Monday, 15 December 2008

Korean Conveyor Belt

From time to time people back home have asked me what are the differences between Korea and Western countries. Of course there are many, but they have many more things in common than you may think. One big difference though has to be marriage and weddings. From what I understand, for most couples the groom will pay for their house (they usually live with their parents before marriage) and the bride buys all the furniture for the house and other things like refrigerators etc etc. None of this joint payment stuff here.

Marriage is an important part of Korean society and older generations often ask questions of people of a certain age who haven't yet tied the knot. There is a definite pressure on people especially women to marry. I have worked with so many Koreans who have had many blind dates to find a future husband and also those who, seemingly, announce an engagement out of the blue. You get the feeling that some of these couples don't know each other and have to try and love each other as time goes by. Some must be marriages of convenience.

Over the weekend my Korean partner teacher who I also sit next to at work got married. She is quite shy and modest and not the kind of person who really wants any attention, but this of course was unavoidable. I went along with all the Korean teachers who I work with but with no other foreign teachers. I went because I was asked to and also because one of my classes was desperate to see any pictures or videos I could take. It is also nice from time to time to see how the locals operate in a relaxed environment where you can see some nice Korean traditional Hanboks too.

This was my fourth Korean wedding and probably one of my last before heading home next year. Each wedding has been a little different from the previous one. I've been to traditional ones where the couple wear highly decorative Korean outfits, one in a church and one at a convention centre. This time it was at some kind of a wedding hall.

Korean weddings, as my girlfriend has told me many times are a business. Instead of giving presents, guests often give money. this can be highly lucrative especially if you have a large family, are popular or hold some kind of position where many people work with or for you.

Something you will see and not get over is some people (not the majority) arriving in jeans. One man wore jeans and a baseball cap and I wanted to punch him. Always you see people on their phones, paying absolutely no attention to the ceremony. Quite frankly the whole thing is very noisy and must be a distraction to the couple. It just wouldn't be tolerated in any Western country. Even as the wedding was taking place, several guests upped and left. I can only be described as incredibly rude but that is often the way with many Koreans - particular in my city of residence, Daegu. It would appear that many of the attendees came to show their face and eat. That's right, just to get free food from the all you can eat buffet that each wedding has. Not everyone behaves like this and the majority act accordingly, its just that you notice and remember the major differences and attitudes of some people

This type of wedding which seems to be the most common type in Korea can be equated to a conveyor belt event. The whole wedding takes around one hour, often less and is filmed by someone, in jeans and sometimes a t-shirt, who goes all around the room ducking and diving to get different camera angles. The 'event' is covered live on screens for those who are too far away to get a close up. Even as the wedding is winding down the posters (very cheesy photo-shopped pictures of the couple) plastered round the hall are taken down and replaced with more of the like from the next couple. After the vows comes the pictures of the couples families then friends/co-workers. I didn't really want to be snapped again in one of those pictures but the bride insisted.

It's easy to be cynical about things like this, but it's just the way things work here at this moment in time. It's definitely a unique event and something which you need to see if you have the chance in Korea. Everyone was happy for the couple and I hope they have a great future together. My partner teacher is a very nice person and I hope she enjoyed the day and everything else that goes with getting married. A long time friend of mine gets married here in March to a Korean girl. It should be very interesting. Meanwhile I expect some of my students to press me again on when I'm getting married.

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