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.

palanquin

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?

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12 thoughts on “Going to Your First Korean Wedding: An Etiquette Guide

  1. I am glad you shared this! I was about to google this topic this week! We weren’t sure what the proper etiquette was or how much money we should give. The weddings here do seem a bit impersonal, but at least they don’t get way out of hand like American weddings where you have to shell out gifts for an engagement party, attend bachelorette parties, and wedding gifts! I think I would like something healthy in between when I tie the knot! Anyways thanks for sharing this helpful information!

  2. Korean weddings look good…in pictures. But even Koreans themselves know that the wedding ceremonies are all for gift exchanges:-)… Sorry, but parents invite friends whose sons/daughters have wed before and they have given gifts. So it’s their turn to invite now. It’s still amazing to be in intimate, small wedding ceremonies. But it’s nice to see how other cultures do their own.

    1. Yeah, like I said, conveyor belt weddings. Definitely not something I’d like to have. I’m kind of introverted, so small and intimate is more to my taste than the big, flashy, impersonal style of your typical Korean wedding.

  3. I went to a wedding my first year in Korea. I was surprised when I was given the invitation as I didn’t know my co-worker was engaged as she never wore an engagement ring. It was in a hall and quite the spectacle. You were right on with everything you mentioned in your post. I wish i had known to arrive a bit earlier as the venue was packed!!
    Weddings here in Korea are so different than those back in America, I’m so glad that I’ve been able to attend a few while living here

    i agree with you, the event seemed impersonal, including the reception dinner that followed.

  4. There’s a lot more behind the wedding as well.
    Example giving the money, you need to give the money to the right side. There are two sides, one for the bride’s family and one for the grooms. The inside seating area is divided as well. You should sit on the side of the person who invited you. The bride will have one side with their parents at the front, and the groom the same on the other side.
    Even being in the room is not a requirement, which I thought was weird. There are usually televisions in the dinning area, assuming it’s one of the separated buffet types. There are usually many people that just go in and eat and greet the couple when they make their rounds after the wedding.
    Also invitations are a little unusual, if I invite YOU to a wedding, you can come. But in Korea usually, whoever from your family can go, even without you.
    Even if you’re not able to go, you should send money.~~
    The money usually goes to the parents, not to the couple. (weddings are very expensive, and a lot of the money just covers the facilities. It’s also the parents friends who give money as well, sometimes the couple doesn’t even know them. The parents perhaps attended the weddings, funerals, other special occasions for those people and gave money. Thus the money is really being ‘payed back’ to the parents who sent the money in the first place.
    (** some closer friends will instead do it a little differently, they will give some money, around $25 person a head to cover the meal cost and get tickets to enter.) Then give the couple more money separately.) It seems very odd, but is the usual thing. *it’s kind of like the community pulls together to pay for a big event, then you in turn pull together with the community to support those who have supported you.
    You always sign your name when you give money, and the people that over look it even record how much each person/family gave. That amount of money is to be expected in return if you were to invite them at yours.

    I was probably too enthusiastic with my comment. So I’ll stop here. It’s just all too familiar since my wife is Korean, and we’ve also been to so many,.

    1. I’ve been to a bunch of these weddings, but never planned one of course. Perhaps a “how to plan an Korean wedding” guide could be a future blog post for you? More and more mixed marriages are happening, I’m sure people will find it useful!

  5. Korean wedding is a sharp contradistinction to the kind we have in my country Ghana. Whiles Korean wedding takes relatively a short time, ours could last a lifetime. I have attended only once wedding here in Korea; of my classmate. Each classmate contributed 30,000KRW and we presented to the couple. The buffet was really good, I got to try different kinds of foods.
    In my country, however, you choose to give whatever you have to the couple. There are also gifts table so you can donate any gifts you desire. Very informative post.

    1. In the US you usually give gifts as well. Giving cash is viewed as a bit offensive actually. I would be interested in hearing more about what a traditional wedding in Ghana is like. That could be something interesting for a future post 😉

  6. Nice! I recently wrote about my first Korean Wedding experience and it was similar but also different from yours. I didn’t see any of the traditional things going on. It was plain, loud and much too fake for my taste. 😦

    1. Loud, yes! I probably should have mentioned that detail. Everyone talked over the ceremony at the weddings I’ve been to. I was rather shocked the first time I experienced this. Not the quiet reverence I was expecting, especially when the ceremony has a more religious content.

  7. Laura

    I haven’t been to one yet, but from what I’ve been told they’re incredibly impersonal, quick and a reason to just get the money (generally via their parents’ friends.) I’ve also heard people just talk during the ceremonies! Ridiculous. It’s interesting to see what’s important from culture to culture, I guess. When I get married some day I want something small but personal. It’s a celebration of love not money or status. Thanks for sharing!

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