Business The best gift at an Asian wedding? An envelope with cash

The best gift at an Asian wedding? An envelope with cash

The best gift at an Asian wedding?  An envelope with cash

When I received the invitation to my friends Jiyeon Kim and Olof Norlander’s wedding this year, I knew exactly where to get their wedding gift: at the bank.

They had already been married in Uppsala, Sweden, where they live, but Kim’s father wanted the newlyweds to hold a second ceremony in Changwon, South Korea, where he had spent years attending the weddings of his friends’ and children’s children. coworkers.

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As is the tradition, he gave the couple envelopes with cash, which in Korean is known as chug-ui-geum, or congratulations money. Having a wedding in South Korea would not only allow you to share a joyful event with your family and friends, but also recoup the cost of the event with cash gifts as compensation from the attendees.

“We can’t deny that the cash surplus was one of the good outcomes of the wedding,” said Kim, 32, who held her second ceremony in May.

Weddings are in full swing at this time of year, and it has long been a custom in Asia to present the bride and groom with cash instead of gifts listed. In South Korea, guests give their envelopes of money to a designated friend or family member upon arrival at the reception. In exchange, they receive a food voucher that entitles them to enter the wedding banquet, and the amount they give is discreetly recorded on a list. Guests who cannot attend have the option to transfer money to the newlyweds’ bank account number on the invitation.

Although it has become increasingly common in the United States for couples to ask for money when they get married, it’s still rare for American bride and groom to include only money on their gift list, said Emily Forrest, director of communications at Zola, a website who is in charge of managing the gift lists.

Nobu Nakaguchi, co-founder of Zola, said he noticed cultural differences in gift giving when he got married in 2005. Nakaguchi had a Roman Catholic wedding in the United States and a Buddhist wedding in Japan. According to him, it was an amazing experience to receive cash at her wedding in Japan because many Americans believe that giving money away is not a good thing.

“If we go to an Asian country, like Japan or Korea, the normal thing is that the gift is cash,” said Nakaguchi, 48. “I don’t think we in the United States are fully ready for that.”

Despite long-standing customs of gifting money, in many Asian countries it was considered a cultural taboo to talk about expectations about money, said Lee Eun-hee, a professor of consumer sciences at Inha University in South Korea.

“Although cash gifts are expected and desired, our culture prohibits us from specifying what we want,” she said, noting that this is why etiquette dictates that money be put in envelopes.

This dichotomy has given rise to an enriching dialogue around the etiquette rules for giving money at Asian weddings. Does a gift have to be equal to the cost of the banquet food? How do you put a numerical value on friendship? Here are some unwritten rules about how money gifts work at Asian weddings.

Mengqi Wang, an assistant professor of anthropology at Duke Kunshan University who has had two weddings in China, called both experiences great occasions that were not intended to prove anything about her or her relationship with her husband. In large part, Wang felt compelled to have these ceremonies because she knew they were important rituals for her parents.

“We don’t keep the money,” she said of the cash gifts that ultimately went to her parents. “I don’t even know how much money my parents received.”

Although weddings in Asia are becoming less traditional, parents have a fundamental participation in the preparations for the event and in making financial decisions because they are almost always the ones who pay for it. It is common for parents to decide how much of the congratulations money the newlyweds keep.

This is why, in a Korean wedding, the father is called “hon-ju,” or owner of the wedding. Many Korean couples devise with their parents a system in which they keep a specific part of the money. However, when money may be a point of contention, some brides appoint a “gabang-sooni,” or bag attendant, to collect the money in private rather than at the reception.

Gift money should never be seen. To prevent this, many Asian cultures have special envelopes for the occasion. In South Korea, only crisp, new banknotes should be presented, stacked front-facing, in a white envelope with the donor’s name written vertically.

In Japan, the shugi-bukuro, or congratulatory money envelope, was traditionally made by hand in red and white, but can now be purchased in a variety of colors. In many Chinese cultures, the envelope most associated with Lunar New Year, the “hong-bao,” is famous for its red color. Since the money is given for various occasions, including funerals, Asian wedding attendees must ensure that the correct envelope is given.

