Monday, September 28, 2009

Weddings in Korea: How much will it cost to attend?

Here's the question:

The principal of my school invited me to his daughter's wedding. How different are Korean weddings from Western? What kind of gift should I bring? What is appropriate to wear. Are there any big faux paus to avoid?

There are two types of weddings in Korea: Traditional Korean and a Western white wedding. If we really wanted to split hairs, we could throw in different religions which, of course, prescribe to a specific ceremony, but for the most part those two cover the majority of weddings held in Korea.

The traditional wedding is always fun to watch. I had a traditional Korean wedding myself and still love going and watching them if I happen to run into one. They're just that fun. The rest of the weddings that I have been to have been in wedding halls. These are fast, loud and busy affairs where best friends are sitting in the back joking around and talking on their cell-phone as the parents look on -totally expressionless- while the bride is crying uncontrollably. Seriously, I don't like the wedding hall weddings and I don't think I need to say much more to show the contrast between Western and Korean weddings.

If you want a pretty solid summary of weddings and marriage in Korea, Wikipedia offers a pretty comprehensive look at what's going on.

Now, you mentioned clothes and gifts. With clothes, dress seasonally and formally just as you would at home, but as far as a gift goes, it's better to give cash rather than an item. Money is the biggest concern for newlyweds and since some Korean men and women have such unrealistic expectations when it comes to finances, you'll never ever go wrong with a cash gift.

The amount depends on how close you are to the bride/groom. When you walk into the wedding hall or venue, you'll see a table probably sporting an oversized photo along with the name of the soon-to-be-spouses. (On a side note, my wife and I took pictures for over eight hours straight. The pictures turned out great, but it was exhausting to say the least.)

How much money to give?

The standard rate used to go as follows...

* 30,000 won for an acquaintance or someone you're not too close with.

* 50,000+ won for a co-worker or friend.

* 100,000+ for family and old friends (Koreans typically stay in close contact elementary, middle and high-school pals).

Now, however, with the introduction of the 50,000 won note, the minimum has unofficially risen to 50,000 won and, while some people might use the old standard still, it's safe to assume the all the numbers have been adjusted accordingly. Some people even consider how much money to give based on how certain they are the newlyweds will return the favor when it's their turn to get married. For this reason, many Koreans dislike peak seasons because of the high costs.

The method for payment is simple. Go to 711 and buy some celebratory (or just plain) white envelopes. Stuff some cash in it and write your name on the outside. When you arrive at the venue, hand it to the collection table, sign the book and they'll give you a ticket which will get you into the buffet either before, during or after the ceremony. If you're a little late, then wait to go into the buffet until after the post-wedding pictures have been taken. (I've always had a suspicion that the only reason some people attend these things is to get in the picture. Why else would everyone be so rude and talk during the actual ceremony?)

I always encourage people to go to weddings and it never hurts to be a part of something that is so important to your boss. As far as money goes, I think you'd be safe slipping in 30,000 and calling it a day. After all, you're new to the whole thing, so a 20,000 won (faux) mistake is harmless, right?


daeguowl said...

And if you are close to the bride and/or groom, you should slip the cash to them surreptitiously at some point rather than adding it to the general fund at the front desk, which is likely to be appropriated by the parents...

The Expat said...

Good point. That's what my wife and I had our friends do and we picked up a couple million extra for the honeymoon.

Gomushin Girl said...

haha, at my cousin's wedding (where I arrived late and cashless) my host mother decided I needed "travel money" for having come all the way from Seoul ~ which she appropriated straight from the marital cash pile. Yup, I unfairly profited from a family wedding . . .
that said, the distribution of cash is generally agreed upon in advance by the family, and usually goes to cover wedding expenses and the honeymoon, with anything left over going to setting up house. For a more complete (if slightly out of date) discussion of weddings and the financing in particular, I cannot recommend Kendall's "Getting Married in Korea" strongly enough - an excellent bit of research!
You skipped over religious weddings, church weddings in particular. Catholic weddings follow standard wedding mass format, and even Protestant weddings tend to strongly resemble the standard western wedding more strongly than wedding hall affairs, although followed with a buffet rather than western-style reception party usually. Hotel weddings are similar to the wedding hall style, but generally more restrained.

Gomushin Girl said...

Oh, and although it is not at all Korean custom, it isn't a problem to give a gift rather than cash. Just bring the gift to the cash table. Do not however expect a card of thanks for your gift, whatever form it took. Thank you notes are not traditional, and you won't be seeing one - your thanks took the form of the buffet meal you ate after the wedding.

The Expat said...

I glossed over the religious weddings mostly because they are essentially the same as in the west. Thanks for mentioning it is a little more detail though.

Also, I have never seen presents before as they usually seem to come in the form of tissues at the 집들이 following the honeymoon, but then again, I don't pay attention to the cash table that much either.

Question though: Even if the family agrees as to where the cash goes, would it be fair to say that some (if not most) people encourage their close friends to give them the cash? I know that my wife and I always ask what they'd like us to do with the cash and nine times out of ten, they ask for it directly.

That, or I have a lot of poor, classless friends. ;)

Gomushin Girl said...

We're not saying that most people wouldn't prefer cash, or even think that something else is possible. Just that, if you're not so inclined for whatever reason, you can give something other than cash.^^

WarWagonBJJ said...

Hi There, I am planing on getting married on this coming October with my Korean fiancée. I am supost to have a talk with her father on this weekend to settle up the details. I am really worried about money issues, how can I handle wedding payment? Should I pay for all, or discuss with her father? I make more money than them, probably double. Do you have any idea how much it cost in total, please? Cheers and Thanks

MATINA said...

I was diagnosed as HEPATITIS B carrier in 2013 with fibrosis of the
liver already present. I started on antiviral medications which
reduced the viral load initially. After a couple of years the virus
became resistant. I started on HEPATITIS B Herbal treatment from
ULTIMATE LIFE CLINIC ( in March, 2020. Their
treatment totally reversed the virus. I did another blood test after
the 6 months long treatment and tested negative to the virus. Amazing
treatment! This treatment is a breakthrough for all HBV carriers.