If you like someone and think you might be interested in dating them, the next step is usually pretty simple: You see if they want to hang out sometime, start dating, and maybe even eventually move in together and get married. Right? However, in many countries around the world, dating rituals are far different than what we consider “normal” in the USA. Come with us on an imaginative trip around the world to explore some of the quirkiest, strangest, and sweetest dating customs from overseas. We’ll also look at how each of the countries we visit views prenuptial agreements.
If you don’t know where it is, Myanmar is a country located in Southeast Asia just north of Thailand. It’s a highly collectivist society; as such, it’s normal for people to spend their whole lives living with their parents–even after they’re married! Because of this, it can be hard for couples in Myanmar to get any privacy, so they have to find creative ways to share private moments. If couples in Myanmar want to kiss, they go to a park and bring an umbrella. Then they use the umbrella to shield them so that no one can see them kissing (Nas Daily and Dear Alyne, 2022). As you might imagine, divorce rates are very low in Myanmar and since life tends to be very communal, prenuptial agreements are not a part of their culture (Peng, N. D.)
In Japan, singles love blind dating…but with a twist: They go on blind dates in groups! The format varies but usually, a single male and a single female will each invite a few of their same-sex single friends along for a night out at a restaurant. Dating in a group is popular because it takes some of the pressure off by allowing people to feel comfortable surrounded by their friends (Wikipedia, 2022). Once at the venue, participants get to know one another and whisper to their friends about who they think is the cutest (Nas Daily and Dear Alyne, 2022). If this isn’t the most adorable way to meet someone, we don’t know what is.
Like in Myanmar, prenups are very uncommon in Japan because they are still unfortunately (falsely) viewed as divorce planning documents which undermine the lifelong commitment that is marriage. Furthermore, in some cases, the wealthier spouse would actually not want a prenup because they may be able to avoid financial disclosure and therefore divert or otherwise hide some assets in order to pay less in any potential divorce settlement (Morley, 2022).
In North Korea, there’s no internet and no freedom of movement. Most people don’t even have phones, so they cannot call or text. All this makes dating very difficult. Add on to this the fact that officially, dating is still strictly controlled by the government, especially in schools, universities, and at work. Because of this, some couples take to meeting up after dark next to a river in order to go on walks together in secret. The reason dating is so strictly controlled is because it is seen as having the potential to cause a breakdown in discipline and is viewed as a “product of capitalism” (KBS World, 2019). In the past, students who attempted to date could be suspended or even expelled from school. The only exception was a very communist style of dating: Men and women were allowed to go on a date if they agreed to work overtime together, or discuss communist ideology.
Nowadays, dating is somewhat less controlled than in the past, although the extent of freedom that exists around dating and relationships today is still unclear; little consistent information could be found online. Leader Kim Jong Un has made waves by appearing with his wife at an official event (marking the first time a Korean first lady appeared at an official event) and by even walking arm-in-arm with her. Their display of physical affection helped to usher in an era of increasingly more liberal attitudes towards dating in North Korea (KBS World, 2019).
Many couples in North Korea also meet differently than in the US: In the past, it was normal to enlist a matchmaker in order to find a partner. These days, 50% of couples have a “love marriage”, or a marriage to a partner they find themselves and fall in love with. The other 50% still go through matchmakers. In the past, people would marry almost immediately after securing a match, but nowadays half of those who use matchmakers prefer to date for some time before getting married (KBS World, 2019).
As you might imagine, North Korea is not a country in which spouses have the option of getting prenuptial agreements.
There are just over 350,000 Icelanders, and the first immigrants arrived there in the 11th century. The population has remained quite homogenous throughout the years, leading to a relatively small gene pool. If you meet a new friend–or potential romantic partner–the odds of your being related are abnormally high. However, Icelanders don’t always know who they’re related to because of their unconventional naming system. Rather than using family names (otherwise known as last names), children are given a first name plus (son/daughter of) + (father’s first name). Without last names that are carried down through families, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to identify a relative if your family wasn’t already in touch with them.
Luckily, Icelandic citizens have kept extremely detailed genealogical records throughout their time on the island, and there’s a website (The Book of Icelanders) that details how everyone is related to one another. There’s now also an app that can be used to check whether and how one is related to another Icelander. It’s often used to check whether potential romantic partners are actually unknown cousins!
As Iceland is a country with more ‘western’ sensibilities than those described above, prenuptial agreements are much more commonplace and are usually used to establish what will be separate property outside of a couple’s marital property; such property is therefore not subject to division during a divorce (Island.Is, N. D.)
South Koreans enjoy a range of quirky dating customs. For example…
-On Valentine’s day, it’s the girls who give chocolates to the guys. If the guy likes the girl back, he can give her 2x more chocolates 1 month later (OptiLingo, 2022).
