As some of you may remember, one of my first cultural experiences last year was a Korean funeral. Since then, I’ve been curious about other important cultural events like weddings.
My friend Youbin (as in “how have you been“) invited me to accompany her to a wedding last weekend. Her friend from college, a fellow electronic engineering student, got married in Daegu. I jumped at the opportunity.
The wedding took place at the NC House Wedding Hall (NC 하우스 웨딩) on the top floor of a department store on the north side of town.
When we arrived, there were at least 150 people inside the lobby of the wedding hall. The lobby wasn’t huge, so the crowd was packed in. Everyone was milling about and chatting – like the world’s most crowded cocktail party.
As far as I could tell, I was the only foreigner in the crowd. I was definitely the only white guy, so I got plenty of stares. Youbin did a good job of making me feel comfortable by introducing me to people. I got to meet a handful of nice people – mostly engineers with whom she and the groom attended college.
Just before the service began, on the way into the big event room, we stopped at a table and stuffed some money into an envelope. Youbin gave the envelope to a man who wrote her name on the envelope and put it in a big pile of other envelopes. She explained that, instead of western-style wedding gifts, Koreans usually give cash. It is important that the amount of cash begin with an odd number. People give an amount like 30,000 won, 50,000 won or 100,000 won. It is bad luck for the couple to receive an amount beginning with an even number, like 20,000 won or 60,000 won.
The event room in which the service was held was packed. The center of the room was filled with chairs for family and other important guests. The majority of the guests stood around the edges of the room or remained in the lobby during the service. The people who were standing continued to walk around and talk out loud as if the wedding hadn’t begun. This was, by far, the strangest part of the wedding for me.
The first half of the ceremony was similar to a western-style wedding. The service was officiated by a family friend (it can be anyone who is important to the couple). After they were pronounced man and wife, the similarities ended. The couple took turns bowing to the bride’s parents and then the groom’s parents. Then the groom’s friend sang a song (not particularly well) for the couple. He forgot several words, but nobody seemed to care as it was fun.
The best part of the wedding was a surprise dance the groom did for the bride. It was obvious that he planned the dance and she had no clue it was coming. Right before they walked out of the ceremony, the DJ (yes, there was a DJ in the ceremony…but not the reception) played Psy’s Gangnam Style. The groom danced while the bride looked like a deer in headlights.
After the wedding ceremony was over, all of the guests walked into the next room – a huge buffet-style cafeteria for lunch. The people at my lunch table explained that the lunch is where wedding halls make their money. Korean wedding food is generally not good, but the wedding party pays anywhere from $20-$30 per guest.
It was really great to attend a Korean wedding. I was surprised not just by the differences, but also by the similarities to the weddings I’ve attended in the US. If given the opportunity, I would definitely go to another one.
Until next time.