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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fascinating Article on a Wedding Culture (Thankfully) Not Our Own

Well if this isn't super interesting, I'm not sure what it is. Thank you to Ezzie for pointing out this interest article on Korean wedding traditions.


Margaret said...

*sigh* This article is kind of misleading. I'm having a traditional Cantonese wedding in a few months, which is nearly identical to a Korean one. I'm an outsider to the culture (if you haven't figured out by now, I'm one of your [only?] non-Jewish readers), but I've learned a lot since marrying into it. Please, take this piece with a grain of salt, and remember a few things.

1. Asian families are large, and maintaining family connections is prized. My in-laws have five siblings, each, and they all have children and grandchildren of their own. It would be considered incredibly insulting to not invite them, plus more distant relatives. My MIL was appalled that our American wedding had all of 12 guests and that I didn't invite my cousins. Family members alone (all from his side) will easily number 300 at our Chinese wedding.

2. All cultures have a tradition of setting up young couples for housekeeping. Western wedding guests give food processors; Asian ones give cash, which is then used to set up a household. In general, Asians give cash gifts over items. Instead of sending flowers to the bereaved, cash envelopes are sent. Instead of new-baby gifts, envelopes are given. Gift-giving is a normal part of every culture; this is how it is done there. There are a lot of reasons for this that have to do with saving face and honor. If you are given a tangible gift, it is considered rude to open it in front of the giver, lest you inadvertently embarrass them.

3. Bribery is an unfortunate reality, independent of wedding traditions. My husband's family is from Malaysia's Chinese community. Bribery is a well-established part of the culture. He paid a bribe before the instructor would pass him for his driving test; so did all his peers. My FIL bribes police officers to get out of speeding tickets, and police officers stop people for speeding in order to get bribes. Bribery and corruption are simply an avenue for a well-ingrained cultural practice. Huge Lunar New Year parties are another way people try to curry favor.

4. Yes, these weddings are about honor and status, but so are lots of things. There's a reason why my in-laws feel that, despite a legally binding wedding ceremony in the states, they need to not only fly us to Malaysia, but throw another wedding that we didn't ask for there to properly show me off and welcome me into the family.

5. Unlike in Western weddings, at Asian ones, the guests directly subsidize the wedding. My FIL put down a deposit on a banquet room in a restaurant, and he is expected to pay in full AFTER the wedding. He takes first cut of the red envelope money, pays for the wedding, and hands over anything left to us. That's fairly standard for middle-class families. I would hazard that, in terms of the total value of gifts, the young couple leaves the ceremony with less than your average middle class western couple. Note that, in this scenario, the wedding expenses are far less burdensome.

Anonymous said...

Margaret, I think you've hit on a very intelligent point. Different cultures have different ways of doing similar things.
Here in Israel, cash is also common as gifts - even expected! At very Israeli weddings, you are expected to basically pay for your meal. So the more expensive the venue, the larger the gift is meant to be. If both of you attend, that's double the gift.
Coming as an American olah who would otherwise give a pretty vase or serving dish (often for much less, especially if I don't know the couple well), it seems pretty extravagant. But when you think about the fact that the family is depending on your check so that they can sign it over to the hall afterwards...we do it anyway, or don't attend if we can't afford it.
I don't think my parents would have ever thought about throwing a wedding for us thinking that they'd have to use our wedding gifts to pay for it. But then, Israeli parents often buy their children an apartment or give a large down payment instead. And they don't usually pay for college at all, which many American parents do. So, its all relative and there is always a big picture.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the Korean tradition much different than our own. Big weddings are about status and not offending anyone, and expecting an envelope is no different than expecting a present.