I guess it's strange that after eight years in country, I went to my first Korean wedding only this past Saturday. Maybe it's because I'm 43 and destined to die alone and eaten by my cats (just kidding -- I don't own any cats!) while the prime marrying age in South Korea is definitely late 20's / early 30's (and even that's changing quickly.)
A friend, coworker, and former adult student finally tied the knot (he's a few years younger than me so, as mentioned, an older marriage) and I was happy to share in his celebration.
Anyhow, there were things I knew going in and things that genuinely surprised me.
1) Korean weddings are huge. Everybody knows that, but it isn't until you go to one that you realize how true the following cliche is -- Western marriages are between two people, Korean weddings are between two families. As best I could tell, there were at least 200 people there and many of them were standing on stage for pictures (immediate and more distant relatives, not just friends and coworkers like me).
2) Korean weddings are fast as hell. The ceremony itself was over in less than 20 minutes. Also, they typically take place in dedicated wedding halls rather than churches. So for the reception you just walk up a flight of stairs rather than drive to another hotel or restaurant. Easy peasy!
3) Korean post-wedding picture time is excruciatingly slow. I don't blame anyone for wanting quality photos of their big day, but picture time went on for almost forever (at least twice as long as the wedding itself). You've got the full on family pics, then the more immediate family shots, all the way down, finally, to bride and groom shots. And since you aren't supposed to go eat until photos are over, hundreds of people are just milling around checking their cellphones.
4) Korean wedding halls are huge. So, it's your special day? What better way to celebrate then getting married simultaneously with three or four other couples! Again, Korean weddings are fast and feel a bit less "personal" than Western weddings, but that's the way it goes. And frankly, having sat through some incredibly long Catholic weddings in America, the speed thing isn't all that awful.
5) Korean receptions are really just excuses to stuff your face. While my friend and his new wife finally made it to say hello before jetting off for their honeymoon, they didn't dine with us. I sat with another coworker from my college, and we basically helped ourselves to some decent buffet grub. At noon, it felt a bit early for beer or soju but other guests weren't deterred. I did manage to give my friend an envelope with a bit of cash inside (cash being the preferred present in South Korea, for any holiday or occasion) but it wasn't like he was sitting at the front of the room accepting congratulations from all his friends and finally relaxing after a long day. I sort of had to chase him down, honestly, almost as if (I wouldn't be surprised here) there was some sort of time restraint in place from the wedding hall itself. Again, by Western standards, very rushed and impersonal. By Korean standards? Very quick and efficient and hey, eat your third plate of buffet food and enjoy it then leave so the next wedding group can take your seats.
6) No music and no dancing. Again, by Western standards kind of austere. For Koreans? For Korean men especially? Dancing is stupid.
7) Final note, and more of a suggestion re: Korean wedding buffet lines. You're basically competing with two or three other huge groups of wedding guests from other ceremonies simultaneously. Inevitably, people get hung up on the early part of the buffet and the cheap starchy stuff like rice and pasta and salad greens. DO NOT BE THE GUY OR GAL STUCK IN THIS PART OF THE LINE. The good stuff like the fresh crab and shrimp and roast beef will be all the way in the back of the room, and you won't actually have to "cut" anybody in line because those stations were literally empty. It was my own little fresh seafood island and I can't believe I'm telling you all my secrets.
Then again, I'm here to help, as always.