-Things that might be considered cheesy or dorky in the US are actually considered cool in South Korean dating culture. Matching outfits, for example, are considered cool. So are cutesy displays of romance, like taking copious amounts of photos together, buying candy and other gifts for each other on the reg, or having dessert in a pink cafe (OptiLingo, 2022).
-Rather than celebrating anniversaries once per year, South Koreans celebrate anniversaries every 100 days. Anniversaries are a big deal in Korean dating culture; many couples will even get matching rings to commemorate anniversary milestones (OptiLingo, 2022).
In South Korea, prenups used to be reserved mostly for celebrities, but these days more and more ordinary couples are opting into them. Although they’re still not legally binding, South Korean couples are finding that prenups go a long way towards helping them prevent squabbles over money in the event of divorce, as well as providing a framework through which they can make agreements about things like housework, childcare, and settling religious disagreements (Young-ji and Jae-uk, 2015).
If you need some household items or vegetables for your dinner, the fastest and most convenient way to find what you need is to go to a market. Right? In China, marriage is no different. If you’re at an age where you’re thinking about marriage but you’re lacking a suitable partner to marry, you can find one in a marriage market! And the best part is that you don’t even have to do it yourself–your parents will do it for you! Sometimes even without your permission. In China’s marriage markets, parents and even grandparents peruse the lanes searching for the ideal partner for their children or grandchildren (Nas Daily and Dear Alyne, 2022).
If you ever walk through a marriage market, you’ll see posters showing information about all the eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. Sometimes parents or grandparents might even hold up these posters themselves for passerby to look over and potentially strike up conversation.
You might imagine that the posters are somewhat like real life versions of online dating profiles: Likes and dislikes, a funny one-liner, and a provocative bikini photo for women or shirtless photo for men. And if that’s indeed what you’d imagine, you’d be completely wrong. Instead, the posters contain detailed information about the eligible person’s educational level, employment status, significant assets they own, and year of birth and astrological sign. If the poster is for a male, he’s expected to be able to provide a house and a car before getting married.
Most people being advertised in marriage markets are between 25-30 years old. If a woman in particular passes her mid twenties without being married yet, usually by the age of 27 she’s considered a ‘leftover woman’ and it becomes imperative (at least in her family’s eyes) to find her a groom as soon as possible in order not to lose face. However, many women today are fighting back against this stigma by amassing wealth and displaying it to show that they lead good lives despite not having partners (Liu and Kozinets, 2021).
Chinese people tend to have a realistic view of the centrality of finance in marriage, and they generally do not shy away from talking about money. As such, prenuptial agreements are looked upon favorably in China. They are common and legally binding (Morley, 2022).
As you can see, North American ideas about marriage and romance are only one small sliver of the diversity in dating customs that exist. There is no one ‘right’ or ‘normal’ way to do relationships or ensure a happy marriage.
Bamidele, M. 2021. China’s Marriage Market: Where Parents Find Partners for Unmarried Children. Retrieved from: https://guardian.ng/life/chinas-marriage-market-where-parents-find-partners-for-unmarried-children/#:~:text=China’s%20largest%20marriage%20market%20is,market%20arose%20organically%20in%202004.
Buckley, C. 2018. Iceland Is so Small There’s an App That Keeps Icelanders from Dating Their Relatives. Retrieved from: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/iceland/articles/iceland-is-so-small-theres-an-app-that-keeps-icelanders-from-dating-their-relatives/
Island.IS. N. D. Financial Rights & Obligations of Married Couples. Retrieved from: https://island.is/en/couples-finances
KBS World. Dating Culture in N. Korea. 2019. Retrieved from: http://world.kbs.co.kr/service/contents_view.htm?lang=e&board_seq=363097
Morley, D. Prenuptial Agreements Around the World. Retrieved from: https://www.international-divorce.com/prenuptial-agreements-around-the-world-2
Nas Daily and Dear Alyne. 2022. How Japan Dates. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/nasdaily/videos/1066505213843033
OptiLingo. 2022. What’s So Romantic About Korean Dating Culture? Retrieved from: https://www.optilingo.com/blog/korean/korean-dating-culture/#:~:text=Public%20displays%20of%20affection%20(PDA,kiss%20is%20a%20usual%20sight.
Peng, T. N. D. My Discussion on the Issue; “Living Together in Myanmar Context and Prenuptial agreement. Retrieved from: https://www.academia.edu/7270050/My_Discussion_on_the_Issue_Living_Together_in_Myanmar_Context_and_Prenuptial_agreement
The Law Office of Jeremy D. Morley International Family Law. Prenuptial Agreements in Japan. Retrieved from: https://www.international-divorce.com/prenuptial_agreements_in_japan
Young-ji and Jae-uk, 2015. In South Korea, prenups are no longer just for celebrities. Retrieved from: https://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/672703.html#:~:text=Prenuptial%20agreements%20aren’t%20legally,by%20the%20husband%20and%20wife.
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