed, she cried, and we drank. I shared with her the journey of my proposal for her, she recounted how she never would have guessed how serious I was about her, and we laughed some more.
Eventually, the server was instructed to stop gawking at us, and he came and served us our next dish.
Two partners, sharing no national ties and a different set of cultural values, getting engaged in a country they have even less in common with. It’s not an unheard-of story, by any means, but as TravelSexLife contributors can attest, these kind of connections do happen, and should happen, all the time. No matter how different or how challenging we perceive other cultures and people to be, we all still have so much in common to share. For some, it’s the need for travel, for others, it’s the desire for sex. I can attest to both, but I never would have imagined I’d leave California, meet a girl in Japan, travel with her around the world, and get engaged in France. Yet here I am, mission accomplished and heart fulfilled, engaged to the person I want to share a life with.
For a more in-depth look at the steps I took to get here, check out my other site, i’m (not) a motivational speaker. And stay tuned. I’m sure an International Guide to Planning a Wedding Abroad will be up before too long.