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When Marc Duvivier came to America for his best friend’s wedding, he didn’t know he’d be meeting his future wife and finding where he belonged.
Marc Duvivier recently cemented his commitment to wife Mary Belle and his new country when he was sworn in as a United States citizen late last month after years of having a green card.
“I’m proud he’s an American,” Mary Belle Duvivier said, beaming.
“And I am too,” Marc Duvivier said.
The pair may not have met if Mary Belle’s best friend hadn’t met Marc’s best friend and fallen in love.
Mary Belle’s best friend studied Dutch and got a scholarship to study in Belgium for a year.
She had a Belgian pen pal that happened to be Marc’s best friend.
“When she went to Belgium she met her pen pal and fell in love,” Mary Belle Duvivier said.
Their wedding reception was in Mary Belle’s back yard in May 1998, and Mary Belle and Marc met when he came the week for the wedding festivities.
“We fell in love almost immediately, and we married a year later,” Mary Belle said.
It didn’t take long for Marc to become smitten with Mary Belle and ask for her hand.
“I came back in July (1998). I got curious about her, and that killed me,” Marc Duvivier said.
Between his visits they corresponded longingly.
The pair would send email, and they’d talk at least once a week, racking up big phone bills.
“Because of the language it took me a whole afternoon to write one page,” quipped Marc, explaining his gradual improvement in the English language while writing emails.
He still has an accent, although he’s greatly improved his English fluency over the years.
“I became American citizen now for two weeks and it did not take my accent away. I am very disappointed. I was hoping for that. Your government has failed me,” he joked recently.
They were talking weddings already in July, but it wasn’t official until the end of 1998.
“I proposed one minute before midnight on Dec. 31. I said, ‘Will you marry me?’ I said, ‘No, wait, wait, don’t answer me yet. Wait, wait. Ah, happy New Year. Now you can answer me,” Marc Duvivier saidd.
“It took her a year to give me an answer.”
The ring still makes Marc chuckle. He asked Mary Belle what kind she’d like while they were vacationing with their friends in July.
She said it didn’t matter, and he pointed to a skull ring in a tourist shop to see her reaction. When it came time to really propose he told his late mother-in-law his plans, showing her a gaudy gold skull ring and a second ring he designed himself.
“I screamed,” admitted Mary Belle.
They were separated again after their engagement until she came briefly to Belgium to meet his parents in July 1999.
Marc came back to the United States a week before the wedding. The pair married in August 1999 and started working on a green card immediately.
“We actually hired a lawyer and filled out tons and tons of paperwork. People think because you’ve married an American it is easy. No, it’s not. It takes a long time,” Mary Belle said.
The process was tedious, with lots of paperwork, an interview and a physical exam, which expired and had to be redone during the wait.
Marc said it is mainly because immigration officials are so overwhelmed.
Mary Belle said the interview also had the potential to be humiliating, but they were not asked the extremely private details some couples have been rumored to be asked.
The pair brought a suitcase of wedding pictures and letters from those that would attest they were married. When their interviewer saw the suitcase, he said he didn’t care about what was inside.
“He said ‘give me two bills, like utility bills, with both of your names on it.’” Mary Belle said.
He said they’d be hearing from immigration.
The couple decided to go for citizenship from there and wait until they moved to East Tennessee. She was a retired teacher in upstate New York, but they decided Tennessee, where Mary Belle had been born, was the perfect location for them.
Today they’ve settled in Kingston and plan to build a home in Roane County. They have a playful relationship, and share their home with two cats, Pistachio and Succotash.
“We found Kingston, and Roane County in 2005 and fell in love with it,” Mary Belle Duvivier said. “We looked all over. We looked many places.”
Nature and the polite people they’ve met here made it ideal. They also found St. Andrews’s Episcopal Church, where they attend.
For Marc Duvivier, dual citizenship made life more simple.
“You are still dealing with Belgium passport. It’s almost like you lead two lives,” Marc Duvivier said.
Early in their marriage he didn’t know if he would stay here if something happened to Mary Belle.
“Let’s say if something happens to her, I have a large family in Belgium, most of my friends are in Belgium. So if anything would happens to her, would I stay here or move back? And for the first years my thoughts would be, I’d probably move back. And that changed by now. I don’t really feel about going back even if something would happen to her,” Marc Duvivier said.
He registered to vote here as soon as he became a citizen, and he said it means more here because he can vote but does not have to. In Belgium, voting is mandatory.
The couple moved here January 2013, and they waited until April to begin trying to apply because applicants must live in the location they’re applying from for at least three months.
“We received the first instructions back, and by the way it cost $600 to just file the paperwork,” Mary Belle Duvivier said. “They don’t make it easy.”
He got fingerprinted in June, and then he learned his test was in July.
He studied using flash cards with questions ranging from what war did President Dwight D. Eisenhower serve as general in, what are the two longest rivers in the United States, who is the Vice President and what the Emancipation Proclamation did.
“He started studying like crazy,” Mary Belle Duvivier said.
“From the 100 questions they expect you to study they ask you only 10 questions, and you only need to get six right,” Marc Duvivier said.
He answered the first six questions correctly, ending his test. Marc was curious what the other four tests would be, but the tester wouldn’t share.
A few weeks after his test, he was notified he was one of 161 people to be sworn in by U.S. Magistrate Bruce Guyton in Knoxville. Dignitaries like Victor Ashe, a former ambassador to Poland and one time Knoxville mayor, were in attendance at the ceremony.
While March Duvivier is an American, he still keeps in touch with his Belgium connections.
They still keep in touch with their best friends, in particular.
“My friend who married the other Belgium is living in Belgium, and they have one child. She was younger, and their child is my godchild,” Mary Belle Duvivier said.