Alex and I experienced our first Korean wedding a few months back. Our co-worker gave us the invitations about two weeks in advance (everything is done last minute here) and we were thrilled to accept the invite. First thing to know is that everyone who gets married in Korea is obliged to invite all their co-workers, so every teacher at our school got an invite.
Over the next couple of weeks I did some research and asked others what was expected for a gift or a card for the wedding. The generic answer was 50,000 won ($50.00 dollars CAD) for co-workers. This 50,000 won was expected to be new and in the form of only one bill. I was also told to put the bill in a white envelop with no card. This seemed strange and really impersonal compared to Western weddings.
I was also concerned about the dress code of the wedding. How formal would it be and would wearing no sleeves be too provocative? I ended up opting for a dress with sleeves as I was told if I showed my shoulders I would be considered “very sexy”.
On the day of the wedding we headed to Gangnam where the wedding would take place. Gangnam is known for its prestige wedding facilities and venues. A lot of wedding halls will actually have a number of weddings going on that day. When we arrived at the hall it was beautifully decorated and family members were dressed in traditional hanboks. Pictures of the couple played on a slideshow in the background, much like at Canadian weddings. In the hall there were two tables that in Hangul (Korean) wrote bride and groom. Here you would give your white envelop with your name on it and receive a food voucher in return.
Soon after we were ushered upstairs to the ceremony room. This room was decorated with a stunning white runway and beautiful purple and green flowers. The room had about 150 people in it that waited anxiously for the bride. However, everything from here on out seemed to happen so quickly. Before everyone was even seated the bride and groom arrived with their wedding planner. There seemed to be no sign of a rehearsal as the wedding planner was essentially telling them what to do and how to pose for the pictures. They individually walked down the aisle and the crowd broke out in applause – making me feel as though the aisle was a runway and I was attending a fashion show.
When the bride reached the groom the ceremony immediately began. However, this did not stop the guests from chatting and texting throughout the whole ceremony. The ceremony lasted about 10 minutes and ended with the groom singing a solo for his bride. After the ceremony was finished we stayed in the room to pose for a group photo – during this time the bride chose one single friend to catch her bouquet and take photos with her (she actually threw the bouquet 3 times to get the best picture). After this we were off to the dining hall.
The dinning hall was arranged much like a western wedding hall except it was missing some key elements such as a DANCE FLOOR. There was a beautiful 24-tiered cake that was impressive until I realized that all but one tier was fake. We sat down and were served our first course in about 2 minutes. As soon as my plate was done there was someone behind me serving me the next. The bride and groom made their way around the dining hall and didn’t even eat the meal themselves. They said their thank yous and were gone within 30 minutes. When we finished our last course, the hall was almost empty and pictures of a new couple started to appear on the big screens. We arrived at the wedding at 4 and we were out the door by 6:30. What a great, but short-lived experience.