[VIEWPOINT]Korean weddings are a puzzle

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[VIEWPOINT]Korean weddings are a puzzle

I have been living and working in Korea for seven years, which means that I have been in Korea longer than most expats. Sometimes people compliment me, saying that I understand Korea and Koreans even better than Koreans do. But, I must say that there are still a few things that are difficult for me to understand and one of them is the wedding culture.

First of all, I am baffled by the guests. Why is it that a significant number of people who attend the wedding do not attend the ceremony itself? A few weeks ago I went to a wedding held at a Catholic church. We arrived at the church about 15 minutes before the wedding, but there were not many people inside the wedding hall. A friend of mine and I went downstairs to the reception hall and that is where all the people were: eating lunch. The reception was crowded and there were few empty seats.

What was even more surprising was that these guests did not even think to move to the wedding hall even when the ceremony started. It seemed that throughout the entire ceremony there were more people in the reception hall than at the wedding.

The groom and the bride should be the stars of the wedding. But sometimes I see weddings that cater more to the needs and convenience of the parents than the couple itself. Once I was invited to a wedding scheduled at 5 p.m. on Friday. I asked why the wedding was scheduled on a Friday evening when it was an inconvenient, busy hour in terms of work and traffic. The answer was that it was the time that was the most convenient for the friends of the fathers to attend, as many of them play golf on Saturdays. This way a big congratulatory fund could be collected.

A Korean friend told me two years ago that he had a mission to get married within the next year. He said this although he did not even have a girlfriend. The reason was that his father, who was in an influential position, would be retiring the following year. By holding the wedding before his father's retirement, some of the parents' investment in his upbringing could be repaid. My friend did get married the next year and many guests attended the wedding.

Another thing that I cannot understand is why some people send invitations with their bank account number printed on the card. One person I met two or three times for business sent me a wedding invitation bearing his bank account number. What was even more disturbing was that I had not talked to this person in the last two years! When I told this to a close friend of mine, he said that he also has received cards like that. This happens only once in a while, but from a foreigner's perspective, this kind of practice is very impolite.

In France, we do not invite many guests to our wedding. Invitations are limited to close friends and relatives. Friends of the parents are invited, but they are mostly family friends who have watched the groom or bride grow up. All the guests who attend the wedding are present at the ceremony and at the reception everyone including the couple, parents, friends and relatives sing, dance and chat, turning it into a full-day's event to congratulate the newly-weds. For gifts, it is customary to give items that the couple may need for their new home rather than cash, as they do in Korea.

I heard that in Korea giving cash gifts is based on the tradition of helping each other pay for big events during the tough times of the old days. These days most Koreans no longer need the help of others for family events, including weddings.

A wedding is a personal, special event. It is the happiest, most blessed event in one's life. Guests attend to congratulate the couple. As a foreigner who attends Korean weddings, it is strange to see a special day turned into an ordinary event.


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The writer is the CEO of Allianz Life.

by Michel Campeanu

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