The Korea Herald

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Koreans don’t sweat it when asking, ‘Will you marry me?’

Most Koreans already know the answer to marriage proposals, as they come after couples agree to get married.

By Park Soong-joo

Published : March 14, 2023 - 13:56

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“We’re having a June wedding, and he hasn’t proposed yet.” This oxymoronic statement is not that uncommon among Korean couples.

Weirdly enough, a proposal, which usually involves someone on his or her knee nervously asking, “Will you marry me?” has little to do with asking for a hand in marriage in Korea. More often than not, Korean brides get proposed to after all the preparations are done, sometimes only days before the wedding.

Unlike Western norms of marriage proposals, the act of “proposing” for most Koreans is more like a celebration or reaffirmation of their union -- a formality as both parties involved have already agreed upon the wedding.

Ha, 30, who’s been married almost for two years, says her husband proposed to her three days after they reserved the venue.

“On the day, I knew he was going to propose, so I came prepared with a handwritten letter. A few days later, we went to choose the dress,” recalls Ha.

Cases like Ha's are common in Korea because weddings here are still generally regarded as a union of families, not just of individuals, and the exchange of wedding gifts is a way for the families to pay courtesies to each other. Generally, engagement rings and wedding bands are part of this custom.

The scale of "yemul" and "yedan" -- wedding gifts given between the bride and groom or by the bride to the groom's family -- has been toned down in modern weddings, but they still take up a lot of wedding budgets. Therefore, people are generally hesitant to buy pricey engagement rings without the guarantee of a “yes.”

Kim, a woman in her thirties who recently got married, says she got her proposal before they started to plan the wedding. “My husband proposed to me spontaneously, but we were at the point in the relationship where we knew deep down that we would get married to one another. Still, I’m the only one who got proposed to before having made the decision among my friends,” she says.

Nowadays, even diamond rings are not required in proposals as most women don’t wear engagement rings. Instead, brides get designer handbags or other jewelry that they can make more use of. Also, when a bride receives an engagement ring or something of it, the groom gets a counterpart gift, usually a pricey watch of similar value.

Recently, criticisms have been voiced regarding people going overboard with proposals to show off on social media. Proposals at fancy suite rooms filled with expensive gifts are trending on social media, and high-end hotels are promoting "proposal packages" for couples.

Reservations for the proposal package, “Sweet Moments,” at Signiel, a six-star hotel located in Seoul, have quintupled in February, Lotte Hotel reported.

The “Sweet Moments” package starts from 1.8 million won ($1384) and it comes with a premier room, in-room dining for two, romantic decorations and cake and desserts.