After you have lived and worked in Vietnam for a while, it is inevitable that at some stage, one of your colleagues will be getting married and you will be invited to their Vietnamese weddings! Unlike the West, where marriage and children are up to personal preference and there are no expectations or general norma, it is expected that everyone in Vietnam will get married before 30 (at the oldest!) and have a child within the first two years.
As a result, weddings are a huge business and it is important to know what to expect when you are invited to one! Weddings in the West are generally only for the closest of friends consisting of relatively small gatherings with the invites being given out months in advance to ensure that you are available. In contrast, Vietnamese weddings are open to a lot of people – so if someone in your school is getting married, even though you only have a short daily chat upon arrival – then you will be invited. You may be surprised when you get the invite to find that it is next weekend, so if you really have something else already planned and booked, then you simply have to give your apologies, however, do your best to attend if you possibly can.
In general, weddings are in two main categories – in the home or at a wedding venue. These two types result in a lot of differences but also a lot of similarities.
Getting officially married
Unlike the West in which the church or registry office section immediately precedes the wedding reception, in Vietnam the actual official wedding takes place on another day and is a small affair with the wedding reception being seen as the actual wedding.
Unlike the West in which a wedding gift list is given or you purchase a thoughtful gift for the couple, money is given in Vietnam. At the wedding, there will be a large white box (rather like a post box) in which you post your money. Sometimes there will be envelopes and pens next to the box to assist, however, you cannot rely on this, so if possible, come prepared with your money in the envelope (a normal envelope is fine) and your name written on it. Ask your colleagues for the appropriate amount to put in the envelope and make sure that your money is clean and crisp
It is important to note that if you are invited to the wedding, even if you do not go, you are still expected to give an envelope. You can either give the envelope directly to the bride or groom when you are apologizing for not attending or give it to one of your colleagues who will be attending the wedding so they can put it in the box for you.
Regardless of whether the wedding is at a home or wedding venue, it is a very elaborate affair. Prior to the wedding day, a series of photographs will have been taken and these are blown up and shown at the wedding amongst a series of decorations. Typically, the bride and groom stand next to the photograph to initially greet guests along with the parents.
It is important to make sure that you remember that elders are highly respected in Vietnam so it is vital to not only greet the bride and groom but also the parents.
Although when asked about the dress code, you may get the answer that dress is casual, in fact, it is formal and very “ dressy “ – the more sparkles you can have the better. Take a smart bag if you need one rather than your usual day bag. You will be photographed consistently so make sure that you look the appropriate part for the group photographs.
Food and drink
Regarding of location, all Vietnamese weddings involve alcohol. Vietnamese women typically do not drink alcohol, so if you are female and attend a wedding, you need to decide whether it is appropriate to drink or not. At in-home weddings, often women tend to sit together, with the men on other tables, with the alcohol typically only being offered to the men’s tables.
Often the alcohol is homemade and thus very strong, so it is important if you do decide to drink, that you are careful as homemade alcohol will be extremely strong.
Although in wedding venues, bottled water is typically given, at in-home weddings there may only be tap water on offer, so it is suggested that you take your own small bottle of water with you to be on the safe side.
Regardless of the venue, at all Vietnamese weddings, there will be an enormous amount of food. It is polite to try to eat as varied a number of dishes as possible and to comment positively on the food, so even if you are not sure what exactly you are eating and are not very keen on it, keep this to yourself and go through the motions of eating, taking your time with it all so that no one notices that you aren’t really eating very much. If you simply stop eating and refuse new dishes then others will notice and be offended, so even if you are not actually eating, have your chopsticks in your hand and simply move the food around etc.
At a wedding venue, there are often dancers or an elaborate show of some kind. However, in a home wedding, entertainment is commonly in the form of karaoke. Karaoke is an important part of Vietnamese life and does not have the same emphasis as in the West where karaoke is seen as a good laugh. Instead, it is seen as a serious business and regardless of how terrible someone sounds, it is polite to smile/looked entertained and clap along.
Wedding album books are commonly passed around during the wedding – these are the series of photographs that have been taken in previous weeks and feature the bride and groom in full wedding outfits in a variety of settings. It is polite to look carefully at the pictures and comment positively before passing them on to the next person.
A wedding venue is booked for a very specific amount of time so when it is time to leave it is obvious, as everyone seems to suddenly get up and leave. People, in general, do not hang around afterward to chat and instead simply leave.
In at-home weddings, there are often “shifts “so for one amount of time there is one group e.g. the school people and then the e.g. neighbors group comes along. Simply follow the lead of your colleagues – stay and wait with them until generally as a group they all leave. If you have gone to a home wedding as a group they may decide to continue the party elsewhere, however, this section is entirely up to you and if you are tired then it is fine to take your leave.
Overall, Vietnamese weddings are an elaborate affair – busy and bright with lots of lights, music, and energy. When attending be open and interested – try the new things and new experiences – it is a unique event – so enjoy!