An Etiquette Primer for Attending Your First Korean Funeral (in America)

If you have to attend the funeral of Korean individual, then it's important that you understand some of the unique etiquette issues that are involved in Korean funeral services. You don't want to show up unprepared or, worse, commit a breach of etiquette (such as having red flowers delivered). So, this brief guide will help you with the basics of the Korean funeral.

Dress Appropriately

Dress as you would for most funerals. This means a black or dark colored suit for men, and dark suits or dresses for women. If you've never been to a Korean funeral and have searched around online for dress styles, you might have seen that some people wear elaborate white outfits. This is not what you, as a guest, should concern yourself with. These white outfits are very traditional and are not meant to be worn by the guests. While white is the traditional color of mourning in Asia, the western influence has made dark colors appropriate.

Envelope and Guest Book

At many Korean funerals, there will be a collection of empty white envelopes. Guests are expected to provide a small sum of money (to help cover the cost of the funeral) and write their name in Korean. Don't worry if you cannot write in Korean. If the envelopes are present, you can simply place your donation and sign the envelop vertically. You should also sign the guest book. This practice, while very common in traditional Korean funerals, might not be used during a U.S.-based Korean funeral, but you should be aware of what the envelopes are for should the family put them out.

Incense or Candle and Bow

You will also see either incense or candles near the photo of the deceased. It is customary to light the incense or candles. If the person was Buddhist, then you will see incense. If they were Christian, you will see candles. It is customary to light the candle or incense and then bow to the portrait of the deceased.

The Right Color Flowers

Finally, you don't want to make a major breach of etiquette and pick the wrong color flowers. The main thing you want to avoid are red flowers. In Korea, as in most of Asia, red is the color for weddings and other celebrations. So steer clear of red roses, carnations, and other red flowers. Instead, you are going to want to stick to white flowers. The most popular type of white flower for Korean funerals are white chrysanthemums.

You will often see large white chrysanthemums in a wreath display, as well as loose chrysanthemums in a vase from which funeral attendees can take one flower and place it before a photo of the deceased.

While white chrysanthemums are the most common flowers, you could also choose to go with classic white lilies. Check out florists' websites like to see your options.