One of the most unique aspects of a culture is the way that culture mourns for its dead. Today is the day we’ll learn about Korean funerals and the way Koreans mourn for the dead. First let’s learn the word for “funeral”. The word for “funeral” is 장례식 in Korean. The actual place in which the funeral is held is “장례식장” in Korean. Typically men will wear a black suit with a white collared shirt. The men who are close relatives of the deceased person will often also wear an arm band. The women who are relatives of the deceased family will often wear a black 한복 (traditional Korean dress for women) or a modern black dress.
Even if you’re just attending the funeral as an observer, it’s considered polite not to wear anything flashy or revealing. Black is the most suitable color to wear for this occasion, and many women do not put makeup on their faces. As an observer of a funeral, it’s also considered polite to bring some condolence money for the family of the deceased person. This money is called 조의금. The amount of money depends on your relationship to the family or the deceased person. The closer you are/were to the deceased individual or family of the deceased, the more you should pay.
As an observer of a Korean funeral, you’re considered a guest of the family. Therefore as a guest, you’ll be escorted into a hall or large room where a table of food is set for guests. Even if this room is a social setting, it’s still a funeral, so it’s a good idea to refrain from making inappropriate jokes or badmouthing the food/family etc. Since guests at a Korean funeral are usually treated to a meal, you can think of the condolence money as a small payment for the meal/services. Also, sometimes funerals can be expensive, so the condolence money may be used to pay for part of any unexpected funeral costs.
The main hall of the funeral is the actual room of the funeral. When you enter the hall, you can either light an incense stick or lay a white flower next to a framed photograph of the deceased person. Then you must bow two and a half times in front of the photograph. In other cultures, sometimes the body of the deceased is presented so that well wishers can go up to the body and see the person’s face for the last time. In Korean funerals, the body is not presented because the family of the deceased usually find it too disturbing. After your bows, take some time to say a few words like, “상심이 크겠어요” (You must be heartbroken)” to the family of the deceased, as words of comfort.