6:14 pm - 05/15/2019

For Koreans, cash wedding gifts are stressful but inescapable

A foreign resident of South Korea posted a tricky question on a website where users share information on local culture and life.

Titled, "Most appropriate amount of congratulatory money," it was about a company colleague who was getting married.

"We are close enough to say hi when we see each other. ... We have never met outside of work. What do you think is the most appropriate amount to pay?" it reads.

One reply stood out.

"30,000 won (US$25) if you don't go (to a wedding) and not so close (to him); 50,000 won if you go but not so close; 50,000 won if you don't go and close; 70,000 won if you go and close; 100,000 won if you go, bring someone and close."

Foreigners aren't the only ones grappling with these questions. Many South Koreans often face the same dilemma, especially in the spring wedding season. As it gets colder and there are more funerals, cash envelopes are also given to bereaved families.

Salaried workers in South Korea spend an average of 1.4 million won a year on congratulatory and condolence money, according to a survey conducted in April by Saramin, a Seoul-based online recruitment firm.

Nearly 75 percent of the 435 respondents said they feel financially burdened by such cash expenditure.

"I think it reflects a kind of 'euiri' culture in Korea," Yuji Hosaka, a Sejong University professor, said in a phone interview.

He was referring to a way of behaving in people-to-people relations that is analogous to loyalty, faithfulness or even manliness.

Actor Kim Bo-sung, an euiri icon, is known to have attended almost all of his friends' celebratory and mourning ceremonies.

"Japanese people also bring cash gifts to weddings. A guest delivers an average of 30,000 yen (326,000 won)," Hosaka, a naturalized South Korean from Japan, said. "But a far smaller number of guests are invited, compared with South Korea. The list of attendees is fixed in advance for the preparation of course meals."

In contrast, South Koreans distribute invitation cards to hundreds or even thousands of people. They do not know who will actually come to their wedding. But this is not a problem as a buffet is usually provided.

Funerals are similar, though an exception is the main dish: a hot spicy meat stew called "yukgaejang."

For many, particularly salaried workers, it's a frequent nuisance to have to decide on whether to be present at such ceremonies and how much to pay.

The No.1 guideline is the level of relationship with the hosts, and the second is if it would be of help to one's career, either directly or indirectly.

"I'm willing to pay 300,000 won when my best friend gets married," Lee Jie-yeon, a hotelier in Seoul, said. "Not long ago, a senior co-worker at our hotel had the funeral of his mother-in-law. It was hard to decide."

In the end, she chose to skip a visit to the funeral home and instead asked a colleague who was planning to attend to convey 50,000 won in condolence money.

It's unclear when the cash-giving tradition here came into being. It apparently originates from the time-honored community practice of sharing labor in a give-and-take manner when holding big family events.

Handing over cash in white envelopes en masse can be seen as idiosyncratic by foreigners.

In the United States, for instance, people give gifts to the bride and groom. Often, the couple will provide a list of all the gifts they want and people choose one they will give.

For elderly Koreans, exchanging congratulatory and condolence money has been very important in lessening the cost of major family events and maintaining social networks.

They have followed the give-and-take tradition, in which saving face is important, quite strictly.

But people in their 20s or 30s here are more practical, as a growing number think marriage is not a must but an option.

"Nonetheless, I don't think the cash-gift culture here itself will disappear," Hosaka said. "Weddings are costly and also serve as a good chance to introduce spouses to relatives and friends at once."

He agreed that wedding invitations in South Korea are likely to be scaled down, probably in a transition to the Japanese style, amid generational shifts and changing social trends.

His view is backed by research by economists here who published a paper recently titled "An Empirical Analysis of the Relationship between the Expenditure and the Revenue of Family Events in South Korea using the National Survey of Tax and Benefit."

It was based on a survey of more than 3,488 households that had held weddings or funerals over the past decade.

The study by Song Heon-jae and Son Hye-rim, professors of economics at the University of Seoul, showed that the give-and-take practice is a sort of "full insurance" via "risk pooling." For example, if a family spent a total of 100,000 won in congratulatory and condolence money throughout the surveyed period, it collected 98,800 won, the study found.

