Korean Weddings… Almost American.

The westernization of Asia was never as obvious to me as it was when I attended a Korean wedding.  I’d been invited to attend my coworker’s wedding, and I was excited to experience Korean tradition and touched to be included.

I expected to be overwhelmed by a cultural difference, but in reality, all I saw was a nearly American event with some odd variations.

Before the wedding, I asked another coworker what to do about a wedding gift.  “We usually just give money,” he said.  “We will all put our money together and give it in one envelope.”“Ahh, okay.  And then we’ll all sign the card?”

“Um, no.  Actually, Korean people don’t give cards.  We just give money.”

My mind was momentarily blown.  If brides and grooms in Korea received anonymous gifts they never had to write thank you letters.  They also didn’t know which of their friends were generous and which were cheap.

I handed my coworker $20, an amount he’d suggested.  “America is quite different,” I told him.  “So, should I wear a dress?”  Again I was picturing American weddings; the fancy outfits, the dancing and drinking.

“Just nice clothes will be okay,” he said.

Besides the anonymous gifts, I’d also found it odd that my coworker had invited me to his wedding two weeks before it happened.  In America, RSVPs were important for a wedding.

That Saturday, I took a cab to the Wedding Gallery.  My coworker’s wedding was on the fourth floor, and every other floor had different weddings on them too.  It was like a Mc Wedding castle.

I walked in and saw several of my coworkers standing near the entrance of the hall.  I said a few hellos and wandered around, waiting for a hush to take over the crowd and for the wedding to begin.

There was no such hush.

The ceremony started and people kept on talking as though the purpose for gathering was to socialize.  I felt extremely uncomfortable, so I stood silently in the back.

The aisle was raised a few feet off the ground and was covered with a red carpet: elegant.  Above the aisle were giant sparkling chandeliers that lowered down a few feet and then rose back up: tacky.

The bride stood near me in the back in a long white dress and wearing a veil: elegant and very western.  Before she walked down the aisle, two women preceded her dressed to look like ceremonial nutcrackers and holding swords: tacky.

Of course there was music.  And I was surprised to recognize it.  I turned to my coworker and said, “Hang on.  Is this Enya?”


“This music, is it Enya?”  I was smiling because I could already tell that it was.

“I think that most people like to have something spiritual sounding when they get married,” he explained.

The priest or minister briefly spoke, and within ten minutes, the couple was wed.  But the ceremony wasn’t finished.

A young Korean girl holding a microphone walked up to the newly wed couple.  She was wearing tight jeans and a flannel shirt, and I suddenly felt overdressed.  She said a few things that I couldn’t understand, and then the rhythmic beats of a drum machine began to fill the room.  She began wailing into the microphone, singing a Korean rock song along with the digitalized beats.  It was the first time that the sound of the ceremony overpowered the guests.

And overpower it did.

All around me, I saw old Korean women with curly black hair raising their eyebrows.  I was still smiling.  This wedding basically had karaoke.  How Korean.

After the song ended, it was time for wedding pictures.  “Eun Joe wants all of us to stay for a picture with him,” one of my coworkers said.  “They’re taking pictures of their family first, and then we’ll go up with their friends.”

“It’s quite special to have white people in a wedding photo,” another coworker told me.

The family of the bride and groom gathered on the steps behind the couple and smiled.  Some of the relatives were wearing traditional Korean clothing, called hanboks, and I was happy to see some Korean customs at this Korean wedding.  After a few shots, it was time for the friends.  I moved to the back row, knowing I would still stand out as one of the two non-Asians in this wedding photo.

I kept expecting the photo shoot to be done, but it seemed to last forever.  We held our smiles for a few group shots, then the photographer wheeled out a cart with an extravagant wedding cake on it.  The bride and groom posed with a knife as they fake-cut the cake, and we smiled behind the couple.

Then, it was time for the posing of the throwing of the bouquet.  The bride turned sideways and one of her friends stood behind her.  She threw the bouquet backwards as we continued standing as the background to the scene.  The photographer wasn’t satisfied with the first shot, so she retrieved her bouquet and threw it to her friend a few more times.

As I continued to smile, I recalled that a Korean banana split would have a cherry tomato on top of the ice cream, rather than a cherry.  It was as if Koreans had seen a photograph of something western and decided to recreate the appearance.  This wedding reminded me of all those tomatoes on ice cream sundaes.  Rather than remaining traditional, in many ways Koreans desired a western appearance.

