When my friends Jiyeon Kim and Olof Norlander invited me to their wedding, I knew exactly what their gift would be: cash. In South Korea, it is customary to give money instead of gifts for weddings. Jiyeon’s father wanted them to have a second ceremony in South Korea, where he could share the joy with his family and offset the costs of the event with cash gifts from attendees. The surplus in money was seen as a positive outcome of the wedding.
Weddings are a peak season for such gift-giving in Asia. In South Korea, guests give envelopes of cash to an appointed person upon arriving at the reception. In return, they receive a meal ticket that grants them entrance to the banquet, and the amount given is discreetly recorded. Guests who cannot attend have the option to wire money to the couple’s bank account. Although it is becoming more popular in the United States for couples to ask for cash, it is still uncommon for American couples to have a cash-only registry.
Cultural differences in gift-giving were observed by Nobu Nakaguchi, a co-founder of a wedding registry website, when he got married. He had both a Roman Catholic wedding in the United States and a Buddhist wedding in Japan. Americans generally believe that giving cash is tacky, whereas in Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, receiving cash is expected. However, discussing expectations about money is still considered taboo in Asian countries.
Various unwritten rules govern the etiquette of giving cash at Asian weddings. When parents are primarily responsible for the wedding, they often determine how much of the cash gifts the couple gets to keep. Gift money is never physically seen, but rather presented in specially designed envelopes. In Japan, a specific amount is socially accepted based on factors such as age and the relationship with the couple. The cost of the banquet meal is also factored into the amount given in some cultures.
The purpose of giving cash extends beyond mere monetary exchange. It is a way to cement relationships and establish stronger bonds. However, the wedding gift-giving system has also been exploited by people in power, leading to attempts by governments to regulate gifts to prevent corruption. In Singapore, the cost of the banquet meal is often considered when determining the amount of cash to give.
In conclusion, cash is the preferred gift for weddings in South Korea and other Asian countries. While there are unwritten rules and customs surrounding the amount given, it ultimately reflects the relationship between the giver and the couple. The purpose is not just a monetary exchange, but also to establish and strengthen bonds.