Imagine being fresh out of university and living with your parents. Sort of crappy, but free rent, right? Now, imagine being 25 and living with your parents. Instead of being treated like the young adult you are, you’re spoken to as though you’re 10 years old. Now take that even further. You’re approaching 30. You’re single and living with your parents. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hall monitor at a school or a businessman bringing home the bacon. You’re freaking living with your parents. In America, this is nearly unheard of, but in Korea, it’s the norm. Young Korean adults venturing into the dating world lack the privacy that we’ve taken for granted ever since we graduated from high school.

That explains why Koreans are in such a hurry to settle down and get married. Obviously, the above hellish hypothetical doesn’t apply to everyone; I’ve got several Korean friends who have moved out of their homes and now have small apartments of their own. But for most Koreans, home is where the heart is, at least until you give your heart to someone, get hitched and move the hell out of your parents’ home.

Last weekend, my coworker Winnie got married and invited us all to the celebration. Korean wedding customs are much different from western ones–beginning with the invites. Winnie made an announcement at a staff meeting a couple of weeks before her wedding day, just letting everyone know about it and telling us that we were more than welcome to come. A couple days later, she e-mailed us all the invite, no RSVP required.

On the day of the wedding, four teachers, myself included, trekked to the wedding hall on the other side of town. Oh, that’s right. Koreans don’t get married in churches, but in wedding halls, of which there are several hundred in Seoul. (There’s one a few minutes away from SEV that looks like a castle.) On the inside, wedding halls basically look like convention centers (though I guess that’s what they are, technically). It’s not at all rare for several weddings to be held at the same time at the same wedding hall. In fact, Donny, our recruiter, told us that his wife was at the same wedding hall we were at earlier in the day for another wedding.

The ceremony was really nice, and Winnie looked absolutely stunning, but I couldn’t get over how different it was from a typical western wedding. The emphasis on this wedding seemed to be on making things look picture-perfect. There were a few people constantly on stage with the couple, adjusting Winnie’s dress and veil or dabbing the bridegroom’s forehead with a handkerchief.

 

Please note the woman fixing Winnie's dress for the zillionth time

Please note the woman fixing Winnie's dress for the zillionth time

The ceremony wasn’t led by anyone; at least, not anyone else on stage. There was a voice over the sound system, but since I don’t speak Korean, I couldn’t tell you what it was saying. There was one part that closely resembled the exchanging of rings. I’m assuming that’s what it was, but there were too many people in the way for me to be sure. Note the Cinderella music in the background.

After that, there was some sweet first-dance action.

DSC02672

 

The dance was followed by a traditional bow, first to Winnie’s parents, then to her husband’s folks.

 

 

 

 

After the bowing, Winnie’s new husband serenaded her with a popular Korean tune. Despite the fact that I don’t know any of the words, this song is one of my all-time favorite Korean songs, evidenced by my exclamation just before the 10-second mark:

After the ceremony, the couple walked back down the aisle and was covered in confetti and sparkly stuff.

 

Wish I'd gotten a sharper picture. Silly pink camera!

Wish I'd gotten a sharper picture. Silly pink camera!

When all was finished, the guests dropped off their gifts (usually money in a plain, white envelope…Koreans don’t mess with gift registries), signed the guestbook and headed into another hall to chow down. Toward the end of the meal, Winnie and her husband came in, both dressed in traditional hanbok, to greet their guests.

DSC02771Most of my pictures from the meal were taken by Donny’s 3-year-old son Scotty, who bogarted my camera and went to town. Those pictures are all up on Facebook, but here’s a shot of me with the junior photographer:

 

I only look crazy because he was squirming around and I couldn't stop laughing

I only look crazy because he was squirming around and I couldn't stop laughing

We left the reception with stomachs full of food and cameras full of fun shots, but with one question unanswered: Do Koreans go on honeymoons? We got our answer that week, when Winnie didn’t show up for work at all. Now, a bit later, she’s back in action, but minus a ring on her finger. Yet another cultural difference, just one of many I’ve learned about this year. The wedding was an awesome way to spend an afternoon, and I’m glad I got to witness such an important day in Winnie’s life. A few coworkers are engaged, but the next wedding isn’t going to happen until November, after I’ve left Korea and will be briefly living at home with my family, just like my Korean friends.

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