The authors said the culture of exchanging cash wedding gifts and condolence money itself won't change for the time being, although the number of invitations could shrink.

What do you bring to a wedding, Omona? Besides your charming personality and the hope of an open bar, of course. Personally, I love it when there's a gift registry. Just hop into a Crate and Barrel and pick up whatever they want and already picked out, so easy. If they ask for cash that's cool too. But I really like shopping for gifts lol.

source: Yonhap News
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modestgoddess79 16th-May-2019 01:28 am (UTC)
If I have to pay for a flight and a hotel I don’t owe you a gift. If it’s local I will buy a gift from the registry. My mom sent a check to my best friend since she didn’t attend the cross country wedding. Also I find the whole bridesmaids and best men culture burdensome.

Edited at 2019-05-16 01:29 am (UTC)
sglitzys 16th-May-2019 01:52 am (UTC)
I was a bridesmaids for a former close friend. It was EXPENSIVE and I regret it because we don't even talk to each other anymore lol. I spend $2500 bachelorette and wedding to just be there for 3 days for (flight, hotel, outings, gift, transportation, and I had to do my own hair and makeup). I don't recommend it for unless your friend is worth it.
belintuchiha 16th-May-2019 01:35 am (UTC)

Weddings as a whole are a scam. Cancel it.

dior_chic 16th-May-2019 11:15 am (UTC)
Honestly lmao

ah0000 16th-May-2019 01:41 am (UTC)

Even with a registry I’m always stuck on how much to spend. Do I only get the pot, or do I also donate to the baby fund? But how much do I put in? I hate these questions.

lil_poisonfrog 16th-May-2019 02:17 am (UTC)
People have baby funds for their weddings now?? Isn't that what the baby shower is for like wtf??
sglitzys 16th-May-2019 01:48 am (UTC)
I prefer gift registry because those things are what the couple needs. However with Vietnamese weddings I still feel obligated to give red envelope because they collect that the table when you sign in or at the seating table when couple make rounds for drinks. Weddings are just to expensive in general.
shortysc22 16th-May-2019 02:04 am (UTC)
Where I live in the US, it's common to give gifts only at the bridal shower and it's customary to give cash/check to the actual wedding
daynr 16th-May-2019 09:07 pm (UTC)
where do you live?
hallyujah 16th-May-2019 02:20 am (UTC)
I give $150 if I go by myself and $200 if I bring a plus one. I'm trying not to make more friends because I'm cheap lol
lil_poisonfrog 16th-May-2019 02:26 am (UTC)
In contrast, South Koreans distribute invitation cards to hundreds or even thousands of people. They do not know who will actually come to their wedding.

This sounds like a fucking nightmare tbh lol

I've only been able to make it to a couple weddings so far in my life, but both times I bought items off the registry based on what I could afford.

Tbh I don't even think ppl should have registries if they aren't a young couple that's newly graduated or just entering the workforce and could use the help. If you're in your 30s and already bought a house or sth it's tacky imo. In that case I'd be giving a $25 Target gift card and that's it lol. Ok maybe I'd contribute to a honeymoon fund. But the point of a wedding shouldn't be to recoup the costs of the wedding -_-

If I ever get married I'm 100% eloping. Fuck my family tbh LOL jk I'd probably do a small reception-like gathering some time afterward. I wouldn't ask for gifts, but maybe a donation to a charity instead.

Edited at 2019-05-16 02:37 am (UTC)
chibi_rei 16th-May-2019 04:21 am (UTC)
The thing about not knowing who comes, though, is that the majority of these weddings take place at wedding halls. They are multi-story buildings that have maybe 2-3 banquet halls/chapels on each floor. The ceremonies take maybe 30-45 minutes, they go out, the staff clean up, and the next ones start.

