Going to Your First Korean Wedding: An Etiquette Guide

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Korea easily has one of the most “coupley“cultures in the world. In fact, it seems a large part of the economy is driven by young couples. Marriage, however, still tends to be a business-like arrangement. If you don’t marry your college sweetheart, you will probably go on arranged blind dates when you are in your late 20s to early 30s.

For more information about romance and culture in Korea, check out my posts on Flirting in Korea  and Sexuality in Korea. But, the topic on hand today is marriage.

First, don’t be surprised if one of your Korean friends or coworkers hands you a wedding invitation out of nowhere one day. You likely didn’t even know they were dating. This is pretty normal. Courtships, especially ones that started through a matchmaker are pretty short. 3-6 months after meeting, it is typical to be married.

You’ll need to make a few preparations. First, while weddings can get very formal for the guests in Europe and North America, don’t stress so much about what to wear to a Korean wedding. While you’ll want to look neat and presentable, often the dress code tends more to semi-formal or even business wear. A dress and a cardigan will be fine for a woman, a basic suit or dress shirt, trousers, and tie will work for a man.

You’ll also need to prepare some cash. Presents aren’t typically given at Korean weddings. Instead you’ll bring cash (approx. $30-$50 for a coworker or acquaintance is considered polite, $50-$100 for a closer friend, relatives and bosses will often drop in the equivalent to a couple hundred USD at the wedding).

Likely, their venue will be at an all-in-one wedding hall. Some couples opt for church weddings if they’re from religious families, but typically it’s all in a wedding hall. These halls are kind of like the conveyor belt of marriage. You’ll rent the main, pre-decorated auditorium for 1-2 hours and have your ceremony quickly before the next couple runs in. When you enter the wedding hall they will be a reception where you can get envelopes to put in your cash. Sign the envelope and exchange it for a meal ticket at the desk.

When it comes to finding a seat, there is no bride’s side or groom’s side. Just make sure you get there early to sit. Wedding invitations in Korea are often spread wide to distant relatives, friends of the family, coworkers, old school friends, etc. Out of politeness, many people are included. At every wedding I’ve been too, it’s been so crowded that there were dozens of people standing at the back.

After the ceremony, the guests a line and take turns congratulating the couple (sometimes 2 lines, one for the bride, one for the groom). Then it’s picture time. First will typically be photos with the couple’s family. Then they will do friends– depending on the number of guests, they may do separate photos for the bride and groom’s friends. While you finish up your pictures, the venue staff will likely be prepping the next groom and guests for the next wedding will start trickling in.

After pictures, you’ll make an exodus to the eating area, often on a different floor. Occasionally, venues will have the wedding and eating all in one area, but typically it is in a separate area with a large buffet. 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 get to enjoy their dinner. After you eat and congratulate the couple again, you should get out of there and make room for the next party coming in.

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Some couples may opt to have a traditional Korean wedding. I have only attended one of these at an outdoor venue. A traditional house or temple may be the backdrop and the couple will wear classic wedding hanbok. The colors tend to be red for the bride, blue for the groom. In this ceremony, the bride and groom get carried to the front on a chair or palanquin. These ceremonies tend to be a little more intimate because you don’t have the same venue sharing. Time is less restricted and you know that everyone there is part of your wedding party, not from the wedding down the hall.

Korean weddings tend to be quick and efficient, if a tad impersonal for my taste. What kind of weddings have you been to in other countries? Have you had a traditional wedding?