Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Korean wedding

We attended a co-workers wedding a little over a month ago. I am not sure why I put off writing this post for so long, maybe I was still trying to gather my thoughts on the whole thing. Upon attending, I had few if any expectations, except from what I had been told by other foreigners: lots of food, lots of pictures and very short. So I am going to give you a step by step of the events of the day as best as I can.
-first of all it was very exciting to get to dress up. I don't get many opportunities here in Korea to dress in fancy attire, so it was thrilling looking for a fancy dress, shoes etc. Sometimes I am such a girl! I just love dressing up! However, I have to say I am disappointed with how I looked in pictures. I was pretty confident that I was rocking the house with my outfit, but my few pictures were unflattering- kind of a bummer.
(outside the wedding hall)

-We then had to take a bus to a hotel. We felt even more out of place than usual being so dressed up and taking a regular bus to our destination, a hotel I think.

-The bride, our co-worker Jessica, sat in a designated picture taking room for all who wished to take her picture before the wedding. She looked like a princess. A beautiful Korean princess wearing a very typical western style wedding gown.

- Unlike in a typical American wedding, we sat at a table in a huge fancy smancy reception hall rather than in a church or a designated ceremony room. This reception hall had a long run way running down the center.

-Several projectors displayed engagement and wedding photos. I found it odd not only that they would have wedding photos displayed before the actual wedding, but also many of the pictures showed her wearing a myriad of wedding gowns rather than the one I had just seen her wearing. After further inquiry into this matter, I discovered that brides in Korea do not purchase their wedding gowns, but rent them in a package deal. You can rent 3 or 4 gowns for the wedding photos which are almost all taken before the actual wedding day. Personally, I like this idea of getting to wear several different dresses. In our system you wear the dress for one day of your life and spend hundreds if not thousands on a gown that will probably spend the rest of it's lonely days hanging in your closet.

-The wedding began with the bride walking down the extremely long aisle to pre-recorded music. The ceremony was held all in Korean, so I am not sure what was said except that I was told it was mentioned in the proceedings by the officiator that the man should make sure and make his family his first priority rather than his job like most male Koreans have a tendency to do. They then bowed to her family, and they bowed to his (and at this point the groom and his mother both started to cry, it was very sweet). And then without the very important first kiss at least to western society they walked back down the runway (which felt more like a super model runway than an aisle as it was raised much higher than the ground.)The mothers walking down the runway

-Amazing food was then delivered in 5 courses to our tables. The food was western style. Our boss explained to us that they are typically given three choices of styles; Korean, western or Chinese. I am so glad she choose western, we got real steak!

-They came back in wearing different outfits, cut a funny shaped cake, poured and toasted campaign on a campaign tower with changing neon lights complete with a smoke machine, and that was the end. No dancing, no party, no drinking (very strange for Korea.) Watch, eat and go home, time for the next wedding. Seriously, these places have several weddings a day, and one on every floor as well.the cake

The whole event seemed surreal to me, in less than two hours they had presented a proper performance up on a stage, fed hundreds of people a very expensive meal and then said adieu. I realize that the same can be said about western weddings. "They are a waste of money, why spend so much on just one day." as I have heard many say. And as much as I complain about the costs of wedding because they are exuberant and over priced, I wouldn't trade mine for anything. I loved our wedding, and I loved that we could make it so personal and reflect who we were, why we were there and celebrate our union with all of our friends and family. This wedding however, wasn't really a celebration at all, it was more like a show, I mean it literally had a runway. The ceremony was short, they fed us and that was the end, time to go home. It felt incomplete and impersonal. I think the impersonal aspect of it bothered me the most. It just felt rushed as if they needed to get down to business so the next wedding could take place, like we were in a wedding factory. I don't know what a traditional Korean wedding looks like or looked like in the past. I know that traditionally they wear the hanbok, the traditional Korean dress, as you see the mothers in, but other that I am in the dark. It was a fun event, and to be fair by the end of it I was exhausted, even without a party or dancing, so I was even a little happy to be going home.
I am not sure how Jessica and her husband met, but according to wikipedia, many marriages are still arranged by parents or match makers. I have a feeling this particular union was what is refered to as a 'love' match as they were together 7 years before tying the knot. One reason, at least that I have infered for putting off marriage here in Korea, is the amount of responsibilty, mostly on the wife, that comes with marriage. Your husbands family becomes your family in the sense that you are responsible for the cooking and events that the family celebrates. A co-worker once told me that when she worked in the country one of her Korean co-workers said that she dreaded the weekends because of the amount of work they involved almost every weekend to entertain her in-laws.

Arranged marriage

Arranged marriage is popular in South Korea. Koreans usually refer to this type of marriage as Seon (선). Generally, parents arrange a meeting. The reason why this type of marriage is prevalent in Korea is that marriage in Korea is not just a matter of a bride and groom but a merging of two families. Because the potential spouses are pre-screened by the family, there is much less of a chance of family opposition to the marriage. It is extremely rare that a single Seon leads to a marriage; many succeed in finding a suitable spouse only after dozens of Seon meetings with different individuals. Following the initial meeting, the couple typically date for several months to a year before the actual marriage. The distinction between an arranged marriage and a "love" marriage is therefore often blurred, although in an arranged marriage the families tend to be more closely involved throughout.


Matchmakers are common in South Korea. Families present their son or daughter to a matchmaker, or a single man or woman arranges a meeting with a matchmaker, to analyze their resume and family history for the purpose of finding a marriage partner who is compatible in social status and earning potential. Koreans keep precise lineage records, and these are listed on the matchmaking resume. Today, almost all single people meet their matched partner prior to the marriage and have more say about the match than was previously allowed. Matchmakers earn a fee for their services.

A Korean friend of mine mentioned once to me that it is still common practice to consult a fortune teller to help parents decide on important events in their childrens life such as marriage. According to this article, parents, armed with their child and the prospective spouse’s birth information (date, time, place, etc) will ask if the couple are a compatible match and if the union will be a happy fruitful one. Marriage plans, even today, may be cancelled if the reading is unfavourable.

Sometimes I think that parents in Korea are way TOO involved and controling of their childrens lives. Thank you parents for allowing me to make my own choices. I feel oh so much more appreciative now.
(me and some of my fav Korean ladies)

Hopefully I will get attend another Korean wedding in the future to compare the differences.


Veggie Mom said...

What an interesting post. And I love your photos. It's interesting that arranged marriages are still occurring in other parts of the world.

kay said...

Very interesting.
I can't believe how long your hair has gotten!! I think your picture is very pretty!!