A Korean in an American Wedding Ceremony
Back in October of 2011 when Jae-oo and I were first wed, we were in Busan, South Korea and had opted for a very traditional styled Korean wedding with hanboks and lots of bowing. I blogged about it at the time, as my blog is all about my adventures here in Korea, but neglected to blog about my American wedding ceremony some months later in Ohio. Blogging about something that seemed so normal and uninteresting culturally didn’t strike my fancy. Recently, however, Jae-oo and I celebrated our one year anniversary and talked about that American wedding ceremony, as that was the date we opted to go with for our anniversary.
Many things that felt so normal and what a wedding should be to me at the time were quite abnormal to him and the memories of it all came flooding back.
These days in Korea, so many couples opt for the fast-food version of an American wedding. It all looks the same on the surface, but anyone that attends a ceremony here will soon realize it is not at all what it is like in the States.
You arrive to a ceremony already in progress by the couple that is just before your friends. When they finish and all of their guests file out of the room, you and yours file in. None of the tables or linens or flowers are changed to suit the wants and needs of the couple, nothing is changed. Throughout the ceremony there are women that stand next to the groom and bride pushing them around the stage because there was no rehearsal. Once the ceremony is finished, everyone lines up to head to the buffet, that is exactly like the buffet all of the other couples and guests will eat the rest of the day and when your hour is up everyone leaves. There is no real bouquet toss, no garter toss, no couple dance or toasts. None of the unique parts that we choose in the US are unique or yours in Korea. You and every other couple that has or will ever choose that room will have the same experience and memories of what it looked like. This was a big reason we went with a traditional Korean ceremony. I didn’t want to have a fast-food version of an American wedding ceremony when we would have a real American wedding ceremony just three months later. I didn’t want to compare them in my mind at all and having them completely different made them quite incomparable. I’m not saying this style is bad in Korea. It is certainly more financially beneficial and less stress for the couple to be able to pick a package and go with it, but I had dreams of choosing every little thing and making it mine and I wouldn’t get that here.
The first thing Jae-oo noted when we got to the States for the wedding was how many parties surround the event. There may be an engagement party, a bachelor party, a bachelorette party, a rehearsal dinner, I also had a bridal luncheon and the day after our wedding was a brunch. It may have been more noticeable to him because for us they were all in the one week leading up to the wedding because that was all the time we had in the States, but there are more parties than we had had in Korea to be certain. With so many parties there can be a lot of gifts as well. The Korean system of giving money and having that book to write down who gave what as soon as they give it at the ceremony is such a great system. I can’t remember how many pieces of paper I had with names and gifts and reminders to write thank-you notes. I felt pretty awkward that we didn’t write any in Korea, but Jae-oo said it wasn’t expected. I suppose that’s true. I’ve certainly never received a thank you note from anyone when I’ve given a gift here.
At the ceremony itself, as soon as our Sigur Ros entrance music began to play I was crying and so was he. We both told each other later that this really felt like the wedding ceremony that would unite us for the rest of our lives. The Korean wedding three months before was definitely a ceremony, but just didn’t come with all of the feelings of this one. Wearing my mother’s wedding dress with my family around us, with music and readings we chose carefully and specifically truly made this our wedding. I walked down the aisle too quickly, as many brides do so I’ve heard, and went straight to my mother in the first row of seats. I don’t know why I went to her, but I guess it was the young girl in me that just wanted her mommy at that momentous occasion in her life. She took my hand and led me to Jae-oo who grabbed my hand hard comforting me while we waited for the song to finish. There were tears and smiles and wonderful readings by Dr. Seuss and Kahlil Gibran along with prayers from Buddhist, Christianity, American Indian and Muslim books. It was like us, a mix of ideas and cultures blending to form a fantastic union. The ceremony went off without a hitch, even if it did start 20 minutes late, and since we didn’t have to say much we breezed through it. It wasn’t until the reception that I realized I hadn’t explained so many little aspects to Jae-oo.
Right away people were clinking their glasses with their forks. I leaned over to kiss Jae-oo, who looked at me with a confused expression, which I understood clearly. I quickly whispered that every time he hears that sound the rest of the night he should lean in for a kiss. He didn’t ask why, he just went straight in for it and so we moved on. Later in the reception when we were separated across the room talking with people someone dinged a glass and I turned around to find Jae-oo standing there ready for his kiss.
Moments after that first ding of the glass we were up to cut the cake. I honestly didn’t know where to start. I hadn’t thought about cutting the cake and with so many tiers didn’t know where to begin. Jae-oo took the knife and cut all the way from the top tier down to the bottom. I was sure that wasn’t right, but it was done. We fed each other a piece and realized moments later when some friends told us the top is supposed to be saved and we cut through it that it was quite the mistake. Uh oh, but we wouldn’t be able to take the top with us through customs in Korea anyway, so it didn’t matter much.
When it came time for him to take the garter from my leg the MC led me to a chair and sat me down on the dance floor and one of the groomsmen brought Jae-oo over. He leaned down on one knee and looked as if he wanted to say something. I leaned in to him and he asked me what we were doing. Everyone was in a circle around us and I had neglected to tell Jae-oo about this before we got there. Again, I quickly whispered to him that there was a string like thing around my thigh and he needed to get it from under my dress. Again without question he did as he was told. He knew what a garter was and I had shown him the schedule that the MC had given me earlier, but much like the Korean ceremony for me, what he was supposed to do exactly hadn’t been explained. He tossed the garter and we danced the night away.
Most of the other moments that he was culturally unaware were on the dance floor with old songs that we all knew dances to when he didn’t, but he wasn’t the only one. During the song Shout! when everyone is getting softer now, everyone is getting softer now, my sister’s Australian boyfriend was photographed standing while everyone else was practically lying on the floor. He had no idea we went down at that point and he said that Australians don’t.
It was all fun and the next day Jae-oo and his two Korean friends that flew over with us couldn’t stop talking about how fun the reception was. It’s something they had never experienced and celebrating into the night with 100 of my family members is something they will probably never forget. Those little quirks are things I will certainly never forget. We were celebrating the wedding I had dreamed of and somehow even those confusions and missteps only added to the experience, only made me appreciate each part of the celebration even more. I was truly sharing something with Jae-oo, sharing a part of me and my culture.
(The required shot of soju to make it official.)