Finally the photo shoot was complete.  I checked my watch.  The ceremony and photo shoot had taken a little over 30 minutes.  Mc Wedding indeed.


I was ushered upstairs where a buffet lunch awaited us.  For a seafood lover, this buffet would have been heaven.  For me, a vegetarian, I simply walked past all the trays of elaborately decorated raw fish, octopus legs, and rice balls topped with lobster.  I scooped some bland spaghetti onto my plate along with some canned fruit mix and went to eat.

The tables were arranged in rows, and each table was topped with two glass bottles of soda, a bottle of beer, and a bottle of soju.  It was the kind of centerpiece I could enjoy.

I went up for seconds, this time grabbing a bread roll and onion rings.  The onion rings turned out to be squid rings, so I poured myself another beer instead.



Filed under Asia, South Korea

6 responses to “Korean Weddings… Almost American.

  1. Wow, Anna, I feel as if I was there. They must have seen many American wedding movies, hey? I think it’s hard for Americans, too, to get past the tyranny of the camera & just be happy with candid photos. Great description!

  2. Julia Roberts

    Please read a few books on U.S. imperialism and colonialism and stop writing for the sake of human kind. Why do you think Korea is westernized? From missionaries, military occupation, camptowns and their sex economies, racist transnational adoption from white do-gooders like you, and in general racist “white savior” types like yourself. You are spreading ridiculous, ahistoric, racist, privileged ideologies that really do very little but make you feel like you have a point on this earth–which, quite frankly, you do not.

    • Woah there. I’m not sure how going to a wedding in another country made me a racist, a white do-gooder, a white-savior, privileged, a waste of space on earth, and seemingly vile and evil in your point of view. I was hoping to experience traditional Korean customs while being a foreigner in Korea, and it wound up being like a variation of an American wedding. So I wrote about it. I wasn’t trying to make a point about imperialism and colonialism, or to say that westernization is the best thing in the world and the whole world should be like the USA RAH RAH RAH! I have no idea how this post could have offended you so, but I’m sorry it did. I have been to many countries and have a total love of world travel and the differences in each culture, but yes, there are only 22 countries that Britain didn’t invade. We all learn about the Native Americans and the horrible things that happened because of this. I also studied Maori history while living in New Zealand, and learned how the Maori were punished for speaking their own language instead of English. Soldiers in Asia changed a lot of the Asian culture, just look at the growth of Spam’s popularity. This post, however, was about none of those things. It was about American woman’s surprise at the westernization that she found at a wedding in Korea. Maybe stay away from my blog. I travel a lot. Must make me a wretched do-gooder, huh? One has to be racist to go to Africa, Asia, Europe, and the South Pacific and -good God!- actually TALK to these people, befriend these people, dance and hug these people. What a white savior I am! THANK HEAVENS the world is learning English! ALL FOR ME!

    • Diesel-Wiesel

      I don’t even know how to reply to this sad, sad human. It sounds as though you “Julia Roberts” are a very unhappy and judgmental person, looking at the world through black and white colored glasses. While I see no point in arguing with you because well -“quite frankly”- you do a fine job of proving complete ignorance on your own, I can’t help but wonder if Anna didn’t include pictures of herself that you would be so inclined to say some of these vicious and untrue remarks about “white saviors” and “privileged ideologies”.

      Would her stories be funnier if they were written with black hands? Or from the point-of-view of an “Indian Anna” traveling to Korea and strange and unfamiliar occurrences happen to her? “Ms. Roberts” (I only assume you are unmarried because really, who would want a life partner with such a bitter worldly outlook), you are the only person sounding racist. These are simply stories, written by a human experiencing a new culture, not “a white-rich-american-female”. At no point did this author ever claim that this blog was intended for imperialism and colonialism, you sound stupid for making any of these comments.

      To “Ms.Roberts”, Ignorance is bliss only for the ignorant person, to everyone else, it’s fucking annoying.

      To Anna , the author, in cases like this where you find yourself the victim of other people’s bitterness, ignorance, and insecurities…Remember this, it could be worse, you could be one of them.

      • Thanks for the support, Diesel-Wiesel. Unfortunately there are people out there who troll the internet for fights. I like your statements and appreciate that you took the time to comment! Thanks!

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