Sending money via bank transfer or electronically via digital envelopes on messaging apps like WeChat and KakaoTalk is now also accepted.

Kim, who has attended weddings in Europe and Asia, said she had a much harder time deciding how much to contribute to a wedding in Sweden since customs are different there.

Although everywhere the gift depends on our relationship and social situation, in Asia there is almost always a socially accepted formula for giving gifts that takes into account a variety of factors, including beliefs about lucky numbers and power. in relationships.

In Japan, where the average “goshugi” (or money envelope) given at an auspicious event ranges from 30,000 yen ($211) to 50,000 yen ($350), it is generally understood that a very A junior or college student should contribute 10,000 yen ($70), while superiors in the workplace and older family members should aim to reach the top of that range or more.

The general recommendation from Korean blogs and society reports is that we ask ourselves these questions to understand what a close relationship entails: Is the person inviting you a co-worker? Did you just get the invitation on your phone? Does your mother know the name of that person? Would your mother’s response when hearing the person’s name be: “Oh, yes, so-and-so’s daughter”? Any answer that indicates closeness would serve to know the appropriate amount, which would typically result in a payment of 50,000 won ($39) to 100,000 won ($77), according to a survey of South Korean singles conducted in 2022.

Wang, an anthropology professor, said money given at weddings is also used to build a stronger bond, or “guanxi.”

“Wedding is one of those occasions where you can give someone a gift,” he said. “Without a special occasion, it would seem out of context. Giving a gift, a good one, is also a way of consolidating relationships”.

It is not just a currency exchange, but a credit and debt exchange, he added.

As such, the wedding gift-giving system has been abused by those in power, and governments in Asia have even tried to regulate gifts to prevent bribery and corruption. In South Korea, an anti-corruption law, the Kim Young-ran Law, has been implemented that limits the amount that can be given to public servants on various occasions, limiting cash gifts to 100,000 won at weddings. But compliance has been difficult because a separate entity would have to audit each gift presented at ceremonies.

In addition to social position and proximity, conventional wisdom in Asia says that the cost of the banquet food must be taken into account. This idea is so widespread in Singapore that dozens of websites list how much a table costs at most of the country’s major hotels.

Michelle Tay, editor of Singapore Brides, says that while she encourages readers to pay as much ang bao (the Hokkien dialect expression for red envelope) as they can, many people like to have a rough estimate of how much others are paying by looking first the prices indicated on the spot.

“Every half year or so, venues will adjust their banquet prices based on rising costs,” Tay said. “This indirectly puts people under pressure to pay more when they check ang bao guides that are updated with the new rates.”

Lee, the consumer science professor, is often contacted by Korean media organizations to offer her recommendations on how much to pay for a wedding. She said her rule of thumb was always: “Find the place where the couple will get married. Look how much a meal costs there. And if you won’t cover the price of your dish, it’s better not to go and send them an electronic transfer of 50,000 won.”

Since many Asian cultures have superstitions surrounding money, it might be wise to check what numbers are considered lucky for the wedding in question. In South Korea, the number four is considered unlucky because of its resemblance to the symbol used to represent death. In Japan, you have to be careful with any sum of money divisible by two because it can be separated easily. In China, values ​​ending in eight are preferred because of their association with wealth and prosperity.

Wang commented that her mother’s principle was always: “You should remember how much that person gave you to reciprocate, but never the amount of equal value. It should not look like a commercial transaction. Make a return where you add a little more to indicate that you want to continue to be in a relationship with that person.”

Her mother’s advice also carried a warning: “If you contribute much more, this may come across as arrogance.”

When she’s not sure how much to contribute in China, Wang calls her friends to compare views.

“If we lived in a very closed community, everyone would know where they stand and how much to contribute, but the reality is that we are always on the go,” he explained. That applies as much when someone tries to put a figure on a wedding gift, when expressing condolences at a funeral (which in many Asian countries also involves giving a cash gift) or when choosing the gift for a party for the arrival of a baby.

In some ways, “it’s no different than what’s happening in the United States,” Nakaguchi said. People remember what the guests spent at their wedding and try to reciprocate in the same way or better.


Source: NYT Espanol

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