Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Wedding Hall Wedding...Why?

I'm actually torn here, because what I really want to do in response to Jason's post about wedding hall weddings is to sit somewhere with a beer in my hand, nod knowingly (and a bit defeatedly) and say "Yeah, man.  I hear ya."  On the emotional level, I'm sitting right there with Kimchi Icecream, feeling that weird taste in my mouth.  On another level, given that I'm about to marry a Korean, I've thought a lot about Korean weddings, and I do want to look a little at this wedding culture stuff.

So before I intellectualize the whole thing and give reasons and justifications, I just want to take a moment to recognize.  Yeah.  It's way different, and jarring, and often quite off-putting.  A spade's a spade, and a Korean wedding hall wedding looks weird to Western eyes.

Soundtrack: Marry Me, John, by St. Vincent

(Photos of one Korean wedding) (Another) (Another, from Busan Mike)
(let's not forget that other countries can go a bit overboard with weddings, too.)

Photo by these guys... who seem to do a good job, if you look at their samples.  Hope you don't mind my borrowing!

Ask The Expat also has something about weddings.

But in Korea's defense, here are some of the points that have come up in talking, a lot, about weddings.  Fact is, most Koreans I've spoken with agree with many of Jason's complaints about wedding halls, and I've spoken with quite a few, because I have an article about wedding culture I like bringing into class.

Girlfriendoseyo and most of her friends agree wedding hall weddings are tawdry and awful. They also object to the hollowness of the cash gift las Vegas Disneyland vibe, and are bored to tears by the sameness. While the old "why are you hate the korea?" reflex might cause people to defend wedding halls to Jason's or my face, most would secretly agree that Korean wedding hall weddings kinda suck. So why do Koreans still get married in wedding halls?

1. Hotel weddings and making other arrangements can be prohibitively expensive.

2. In a wedding hall wedding, an expert planner will navigate you through all, and I mean ALL the arrangements, from flowers to photos to hanbok shops and where to buy a better shoehorn.

It looks like this... but it's convenient. (from here)

3. In the same way "Prugio" apartments carry brand status that can't be duplicated, even by commissioning your own non-brand-name villa, certain wedding halls have brand recognition, which may not matter to people close to you, but which carries a lot of cachet with people who don't know you that well - of whom many come to the wedding, for reasons discussed later.

4. Wedding halls are usually conveniently located, which is nice for out-of-town guests.

5. Other cheaper/nicer venues often lack some of the facilities guests have come to expect of weddings in Korea, or are way out of the way.


6. Whether this is the chicken of the egg, most Koreans have come to expect weddings to be one-hour, kind of cheesy affairs where one can make an appearance, drop off an envelope of cash, sign a guestbook, load up on the buffet, and then take off, without having to clear the whole day in your schedule.

7. Girlfriendoseyo let me know very clearly, very early on, that the parents are the star of the show at most Korean weddings. That a true Korean wedding is more the couple's parents' day than the couple themselves' day means that many guests are friends of the parents, not friends of the couple.   Being such distant relations, that surface impressiveness becomes more important than creating a wedding that's tender, intimate, and truly representative of the couple's character. Such concerns matter to the bride and groom, and their best friends, but not to my future father-in-law's manager, who doesn't know the couple, and doesn't want the wedding to take up his whole day, but judges my father-in-law by the quality of the buffet as surely as he judges him by the make and model of his car.

8. Given that the parents are the star of the show, and that cash gifts are de rigeur, and that cash usually goes to the bride's parents, and the bride's parents have shelled out at all their friends' and their friends' kids' weddings, they're going to invite as many of those people to THEIR kids' weddings as possible, for a bit of quid pro quo. This is why my best friend reports seeing 800 of his father in law's friends at his wedding, 600 of whom he never saw before or since that day.

9. Finally, Korean weddings are usually only ceremonial, because most couples do the legal paperwork some other time. In Canada, at least, the legal registry was done there at the wedding, in front of everybody. That the ceremony really is ONLY a ceremony diminishes the importance of the wedding again, and people seem to act accordingly.

From where I stand, here's the problem I see:
almost every feature of Korean weddings that differ from Canadian weddings, differ in a way that make Korean weddings faster, easier, and more convenient.

So what's wrong with that?

Well, they're so fast, easy, and convenient, that they have no more meaning.

Think about it:

easy location
cash gifts
no paperwork
banquet hall run like an assembly line
huge guest lists (many near-strangers to the couple)
one-hour, maximum ceremony time
invitations sent close to the wedding date
another couple and entourage waiting outside the door at the wedding venue, waiting for your group to clear out (creating the impression that your couple is nothing special.  At all.)

