There’s a new way to say “Will you marry me?” in North Korea – with a gift of a mobile phone.

Cellphones are now the most popular engagement gift in small and mid-sized cities, Daily NK reports, overtaking rings as the gift of choice. The high price of phones makes them a status symbol among young couples.

There’s no tradition of exchanging wedding bands in North Korea, although “couple rings” are a popular gift. But increased availability of technology has brought about other, unexpected changes. Mobile phones have now overtaken rings as the “top-ranking present for tying the knot”, a source based in North Hamgyung province told Daily NK.

The high price of cellphones (around US$200-300 for a basic phone) keeps them as a preserve of the rich. “Apart from women in affluent families, if you’re from a poor family or single, it’s hard to own a mobile phone,” the source explained. “Women have so much to invest in, like household goods, cosmetics, and clothes that it’s hard for them to think about getting one of those devices.”

Among those who can afford them, smartphones are a popular status symbol. “Foreign handsets look fancier, and smartphones are especially popular”, the source added. Presumably, you can’t actually do much with a smartphone in North Korea anyway, seeing as there’s no mobile internet, and no international calling.

▼ It’s cellphone service, Jim, but not as we know it.


November is the busiest month for weddings in North Korea, where almost all wedding ceremonies are held during the farming “off seasons” in spring or autumn. After their wedding, many couples visit the capital Pyongyang where they lay flowers at statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.



Cellphones were actually banned in North Korea between 2004 and 2008, but their use has risen exponentially in recent years. It’s now estimated that 2 million North Koreans own a mobile phone – around one in 12 of the population.

Sources: Naver Matome, Daily NK (1, 2), Guardian
Featured image: webanywhere