Marriage, Korean Style


SEOUL, South Korea — When two young television stars called it quits only 12 days after their wedding recently, their very public and acrimonious divorce shined a rare spotlight on the underside of marriage in South Korea.

Lying in a hospital bed with a broken nose, Lee Min-young accused her husband, Lee Chan, of domestic violence, causing much hand-wringing in the country’s news media and blogosphere. But as accusations and counteraccusations flew, an equally heated debate arose over another reason cited in the breakup: wedding gifts.

According to accounts in the media, the bridegroom’s father said he received a gold-plated spoon among the gifts from the bride’s family, but he said he merited at least a silver spoon. The bride’s mother, in turn, complained bitterly that her daughter deserved to live in a more spacious apartment than the one chosen by the bridegroom.

The divorce shows that these days, perhaps more than ever, choosing the right wedding gifts for the new in-laws is fraught with pitfalls in South Korea. Misjudgments can lead to strained relations between the families or, at its extreme, a quick divorce.

Traditionally, the bridegroom, or his family, was expected to provide the newlyweds a home that the bride and her family were expected to furnish. A bride’s dowry was compensation for being taken care of for the rest of her life. Nowadays, changes like the rising status of women, the country’s growing wealth and, not least, skyrocketing real estate prices, have complicated matters. Source

Filiality to one’s parents (particular a son to his parents) remains an intense Confucian virtue in Korea. And ah yes, those skyrocketing real estates prices seems a constant source of tension in Korean society:

The current real estate bubble in Seoul has also increased the burden for today’s bridegroom. The selection of an apartment that is not up to the standards of what the bride or her family had expected — as was the case with the actress’s mother — can lead to recriminations.

“If the bridegroom’s family is affluent but does not buy an apartment for the newlyweds and just rents one instead, that can cause problems,” Ms. Kim said. “That means they chose not to buy one, and gifts from the bride’s family must be adjusted accordingly.”

Renting is not easy, either. In South Korea, instead of monthly rents, landlords usually demand a large lump sum of money that is returned at the end of a two-year lease.

In Sanbon, a suburb of Seoul popular among newlyweds, renting a typical apartment smaller than 700 square feet requires a $75,000 initial payment for a two-year lease, said Kim Won-jong, a real estate agent.

The apartment that Lee Chan, the actor, had picked for his wife was more than 1,000 square feet and in a more fashionable neighborhood. The actress’s mother, however, said her daughter was worth an 1,800-square-foot apartment.

“That,” said Mr. Kim, the agent, “is a palace.”

There is a lot more in the article regarding Korean engagements and marriage. Link

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