[Q&A] Korean wedding customs: do brides give a lot of money for grooms?

Dowry Korean wedding customs bride's family money to groom's familyIs it tradition in South Korea for woman’s family to pay large dowry when couple gets married, even if the bride is a foreigner, one of our readers is wondering.

 

Missy asked:

I am surprised to read when a Korean couple married, the bride family have to fork out certain amount of money to the groom and it seems like a lot.

May I know if Asians or foreigner marry a Korean guy, do they have to follow the customs as well? What if the bride’s family background are financially lower than the groom? How would the groom family be reacting about this? Can they still get married with the groom family support? :(

Well, if you can’t afford this particular husband, you either have to find a cheaper one, or wait for this one to be on sale (you can get best prices after they’re 35).

I kid, of course.

I assume you are talking about dowry. Traditionally, Korean weddings had elaborate gifting system. By elaborate I mean it made my head spin when Kimchi Man tried to explain it. There were the gifts given to close family of the groom, gifts for the bride, gifts for bride’s family, gifts from the bride’s family to the groom’s friends, gifts of food and wine between the families, and gifts that went back and forth between the families, upgrading on each pass.

The part you are interested in, the gifts given by bride’s family to the groom and his family, are called ‘yedan’ (예단) in Korean. Traditionally, the groom’s family would present the bride with fine silk. She would then personally make it into garments and send them back to her groom’s parents. As an appreciation for her hard work, they would in turn send money. With time, yedan changed its meaning to mean any gift sent to the groom’s family by bride’s family. In the past it only consisted of goods, most commonly a silver spoon set, chopstick set and luxurious bedding; but in recent times, presents commonly include money. As I mentioned before, that is only a small part of gifting which goes both ways.

Another option is for the groom to supply the place to live while the bride supplies the furnishings.

Some families consider it too much a hassle and too a perfect opportunity to cause inter-family feuds, so they agree to forgo it all.

If it was as you say, that bride’s family HAS to give a large amount of money, then poor people, people whose parents have passed away, and people who don’t believe in tradition would never get married in Korea. So the short answer would be that it depends on the situation and the opinions of particular people involved. It seems concerning for your coming marriage that you would turn to us with this question, rather than ask your future husband.

On a different, but related note, I would like to address many foreigners who wonder, like you, if not being Korean exempts them from following Korean customs. Koreans are rather understanding of foreigners and are ready to give them great leeway when it comes to Korean etiquette. However, let’s not forget that customs and etiquette are not just remnants of old times when people had nothing better to do than to create intricate social hoops to jump through in order to make their internetless time pass faster. Customs and etiquette are there to make the everyday interactions of people run as smooth and frictionless as possible. Imagine if you had to make up on your own, thousands of times a day in every minor social interaction, what to do to make the other person feel respected and appreciated. This is what famous Miss Manners had to say about it:

You can deny all you want that there is etiquette, and a lot of people do in everyday life. But if you behave in a way that offends the people you’re trying to deal with, they will stop dealing with you…

While someone who is merely passing through, should not worry about Korean customs and will still find it easy to be comfortable among hospitable Koreans, those that plan spending their life in Korea should resolve to follow the customs while keeping in mind that no etiquette rule is part of the law and can always be adjusted or left out simply by discussing it with all those involved.

- Oegukeen

 

Do you have experience with Korean wedding customs and giving money as gifts? Did you ever meet a Korean bride who had to pay money she didn’t have to groom’s family?

 

 
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16 thoughts on “[Q&A] Korean wedding customs: do brides give a lot of money for grooms?

  1. In our situation we just worked out it was best for his family to pay and organize our wedding in Korea and my family pay and organize our wedding in Australia. Me being a foreigner came into that decision also the fact that we are living in Australia, not in Korea. Worked out really well for us.

      • Yeah, it’s interesting, his family live in a small town in a rural area so you’d assume maybe they’d be very conservative and not like their son marrying a non Korean, but from the beginning they have welcomed me lovingly and been very understanding.

        • I had very similar experience with my boyfriend’s parents.

          After reading online about the dreaded Korean parents I was petrified in the beginning of our relationship. But after a few months I was starting to think: “Hey, wait just a minute, nothing happened like they said it would.” It’s actually one of the reasons why I started the blog. I felt the need to let people know I had a positive experience.

  2. Hi, Oegukeen. ^^ I am a Filipina married to a Korean. My husband and his family never asked or expected me to follow this dowry tradition. I’m not sure if it’s because I am a foreigner, or because we live with my in-laws (though the house is under my husband’s name). My two sisters-in-law had to provide the furnishings and their families had to give a certain amount of money to “the couple” to help them start a life together.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

      Was it only your sisters-in-law’s families who had to give money, or did their husband’s side of the family also provide something?

      • My husband’s eldest brother had to provide the house (Actually, my in-laws gave him the house.); hubby’s twin brother put up his own business, so he can earn more money for his rich wife. ^^

          • I found out about this whole dowry thing only after I got married here in Korea. That was 10 months after I came here to live with my husband. I was just told by a co-teacher who was getting married that time. I asked my husband about it and he said if I had been a Korean, my Korean family would have given some money to us or provided furniture for the house. ^^

          • I asked him, “Do I have to do that now?”… he said it doesn’t matter… it’s not a tradition in my country.

            As husband and wife, we are saving money from both our salaries, though, so that we can buy a new house. We plan to move out soon.

  3. Wow! Thank you Oegukeen! That was really a good post and I am delighted to see replies from various readers!
    I will keep that in mind! ^^

  4. We are both happy to hear back from you.

    And it’s very sweet of you to be so considerate. But the amount of time it took to write the Korean emoticons post traumatized me so much that every other post feels like a breeze ^^

    I hope the post helped and wish you good luck.

  5. I did have to pay yedan, which gave my MIL bragging rights (my daughter-in-law may be American, but she still gave me yedan!), but she also spent pretty much the entire amount on furniture for our new house.

    I also think that following the traditions helped a lot to create a harmonious relationship with my in-laws, a luxury I know not all foreigners married to Korean men have.

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