My personal experiences of the Korean marriage
The past year was a lot of things, but not everything was all too bad. My partner and I decided to get married after three years of a smooth sailing relationship, which gave me something else to focus on other than staring at the wall and wishing the COVID pandemic was a dream. Despite the fact I was born and raised in Korea, there were a few things I noticed that were vastly different from my imagination. Was it a good surprise or a disappointing one? Let’s find out!
I always cry whenever I watch a proposal video. I don’t care if it happens at a parking lot or in Paris. Just give me a knee and a ring, I’ll cry like an elephant that lost a friend. Hpwever I did not shed a single tear when it was me who was getting proposed, and I can tell you the exact reason: there was no element of surprise. Most Koreans plan their wedding first and then propose later. So basically you don’t have to hazard a guess if your partner is going to say yes or no. Moreover, any couple who have been together long enough will agree that it is difficult to throw a surprise event, especially when your partner is literally counting down the days until the wedding day. Here’s what happened to me: I met my boyfriend in front of his house while he was throwing out garbage. He acted weird, asking me why I arrived so early (I was only 5 minutes early). I knew that he knew I knew. We got into the room and poorly hung marry me balloons were there waiting for me. He handed me flowers and asked me to marry him in a house we already moved in weeks ago. Romantic? Well… Still adorable? 100%.
Parents play an important part in Koreans’ life, and planning a wedding is no exception. The reason the proposal cannot come first is mainly due to this factor. A couple should visit their soon to be parents-in-law in advance to introduce themselves and get to know them. We call this meeting the 상견례 (Sang gyun rye). If this goes well, the next step is holding a very important meeting where both families have a meal together talking about details of the wedding and which family should prepare what. Incompatibility with the family sometimes even leads to a breakup. Lucky couples who passed the test soon change gear into full-on planning mode: they start to book a wedding venue, taste the food and try on wedding dresses. More often than not, parents will be there for them giving their valuable opinions every step of the way. Couples who like to keep things private might feel interrupted, but most of them can’t complain since parents usually bear the wedding cost.
Bridal showers were not familiar to Koreans a few years ago, but as the world became more globalized than ever with the rapid-fire internet, some Korean brides gladly embraced the opportunity to spend quality time with their friends. A Korean version of bridal shower goes like this: bride’s close friends get together in a hotel room or a rented place to prepare for the event, fill up balloons and set the table for a delicious meal. Bride usually wears white dress and friends, not to upstage the bride, wear anything but white. Having wonderful friends from university, I too enjoyed being pampered in my bridal shower. I actually knew nothing about the shower right until I opened up a hotel door. My beautiful girls dressed up in pink and shouted, “Surprise!”. We did nothing but talk that day, reliving the adventurous university years and almost passing out from embarrassment.
You planned this wedding for months, going through a lot of troubles to find the perfect dress that highlights your tiny waist and gracefully covers your shoulders. You met the parents, you got the proposal, you are ready to go. But what do you get on the wedding day? A mere 30-minute ceremony. To give you a quick rundown, mothers of bride and groom walk in and light up a candle. Then the groom walks down an aisle to an upbeat song. As the groom settles in and turns to greet his soon-to-be wife, the bride holding her father’s hand walks down the aisle, and a few weeks of mild eating disorder suddenly just feels so right. In many Korean weddings, close friends sing on the stage or read a letter for the bride and groom. The protagonists of the day can do whatever they want to do until the clock hits 30 minutes. (After that the guests might complain…)
Planning a wedding was a great deal of fun for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was stressful and demanding in many ways. Still it came as a great surprise when my friends and family members went out of their ways to congratulate us. I got so many flowers for the past month that I feel almost awkward looking at a living room without a vase full of roses. Every country has its own way of celebrating marriage but the spirit inside doesn’t seem so different: wishing the very best for the two people who are about to enter a new stage of life. Trust me, they need it.
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