Everyone who lives in Korea as an expat eventually finds themselves receiving a wedding invitation at some point. The sudden revelation that a person is expected to attend a wedding ceremony in a foreign culture might seem challenging at first. The good news is that Korean weddings are not too different from the weddings most expats know. Korean weddings are mostly similar to American weddings. The attire, ceremony, and invitations are identical. However, there are still differences.
Korean wedding ceremonies have differences like a short duration and there are singing or dancing performances for guests to watch. “The ceremony is unfortunately very short,” says Martin Gyun, an academy owner in Busan. Gyun once hosted a wedding for his friend and has special knowledge of Korean weddings. “It usually runs only half an hour because other ceremonies are booked in the same hall every half hour.” There are other varying aspects as well. “The difference between Korean wedding culture and American wedding culture is for the couple’s mothers to light the candle and, nowadays, for people to dance or sing in front of guests.” Except for these differences, every process of the wedding might be the same, Gyun suggests.
In addition to its structure, there are some things foreigners should know. The structure of the Korean wedding is two parts, a ceremony and buffet-style dining. The ceremony includes the couple’s making their vows, group photos, and in some cases entertainment. The buffet offerings vary as the ceremonies are often held at a wedding hall, but some couples forego wedding halls. In that case, outside venues are chosen. Or some couples have specific buffets in mind, and choose the hall or dining hall accordingly. Regardless of whether a wedding invite comes through co-workers or friends, every English teacher or international student should have some idea of what to expect. As a result, this article has five suggestions for foreigners who are new to the Korean wedding experience. These suggestions are to prepare money, dress well, be prepared for possible drinking, keep your evening open for the after-party, and to be open to meeting people.
#1. Prepare money
Korean wedding guests are expected to pay money to the couple. “Normally it depends on how close they are,” says Martin Gyun, an academy owner in Busan. Gyun once hosted a wedding for his friend and has special knowledge of Korean weddings. “If your best friend marries, prepare 200,000 won to 500,000won. But on average people give celebrating money of about 50,000 to 100,000 won.” Usually, before entering the wedding hall, guests stop at a table. There, they put cash into envelopes and give them to attendants. “Preparing money is important. It’s ritualistic, and respectful,” says Jiyun Kim, a student living near Seoul who has attended many Korean weddings. Besides money, guests don’t have to prepare much else. “Everything is prepared for the visitors by the bride and groom,” says Gyun.
#2. Dress well
There isn’t a strict dress code for a Korean wedding. “There is no must-wear clothing that one has to wear to participate in the wedding ceremony,” says Gyun. “However, people in Korea on average wear a black suit for men and suit-like apparel for women. These can include a trench coat or skirt.” Of course, it is best for men to wear pants or jeans with a collar shirt, at the least. For women, a dress or outfit might suffice if they don’t have any formal clothes or suit apparel. It’s always best to dress in a professional manner. “Dressing well is important everywhere. I don’t think it’s exclusive to Korean culture, especially at weddings,” says Kim.
#3. Be prepared for possible drinking
Drinking is a major social lubricant in South Korea, and people are known to drink even at weddings. South Koreans drink more than any other nation in Asia,¹ and a recent Guardian article claimed Seoul was a contender for the heaviest drinking city in the world.² Drinking, if it does occur, usually happens at the meal after the wedding. Young people or heavy drinkers are often the types of people who engage in it. Korea expat J.T. Peterson has been to plenty of weddings that included heavy drinking. At one wedding, one of the guests was so drunk and obnoxious that the Canadian groom later thanked him, because the bride’s Korean parents now viewed him in a better light, he said. Another component might be strangers who want to get to know guests. It’s not uncommon for sociable Korean guests to ask international guests to share a bottle of soju or beer with them at the buffet.
#4. Keep your evening open for the after-party
Korean weddings are sometimes known to have receptions or after-parties. Some are just gatherings at bars or music venues for close friends and guests that came from out of town to celebrate. Gyun disagrees, as in his experience after-parties are rare. “Koreans have no after-party, actually. The wedding is held on Saturday or Sunday. Although guests join to celebrate the wedding, they want to go home early and relax at home. Or the groom and bride are going on a honeymoon right after the wedding.”
#5. Be open to meeting people and being friendly
Korean weddings are a good place to make friends. The ceremony itself isn’t the time or place, but the buffet that happens afterwards can be a social setting depending on the circumstances. International friends specifically are often introduced to others, and receive a good amount of attention. Many expats have made friends at Korean weddings, as the fact that the guests all have a mutual contact, namely the married couple, is important for Korean especially. Making friends with guests can be particularly interesting when it comes to coworkers, as it’s more than likely they have social networks that are unfamiliar to the rest of the people they work with.
1. Asia News Network. 2017, December 20. Which Asian Country Drinks the Most. Straits Times.
2. Lock, Helen. 2019, March, 7. Where is the world’s hardest drinking city. The Guardian.
David Kute has an appreciation for Seoul’s distinct neighborhoods. From Dongdaemun’s market stalls to Hongdae’s rock music venues, the city continues to fascinate him. After spending many years living and working in Seoul and South Korea, he started the blog Rooftop on the Hanok. The blog is a place to share information as well as explore facets of life on the Korean peninsula. He enjoys writing fiction and playing basketball when he’s not researching or writing Rooftop on the Hanok posts.