“I will put 50,000 won [$38] into the envelope; would that be enough?” I asked my friend on our way to a wedding.
“Yes, that will be fine if you are not that close with the bride,” She answered, which totally threw me into confusion. The bride was actually one of my best friends, and I wondered why she mentioned the level of my closeness with the bride.
In response, she said that in Korea, the amount of money you give in lieu of a wedding gift to the newlywed depends on how close you are to the bride or groom.
With the popularity of Korean culture rising all around the globe, an ever-growing number of foreigners find themselves drawn to the enchanting world of Korean culture. While watching Korean movies and dramas, one might feel that Korean weddings are a particularly magical fantasy, like in Disney movies.
While it is one of the happiest moments in the lives of brides and grooms, guests also try to contribute to this special day through gifts that vary around the world.
A common type of gift that can be found around the world is money, and in Korean wedding envelope culture, the tradition shows how guests show their love and respect to the bride and groom with the amount of money they put inside the envelope.
I brought this subject to one of my friends, Azfar Ismail, a Seoul National University (SNU) student from Malaysia, who was also shocked by the envelope culture.
“When I attended a Korean wedding for the first time, I was surprised to learn that I had to write my name on the envelope,” Ismail said. “It was a bit challenging at first because I did not know the exact amount to put in the envelope, which made me a bit shy.”
What makes Korean envelope culture different from others is that a giver should write their names down with the minimum amount generally starting from 30,000 won, and by the amount of money they give, they show the level of closeness of their relationship with the bride and groom.
These envelopes will be prepared at the entrance of the reception desk on the day of the wedding and will be exchanged with the food ticket that can be used later in the second part of the wedding.
“In my culture, friends and relatives contribute before the wedding [during preparations], and the amount of contribution depends on one’s will or current financial situation, contrary to the Korean standards, where contribution standards seem to be already set by society,” Ndagijimana Frank Aimee Rodrigue, an SNU student from Rwanda, said.
But it was not the first time Korean weddings gave me a culture shock.
In my visit to the very first Korean wedding, I was around 30 minutes late and accidentally entered the wrong wedding. By the time I found the right building, the first part of the wedding was over, and all the food tickets were finished, so I had no choice but to go home. This is a clear example of how, in Korea, punctuality is put ahead in every aspect of life.
“On the wedding day, everything is timed in a way that allows people to use their time appropriately,” Ndagijimana said, showing how Koreans value punctuality and the importance of time in their lives.
Korean weddings are all about time since ceremonies are usually held in wedding halls, hotels and different religious buildings full of other events and gatherings, and “you have to be punctual to attend the wedding. If you are not on time, you are not in,” Rajendra Rajak, a student from India, said.
Korean weddings are divided into two parts, taking place on different floors of the building and lasting for about two to three hours. In the first part of the ceremony, the bride and groom give vows to each other, followed by some performances prepared by close friends, and in the second part, guests will move to the food court zone, which is combined with other weddings that are also taking place during that time.
The food served to guests varies, with multiple options to choose from. Rajendra finds the food served here to be delicious, commenting, “Korean weddings offer a wide variety of choices, including seafood, chicken, and various meats, as well as salads and nearly everything else.”
Korean weddings seem very systematic, with the whole process of giving the envelope, receiving a ticket for the buffet, attending a short ceremony in the wedding hall, and then proceeding to the food court on another floor, all happening at specific times.
A wedding in Korea sometimes feels like a business meeting, which is quite different from the more relaxed and communal atmosphere at weddings in my country, Uzbekistan. Uzbek people place a strong emphasis on human bonding, and even guests who arrive alone can easily make new friends, as people are more focused on building relationships.
In contrast, Korean weddings often feel more segmented, with distinct divisions between the groom’s and bride’s sides. What I felt is that these two sides typically do not interact much, except for close family members.
Ismail added, “In Korea, it seemed that only close relatives would bring their entire families, including children, to the wedding.”
“I am not entirely certain, but I got the impression that there were not many children in attendance, possibly due to restrictions on the number of guests,” Azfar said. “In my country, weddings often host around 1,000 people and sometimes even more, but it appears that the Korean system places limits on the guest count.”
There are both shared values and totally different traditions that make weddings around the world unique and magical. However, Korea makes it particularly exceptional with its focus on business relations rather than human bonding. Attending these weddings, in reality, can be both exciting and challenging for a foreigner without knowing the traditions and customs such as envelope culture, punctuality and food tickets.
Korean weddings undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on those who have the opportunity to witness and partake in their unique ceremonies.
“My overall view is that Korean weddings are quite unique and, at the same time, simple but exclusive,” Ismail said.
BY STUDENT REPORTER MUKADDAM ISOMOVA [[email protected]]