Yesterday was my debut as a wedding guest here in Korea. Carefully avoiding the word “culture shock” I’ll just say that it was slightly different from the type of weddings that I’m used to. The happy couple was an American guy and a Korean girl that we’ve gotten to know while we’ve been living in Seoul. We usually hang out with them about once a month, so it was natural that we also attended their wedding.
Since I’d never attended a Korean wedding before, I had researched a lot about Korean wedding customs beforehand to avoid any faux pas. Here’s what I learned:
- Korean weddings rarely last longer than 1.5 hours
- Guests only give money – no presents (the money should be an uneven amount of 10,000 won such as 50,000, 70,000, and so on)
- The wedding ceremony is not legally binding – only registering your marriage is (this means that the bride and groom are usually always married before their actual wedding ceremony)
- It is common for the bride and groom to have wedding photos (with the bride in a variety of wedding gowns) taken several weeks before the wedding so that the pictures can be displayed at the actual wedding
In our case, this all proved to be true. The wedding ceremony was scheduled to start at 2pm, so my husband and I arrived at 1:30. There we were greeted by the groom and both sets of parents, with both mothers dressed in beautiful traditional Korean hanboks. We then headed to the bride’s room, where the bride was sitting ready to take pictures with all the guests. We also handed in our envelope with money and received two tickets in return. These turned out to be tickets to the buffet after the ceremony. About 10 minutes before the ceremony began, the emcee (a friend of the groom) announced that we should all take our seats in the wedding hall. We were then ready to witness the entrance of the mothers of the bride and groom followed by the groom with his father, and finally the bride with her father. When the bride walked down the aisle with her father “here comes the bride” was playing and everybody were instructed to applaud.
Then followed the exchange of wedding wows. The bride and groom promised to always love one another, to always be truthful, to always ease each others’ burdens, and to always put the other’s needs above their own. They even included a few sentences vowing to always love and respect the other’s family as well. After the exchange of wedding vows and rings, the parents of both sides gave speeches to the newlyweds. Then followed the bowing ceremony, where the newly weds made deep traditional bows to both sets of parents.
This was the end of the official ceremony, and it was then announced that the groom would sing a song for his new bride. This is apparently popular in Korea, a country that loves singing more than anything. He gave a slightly shaky rendition of Michael Buble’s “Everything”, but it’s the thought that counts. The public humiliation of the groom, however, was far from over. The emcee then announced that he would like to put the groom’s love for the bride to a test. Was he really strong enough to protect her? And would he be able to find his way home after a night of heavy drinking? Well, to prove that he was in fact able of both, the groom was then instructed to do push-ups, and between each one yell “I love you” to his wife. After this ordeal, he was to stand in the middle of the wedding hall, spin around ten times and then run to his bride and kiss her. The Korean guests didn’t seem to think much of it, but we were a bit puzzled by the wedding-turned-weird-Korean-gameshow. Anyway, the groom survived and it was then time for the couple to exit the wedding hall to the sound of the wedding march.
After another round of group pictures, we then proceeded to the next floor for the buffet. We handed in our two tickets and then went on to fill our plates. Here I saw the most curious dish I’ve ever seen in Korea (and I’ve seen a lot). Sugar-glaced sweet potatoes (so far, so good, my grandmother used to make that too), but this version… wait for it… had little colored sprinkles on top of them them as if they were some kind of dessert. They were not though, because they were on the table with all the other savory type main dishes. I had to taste one, of course, and it tasted… just like a sugar-glaced potato with sprinkles… Not a fan. The rest was really tasty, though.
After having eaten, guests quickly started to disappear and this seemed to be the end of the wedding. We found the newlyweds, congratulated them once more and also took off. From we left our home until we were back again less than 2.5 hours had passed. Korea is indeed a bballi bballi (quick quick) country.
Here you can watch a summary of the wedding of teacher Kyeongeun from Talk To Me In Korean. It’s a beautiful video, and it shows in detail what happens at Korean weddings.
In this video you can also watch teacher Hyunwoo from Talk To Me In Korean explain more about weddings in Korea.