One of the most exciting things that is happening on my next trip to South Korea is that I am attending the wedding of one of my oldest friends. 이소윤, who I knew from school as Christina, is getting married (to the very lovely 박정남). We met up in Itaewon for drinks and dessert, chatted a bit and that’s when I was invited. Of course I said yes, and we then met up with Christina’s fiance and went to the Han river to get to know each other and eat pizza looking at the view. I was so excited to meet 정남, and I was happy to tell him a little about what Christina was like at school. I was also honoured to be asked to catch Christina’s wedding bouquet.
This request is what stirred my curiosity in understanding Korean wedding customs. In the UK, the bouquet is caught through chance, there is no planning or selection involved. It’s also more common for women who are dating or in longer-term relationships to attempt to catch the bouquet. I am almost chronically single, so at first I felt a little odd about being asked to catch it. However after asking Christina why she asked me, and after asking other Korean friends about the significance of being asked, I learned that it is in fact a special request for dear friends. I have also learned that the apparently keen interest that many of my new Korean friends have in setting me up with “a nice man” is a sign that they care for me. It’s something I am just going to have get used to.
In case anyone else is invited to a Korean wedding I thought I would make a handy guide to wedding etiquette in Korea. However, I would say that it is always a good idea to ask either the person who invited you or a fellow guest if there is anything specific you need to know about the wedding. Not all weddings are the same, and its impossible to create an entirely universal guide.
- Attire is commonly very formal for western weddings, however you don’t need to stress so much about what to wear to a Korean wedding. You’ll want to look neat and presentable, often the dress code tends more to semi-formal or even business wear. So don’t feel like you need to doll yourself up too much.
- Presents aren’t typically given at Korean weddings, usually cash is given in a crisp, brand new envelope. Try to find new notes as well. If you’re a young person attending a friends wedding, you would typically be expected to shell out 30,000 won. If you’re planning to give 50,000 won (for a particularly close friend), then give one 50,000 bill as opposed to five 10,000 bills.
- Commonly weddings take place in an all-in-one wedding hall. Some couples opt for church weddings but typically it’s all in a wedding hall. The couple will rent the the main, pre-decorated auditorium for 1-2 hours and have their ceremony quickly before the next couple runs in. When you enter the wedding hall they will be a reception where you can hand in your gift and exchange it for a meal ticket. Then, when it comes to finding a seat, there is no bride’s side or groom’s side as there are in western weddings. So you can sit wherever you like, but try to get there early. Wedding invitations in Korea are often spread wide out of politeness, so many people are invited.
- After the ceremony, the guests a line and take turns congratulating the couple and will take pictures. First will typically be photos with the couple’s family, then they will do photos with friends. Some couples may choose to have a traditional Korean wedding. A traditional house or temple may be the backdrop and the couple will wear classic wedding hanbok. These ceremonies tend to be a little more intimate because the venue isn’t shared with another couple. Time is less restricted and you know that everyone there is part of the same wedding party.
- Most weddings in the UK have a reception, Korean wedding usually don’t. What happens instead is that there is an eating area, often on a different floor with a large buffet ( but occasionally, venues will have the wedding and eating all in one area). If it’s a large wedding venue with multiple halls going at once, then you may be eating with the guests from several other weddings. The bride and groom will sometimes have a reserved table with their families. The couple will usually make the rounds to greet and thank their guests before they eat their dinner. After eating and congratulating the couple again, you should get out of there quickly in order to make room for the next wedding party.
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