There's a buffet/dining hall in the basement where multiple weddings' guests eat (you only get a meal ticket if you give a cash gift BTW), and the couple comes down after the ceremony to walk around and say "hi/thanks for coming"

So yeah still stressful, but like it's not like they are worrying about catering per se.
premonitioner 16th-May-2019 02:31 am (UTC)
I think the cash system is better since the new couple won't be in debt from their wedding and depending on how many people attend, they might even have spending money for beginning their marriage. However I'm not cool with sending invites out to everyone on your Facebook list, in your apartment building, and in your company. Don't be an asshole.
vintage_boom 16th-May-2019 02:34 am (UTC)
I have a personal policy to not go to any bougie/black tie weddings that require me to buy new clothes, any pre-wedding parties/showers unless I'm super super close to the couple, or destination weddings where I front my own costs. Gifts I give are money no matter the culture, whether they have a registry or not unless told explicitly to get something from the registry and it's usually the cost of the meal + $50 since I don't drink, if it's an open bar I'd prob cover my drinks/meal + $50.

I actually love everything I've read about Korean weddings, except the mass invites, because they are efficient, low pressure, and like 90 mins max.

Edited at 2019-05-16 02:35 am (UTC)
lil_poisonfrog 16th-May-2019 02:44 am (UTC)
I don't think I'd ever go to a destination wedding either unless the couple paid for all of my travel expenses. Bc even if I had money to burn it's like...I'm basically paying for a vacation except not really bc I have to go to a wedding and mingle with ppl I don't know/don't like lol. Luckily no one in my family so far has had the nerve to plan one

Edited at 2019-05-16 02:45 am (UTC)
scionofawhisper 16th-May-2019 02:47 am (UTC)
"South Koreans distribute invitation cards to hundreds or even thousands of people" wow, wat. Thousands. Of. Ppl. Do they send an invite to every person they've said hi to in their life, lmao.

Most of the time I go to weddings I'm the one tagging along so I don't have to worry about any of this stuff, lol. But they've all had registries usually at one store where the store helps take care of it and makes sure no one buys a duplicate, so everyone just goes there and buys something off the list and maybe adds something if they want.

chibi_rei 16th-May-2019 04:17 am (UTC)
Some people quite literally invite everyone they know. I went to one or two co-worker's weddings who I didn't know at all but other people in my department did so I was like "sure why not". It's very lax in that regard. We went to the principal's son's wedding and like... didn't watch the ceremony at all. We just went to the buffet/dining hall, and said congrats after.
markama 16th-May-2019 03:18 am (UTC)
I feel stressed just by reading the article
nana_the_dwarf 16th-May-2019 03:37 am (UTC)
The best weddings I’ve attended have always been low key affairs were the couple decided not to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for one party and instead decided to use that money for their actual lives.

I’ve never understood how people even go into debts just to throw a party when they then end up divorced three years after anyway.
mntsuklaa 16th-May-2019 03:40 am (UTC)
The whole "is it appropriate to ask for cash gifts" question comes up semi-regularly in the wedding shaming group I'm in and there're so many people who get so mad even at the mere suggestion of cash only weddings, it's ridiculous.
If a couple has been living together for a long time before getting married there's no need to get a registry since they've probably already bought toasters and stake knives and don't really need anything.

Honestly I haven't really been to weddings, 3 of my cousins got married somewhere between '09 and '12 and I didn't bring anything to any of them because I went with my dad. I just assumed he handled the gifting lol.
If I got an invitation to a wedding now I'd probably give the couple anywhere between 100-200€ depending how close I am with them.
chibi_rei 16th-May-2019 04:15 am (UTC)
I went to a number of weddings in Korea. Almost all people I knew well though we weren't always very close so I don't know if I ever gave over 30,000 won to most people. Even at my closest friend's wedding I didn't give a lot (maybe 70,000 won?) because I didn't live in Korea at the time so I flew over specifically to attend his wedding.
wafflesnmilk 16th-May-2019 04:47 am (UTC)
I usually only get invited(and go) to weddings of people who are at least friends since any less than that there isn’t really any relationship to preserve or damage anyway.

I give $88~1088 depending on closeness/wedding location etc etc and usually they are held in hotel with fancy course meals and not buffet so most of the time I’m getting my money worth at the very least. I also find weddings in general a great place to network lol, you already have a mutual connection, you and the guests are usually relaxed so it’s pleasant all around. Plus it gives me an excuse to dress up a bit and bring out the glam pieces
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