Cultural difference 2: Korean wedding culture

One nice thing about slow travel is you get to see various special events. Tomorrow I get to go to another Korean wedding.

There are far too many differences for me to get into them all, but some major ones:

Most weddings happen at wedding halls, though church weddings are common among religious people that seems to be a minority of the people I know. The wedding hall will have several rooms for westernized ceremonies, which last about half an hour. Then there will be a smaller room for Korean-style ceremonies which I’ll describe below. Then, the wedding hall will have a buffet, which is also worth mentioning later.

The westernized ceremony has some pretty big differences from what I’ve seen in the US:

First, the audience doesn’t take it seriously. They don’t turn their phones off, they chat with each other, etc. My wife didn’t even want to watch her brother’s ceremony because she was hoping to get her picture taken with one of his friends (a big celebrity but still).

Also, the man who does the ceremony (and it’s always a man), is the most important person the couple can get. So a high ranking government worker, a professor / dean, a lawyer, etc.

This person always gives a boring speech. This speech always includes some funny stuff about the couple and how they’ve accomplished much in life and are destined for great career success. It might include how each went to a good school, has a good job, etc.

Once the ceremony is over, the bride tosses her bouquet. You always know who will catch it because one of the bride’s friends will be standing about 10 feet in front of all the other women. Then the bride tosses her bouquet right at her friend, looking over her shoulder or turning slightly to make sure she doesn’t miss.

Then there’s the Korean wedding ceremony. This one is family only so most guests don’t see it. The couple wears the traditional Korean hanbok and the groom will have to carry his mother-in-law on his back to prove he’s strong enough to provide for the family. Then the grooms parents will throw first some jujubes and then some walnuts. As the parents toss the nuts and fruit, the couple tries to catch them in a little cloth (the bride holds one side while the groom holds the other). Catch walnuts and have sons. Catch jujubes and have daughters. The idea is to catch as many of each as possible. When I got married no one told me this so I didn’t move the cloth at all and caught nothing. They made us try again.

And I think I promised to talk about the buffet. When you arrive at the wedding hall, you give some relatives of either the bride or the groom (whichever side you’re on) an envelope with cash in it. They count the cash, write down your name and how much you gave, and then give you a buffet ticket. No wedding gift means no lunch for you.

Then after the westernized ceremony all guests head to the wedding hall’s buffet. After gaining entry by handing in your ticket, you join the crowd. Guests from the other weddings are there too. The food is typically OK but the buffet is always crowded. I personally hate it as crowds in Korea often mean people bumping into you and stepping on your feet. Each table will have some bottles of beer and soju. You don’t get to drink anything else (they do have water and possibly soda but no wine or cocktails or anything).

After the ceremony and buffet, there might be a party for the couple’s young, cool friends. Most guests will just go home so attending a wedding Korea might only waste a few hours of your Saturday (always Saturday) depending on how far from your home the wedding hall is. I’m told these parties are pretty crazy – my students said it’s not uncommon for the groom’s friends to drop a live (little) octopus down the groom’s pants, which the bride has to remove as the sea creature tries to hang on with all it’s little sticky tentacles. Sounds crazy to me but when I showed students a Youtube video of a garter toss, they were all shocked – what an amazing scandal that would cause in Korea. Of course, in America everyone gets to see the garter thing, in Korea parents never see the octopus thing.

May be of interest: Thai wedding culture, cultural difference 1, men sitting

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