Disposable. (image)

All these things diminish the feeling of a wedding's importance, at least for the couple and the couple's friends.  In Canada, I get my wedding invitation  half a year ahead of time, I might make travel plans to get there, 'cause Canada's big.  I carefully choose an individualized gift for the new couple, or at least get something from the registry which they can always see and say, "That's from Roboseyo," and I witness the couple making an emotional, legal, and sometimes spiritual bond.  A wedding plus reception takes all friggin' day: it's a BIG DEAL!  Hitting up a cash machine, finding a wedding hall near a subway station, and getting shooed out of the buffet after an hour because another wedding group is coming in is the opposite of making a wedding feel special.

How Koreans will solve this problem, where many people sigh and groan on receiving a wedding invitation, isn't for me to say.  I have my suggestion, but I don't want to be accused of trying to make Korea become like Canada; however, I know what makes weddings seem more special in Canada.  In the end, I hope Korean couples (and especially their parents) start finding ways to make Korean weddings more special.

In conclusion, Korea is a land of contrasts.  Thank you for reading my essay.

link to part 3 of the series.


Sophia Jacob said...

It's a very nice concept. Select a best wedding hotel or hall....It's depend on you....

Wedding Planning

ZenKimchi said...

If you're going to go cheesy, do it at a tourist trap.

Brian said...

Those are all fine points, and it's important for people to understand why people choose the wedding hall package.

That said, it doesn't make the bizarre use of western symbols and imagery any less unpleasant. And I don't think it's out of line for westerners to feel unpleasant by it.

And, yes, many symbols back home don't hold their original meanings. I mean, white wedding dresses still sell pretty well, right?

But, you can have a convenient, catered wedding in Korea without rendering western traditions ridiculous. Westerners understanding Korean traditions doesn't mean they have to accept them uncritically.

Word verification: rexapops. Nothing puts you at ease after a long day of wedding planning than two rexapops.

kushibo said...

You've taken a good approach on this, though I myself would never choose to get married in a yeshikchang, preferring the option of a Catholic church that is available in Korea (if one or both of you is Catholic), but if my wife-to-be insisted on a getting married in a "wedding hole," I'd do it just to make her happy.

In conclusion, Korea isn't all that contrasty, even though it is.

Anonymous said...

The worst part for me is that everyone talks to each other, on their cell phones, comes late without apology, lets their kids wander around in the aisle, doesn't... need I go on? Basically, my problem is poor wedding etiquette.

Roboseyo said...

I think that the poor wedding etiquette is a result of the way wedding hall weddings have been made disposable - it's hard to take them seriously and soberly when they're "McWedding" assembly line products, so why NOT talk on your cellphone?

The Sanity Inspector said...

I was driven past one of these gaudy behemoths a couple of times in Gwangju. I was almost afraid to ask what it was, fearing that it might be a "love motel" or something.

kushibo said...

Agreed, byroncheron, and Roboseyo took the words right out of my mouth as to why.

Unfortunately, some KoKos carry this behavior to the US with them. I was an usher at a friend's wedding — she got married in a Lutheran church and had a Koreanized ceremony at a local community center — and it was my job to quiet these two ajŏshi who were talking so loudly in the lobby of the church that the people in back of the sanctuary couldn't hear the wedding.

In the politest Korean I could, I asked them to either please go inside and sit down quietly or take their conversation outside the building.

One answered that I should know that in Korea it's perfectly acceptable to talk during a wedding. I replied — making sure my Korean was polite — that I'm not so sure if that's "okay" or not even in Korea, but at any rate, this is America, so please be quiet.

Somehow it worked. Kushibo can be quite convincing when he's wearing a suit and speaking in polite Korean.

kushibo said...

I dare say that there are one or two big wedding halls I've seen that have an acceptable exterior to me. One up on the road toward Chang-dong, near Suyu Station (?) looks like it would be a nicer City Hall than the actual City Hall.

But God help the people who get married in Express Bus Terminal Wedding Hall or Shinchon Rotary Wedding Hall.

Maui said...

Having been a active participant (groom) to both American wedding, St Andrews Cathedral in HI., then everyone driving to the Hale Koa for the reception. I am not going to even mention all the pre-planning that went into everything that we had to do on our own. Then 15 years later running through a Korean "wedding hall" wedding.... the stress level between the two is the other big difference. but still that aside.. I'd say if your still talking to each other after the honeymoon..ENJOY!

kushibo said...

St Andrew's in Honolulu? The one where they filmed a bunch of "Lost" scenes, right?

How much did it cost to get married there? Did you have to be an Episcopalian?

Jen said...

Kushibo is right. I've been to several Korean weddings, and while Joe's was really cool, by far the nicest wedding I've been to was the Catholic one. (Joe's lost out, because of the tourists.) It was a real wedding just like all the weddings I've ever attended at home.

chiam said...

Kushibo. I got married at "Gangnam Wedding Convention" at Express Bus Terminal, and you know what? It was fine, so fuck off with all your bullshit "knowledge".

My only family that came; my mother and brother, had a fantastic time. Everyone who mattered had a great time. It was a most wonderful day and I'll never forget it.

I think you're all being a bit petty.

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