Weddings and Funerals as Social Metrics
In South Korea, the number of guests at weddings, as well as the amount of money given and the sumptuousness of the banquet is often a measure of a family's social standing. At funerals, the number of wreaths presented by friends, business associates and local politicians is a comparable social metric.
"Face" is an important element of weddings here. Some Koreans describe weddings as being less a celebration than an occasion for 'showing off'. For example, if the bride has fewer guests at the wedding than the groom, her family may find it humiliating.
Some families send out thousands of wedding invitations. A bank account number is sometimes included so people who can’t attend can still send money. Often, the decision of whether to attend is based on whether the couple, or their relatives, attended weddings or funerals in one’s own family — or might be expected to. Families keep records of how much they receive and from whom so that they can reciprocate. Failure to do so can ruin a friendship.
Every year, the roughly 330,000 South Korean couples who get married spend an average of 15 million to 20 million won, or $13,000 to $17,000, in wedding expenses (re Sunoo is a matchmaking company that conducts an annual survey on wedding expenses). The cost can exceed 50 million won for hotel weddings. Much of that cost is covered by cash gifts. In 2009, South Koreans gave out 8 trillion won, or 524,500 won for each household, in cash gifts for weddings and funerals (that are presented in a white envelope), according to the National Statistical Office. In 2010, the average gift was 50,000 up from the previous rate of 30,000 won for the colleague down the hall, 50,000 won for a good friend and 100,000 won for someone one has known well for many years.
"But these envelopes also reflect a culture in which giving cash is considered so natural that people sometimes call it a “greeting” — and, in some cases, use it as a cover for bribery. In 2004, a revision of election laws included a ban on politicians giving cash envelopes, except at the weddings and funerals of close relatives. However, there are regular reports of government officials and even, occasionally, politicians, who have clearly solicited cash gifts through invitations to a large number of their subordinates/suppliers. A regular business person can find her/himself attending anywhere from 30 to 50 weddings and funerals a year for friends, employees and business acquaintances.
Some younger couples are rebelling against what they call a “commercial” wedding culture controlled by parents. It is generally the parents who send out invitations, collect the cash and pay for the wedding, and by and large, more guests are there for the parents than for the couple getting married.
Last Updated on 2015-03-04
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