Pay Heed to the Trivial

For the past 10 years of my career as a marital counselor, many meaningful memories flash through my mind.

Throughout my career, dealing with numerous interracial marriage cases, I always felt that the cultural differences between those partners impacted them profoundly and powerfully.

My very first foreign patient was a beautiful young American lady with bright blue eyes and shiny blond hair who came to me for counseling. In expressing her hardships, she started to cry. Reminiscing, she told me that she had fallen in love with a young charming Korean man back in the United States and, at last, they decided to tie the knot and move to Korea.

However, things didn't work out well. Her prince charming was the eldest son of a prestigious and traditional family in Korea, and his family wanted to hold the largest and grandest wedding ceremony for their precious son.

When his bride's parents came to Korea to meet his parents for the first time before the wedding, the groom's parents invited them to dinner at the most luxurious Chinese restaurant in a five-star hotel. They ordered the most expensive full-course meal for them. It was the Korean way of being polite as the hosts of the dinner. Unfortunately, the bride's parents felt that their hosts had ignored them by not asking them what they wanted. The bride's parents felt uncomfortable.

After dinner, the bride was upset and started to complain about dinner. But the groom could not understand why she was so angry. He knew that they had served her family with great honor by Korean standards - the most expensive dinner at the restaurant.

However, it was totally different from American standards. The bride's parents felt they should have been asked if there was any food they disliked or preferred before they ordered. The expensive meal came with abalone and octopus, which while being a favorite of Koreans, were hated by the bride's parents.

It was a trivial conflict between the bride and groom and yet it was only the beginning. On their honeymoon, things got worse. As the eldest son in a prestigious Korean family, the groom naturally thought that he had to and, in fact, wanted to live with his parents after marriage. The bride, a typical American girl from New York, had expected the couple to live independently from both their parents since they were adults. His duty as the eldest son made the groom insist that they live together with his parents. But this bride with blue eyes and fair hair could not stand the stifling life at her parents-in-law's house, which even Korean women want to avoid. These were the reasons why she came to me, laid bare her heart and burst into tears.

The trivial may not be so trivial anymore when it comes to the cultural gap. We should not ignore its importance even when it seems trivial at the beginning, because it could develop into a serious matter in the future. As the Korean proverb goes, "Raindrops will become the water of a river."

*Dr. Park is a psychiatrist and director of Dr. Park's Psychiatric Clinic for Foreigners. He is the author of two bestsellers in Korea: "Lover's marry after you have fought" and "Finding yourself in Love." E-mail him at

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