Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My first wedding experience in Korea

A week or two ago my boyfriend received a text message from a friend he hadn’t spoken to in 3 years. The text message was an invitation to a wedding to be held on September 26th. This was just the first distinct difference I found between Korean and American weddings…. No “set the date” letters sent a year in advance, no RSVP, none of that. Just a text message a week in advance.

Well, of course we went to the wedding. Mostly just so that I could see a Korean wedding, since I haven’t been to one yet, not because it was particularly important or exciting. We arrived at the wedding, which was held at one of the nicer hotels in Seoul, and we were ushered into flower lined a greeting hall (think of those flowers they always have when a new store opens). Here were the groom and his family greeting everyone as they came in. The grooms mother looked at my boyfriend and said… “Oh… what’s your name again?” “Ahhh! Sanghyun, of course, how could I forget..” or something to that effect, though I’m not really convinced that she really recognized him…

After congratulating the groom and the groom’s family we went over to the gift giving counter where we took an envelope, put our money in (50,000 won for the two of us), and gave it to a man in charge of keeping track of who gave what. It seems as though Koreans keep very good track of these things so they know how much to give when it’s time to reciprocate. The more you give, the more you’re likely to get back some day when it’s your time to marry…

Then we went upstairs to see the bride quickly. We weren’t acquainted with her, so it was more so that I could see what she looked like and check out her dress. She was dressed in an ornate white wedding dress, like something you’d see in America. She was sitting, just looking pretty, in a sedan chair and greeting people as they came to visit. It seemed strange to me to be greeting the family before the wedding, and actually going to visit the bride before the ceremony.

Then we made our way to a seat. Since you don’t need to make formal reservations, it seems there were plenty of tables with no reserved seating (except for the wedding party of course) just in case extra folks decided to show up. Since in Korea, the ceremony and meal are held in the same room (sometimes at the same time) we sat at tables, not in rows of seats.

Soon after that, the ceremony began. Two women in han-bok walked up first and lit candles. Then the groom made his way to the front. Finally the bride walked down the aisle, western style, with her father. The bride and groom bowed to each other, some words were said, and then the man conducting the service gave a speech. This man happened to be a professor of the groom, but I guess he wasn’t a very charismatic one, because a few minutes into the speech you could hear whispers among the bored listeners. His speech probably went on for about 15 minutes or so. Finally at the end, there was no kiss, but they bowed to each other, and went to bow to both sets of parents. The woman bowed to her waist, but the man got down on his knees to bow to each set of parents.

After the ceremony, the food started to come out. During this time, family and friends of the bride and groom were called up for group photos. The food was served quite quickly, actually. I’m not sure if I’ve ever eaten a 5-course meal so fast. First came smoked salmon, which was good, but there was some sort of sweet whipped cream on the side that completely turned my stomach. Then came a tasty cream tomato soup. Then a pretty decent salad. Then came the main course of steak, which was ok, but didn’t really compete with anything I’ve ever gotten at a real steak house. Then came the cake. This was the strange part. I’m fairly certain that at home, people buy a wedding cake and then serve it to guests. I’m right, right? Because there was a dramatic cake-cutting event (but no shoving cake into each other’s mouths unfortunately), but as the cake on the stage was being cut, we were being served another cake that was clearly no wedding cake. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad cake, but it just wasn’t the cake that they were simultaneously cutting on stage. That cake was left there untouched after the dramatic cake-cutting thing. I’m almost wondering if it wasn’t even real cake….

After that, it was time to go. After the meal finished, everyone got out of their seats and headed out the door. No dancing, no shenanigans, no mingling and socializing, none of the things that make people want to go to weddings. Just as I had been told, Korean weddings are probably one of the world’s most unexciting events.

Somewhere along the way, there was some singing too. I can’t really recall where along the line this took place though…

After the ceremony, there is a traditional Korean ceremony held behind closed doors for only the bride, groom and the parents. During this time, the couple then changes into han-bok and does all the things that they need to do according to Korean custom, not Western custom.

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