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[Op-Ed] Superintendent’s Wedding `Invitations`

Posted April. 27, 2009 03:31,   


“We two people are about to form a family. Please come and congratulate us.” Koreans rarely receive a wedding invitation printed on a simple white card conveying such a simple message these days. Trendy wedding invitations are now luxurious and elegant from the envelope to the card, utilizing bright colors and high quality paper. The ribbon tying the envelope looks decorative to the point of excess. An e-mail invitation often contains the would-be couple’s wedding photos and videos taken in advance plus their love story. Companies that specialize in sending such invitations, including photos in text messages sent to the mobile handsets of invitees, are growing in number and popularity.

Sending and receiving wedding invitations and presenting a monetary gift in a white envelope are a time-honored Korean tradition in which people try to help each other and celebrate together. This can be considered “gye,” or a group with the purpose of gathering mutual savings under which people support each other when needing big money to hold major events. Certain people, however, consider such an invitation a bill, especially when getting a wedding invitation from a person to whom they feel they must offer a monetary gift due to business relations. To the working class, May is an expensive month due to Children’s Day, Parents’ Day and Teachers’ Day as well as weddings.

Na Keun-hyung, superintendent of the Incheon Metropolitan Office of Education, sent invitations to his son’s wedding to thousands of people, including principals and vice principals at public schools in the port city. Moreover, he even tried to mobilize dozens of staff as guides and receptionists at the wedding hall, which has put him under fire. He tried to justify his behavior with the excuse, “Because it was difficult for me to sort out the invitees, I sent invitations to all principals and vice principals.” What a lame excuse. Given the controversy and heavy scrutiny over his action, he received no financial gifts at the wedding.

Enacted in 2003, the Civil Servant Code of Conduct says government officials cannot receive financial gifts at congratulatory events above a certain amount. The code does not completely ban the granting and taking of such gifts, however. Yet for the most part, most elected officials and high-level appointees neither receive nor give financial gifts in events such as weddings and funerals either voluntarily or under pressure. A growing number of ordinary people are also shunning putting a receptionist booth for collecting monetary gifts at such events, even if they have no officials as relatives. The superintendent was wrong to send wedding invitations to all schools under his jurisdiction, especially when he more than anyone else is supposed set an example.

Editorial Writer Gwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)