Korea Herald reporter Choi Jae-hee poses for a photo with a bride as she works as a bogus guest at a wedding in Gangnam, Seoul, on Saturday. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)
She smiled, thanked me for being there, and gave me a hug that surprisingly wasn’t awkward considering it was my first time meeting the bride.
At 15,000 won ($ 12.60) for an hour and a half, I was hired to be her friend on her wedding day.
My first job as a professional friend to hire began with a brief job posting on a Kakaotalk group chat room.
âHong Min-jung. 30. Work as a XXX in a XXX company in the XXX province of XXX. Wedding November 27 at 12:30 p.m. at XXX in Gangnam. I am looking for a maximum of 10 friends. If you are interested, do not hesitate to give us a call. (The name has been changed and other personal data has been removed to protect the privacy of the client and the employer.)
âPlease send your name, bank account number, name of the wedding venue and photos with the bride to the agency, as proof of the work done. You will receive 15,000 won in less than an hour.
I applied with a brief CV containing my photo, age and other personal information and got the job three days before her wedding.
There were a few ground rules I had to follow for this job: (1) I had to take pictures with her in the bride’s waiting room before the wedding; (2) I had to participate in a group photoshoot after the ceremony; (3) I was not allowed to speak to members of the bride’s immediate family and (4) I could NOT forget or confuse the bride’s name.
|wedding guests. (Albamon) / A screenshot of an open chat room on KakaoTalk set up by a company, which recruited fake guests for Min-jung’s wedding on Saturday in which a company official gives work instructions part-time workers. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)” categoryid=”9900000000000000″ src=”http://res.heraldm.com/content/image/2021/12/02/20211202000853_0.jpg”/>|
A screenshot of the posts on Albamon, one of the nation’s largest job search sites, recruiting part-time workers interested in working as bogus wedding guests. (Albamon) / A screenshot of an open chat room on KakaoTalk set up by a company, which recruited fake guests for Min-jung’s wedding on Saturday in which a company official gives work instructions part-time workers. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)
Friendship for the show
About 30 minutes before the ceremony, at a cafe near the wedding venue, I met the other cast members of today’s show – 9 other fake guests for Min-jung. We were joined by a manager on site sent by the agency who hired us for her.
âLet’s break into three groups each with different concepts: work colleagues, old college friends, and high school buddies,â the woman said.
As I was the age of the bride, I was assigned to the high school group of friends, along with two other fake guests in my twenties.
When it was time I walked into the waiting room and saw the bride for the first time. She was with her real friends and family, or so it seemed to me.
A moment later, Minjung and I were talking, as if we had known each other for years. We posed for photos with our arms crossed, exchanging warm smiles and chatter.
A real company
Hiring guests to occupy seats at weddings has been around in Korea since the early 2000s. It has since been extended to a variety of other family occasions, ranging from first birthdays to funerals.
Search for âwedding guest rentalsâ on Naver, Korea’s largest portal site, and you get a long list of service providers across the country.
The cost of hiring a guest through an agency is between 20,000 and 30,000 won per person.
âIt’s 29,000 won per person. We have a pool of experienced part-time employees. We guarantee complete confidentiality, âsaid an employee of an agency when asked.
Screenshots of the KakaoTalk conversation between Choi and a local agency hiring fake guests for the brides. (Choi Jae-hee / The Korea Herald)
The manager went on to say that, if the client wishes, the hired guests will give cash gifts in the exact amount that they will send no later than two days before the wedding, in order to completely convince even the client’s closest relatives. It is customary at Korean weddings for guests to give envelopes filled with money to the couple as a gift.
The company, as well as the entire wedding industry, has been hit hard by the protracted COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions on private gatherings.
But things are looking up after the government relaxed the rules as part of its “living with COVID-19” campaign on November 1.
As for the actors, the attraction of the profession, despite its frugal remuneration barely above the minimum wage, seems to be that it is a weekend job and that it offers a good meal. The minimum hourly wage this year is 8,720 won.
I spent about an hour and a half at the wedding, had a meal at the buffet restaurant in the basement of the wedding hall, and was paid 15,000 won.
Song, 29, who was on the “High School Buddies” team with me and introduced herself as a graduate student residing in Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul, said she won a total of 60,000 won. in November, attending four weddings.
âSome couples hire directly through online communities related to wedding planning by posting a recruitment notice,â she said. Executive hires that bypass the dispatch agency usually offer a higher salary.
Another tip from Song: if you are chosen to catch the bouquet, you earn an additional 3,000 won.
Lie to save face
After the wedding ceremony, the guests settled into a huge banquet hall downstairs.
Soon the newly married couple began to have round tables where the guests were seated.
âThanks for coming, girls. Let’s get together when I get back from my honeymoon, âMin-jung said, while introducing ourselves as high school friends to his parents and friends at the same table.
Perhaps this moment was more important than our brief appearance in the waiting room in front of only a few people. Almost all the seats were occupied and the noise of chatting guests filled the room. The marriage was shaping up to be a success.
After my one-day visit, I spoke with a sociology professor. What keeps this role-playing business going?
âIn Confucian cultures like Korea and Japan, the chemyeon (social face) translates into a strong emphasis on positive reputation, honor or dignity in terms of interpersonal relationships. This is all donated by others, âsaid Yoon In-jin, professor of sociology at Korea University.
In addition, the sense of community is deeply rooted in traditional Korean culture. Thus, older generations are more used to a large wedding attended by many guests, which places a burden on the bride and groom, Yoon said.
Shortly after leaving the wedding hall, I received a message from the agency.
âThe payment has been sent. The next wedding ceremony is scheduled for December 12 in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province. Text us if you’re interested.
By Choi Jae-hee ([email protected])