Some More Basics
Many Vietnamese customs, traditions, and core values are based on Confucian principles introduced to Vietnam during the Chinese occupation and control of the country that lasted close to 1,000 years. Confucius ideas gained a lot of influence over Vietnamese culture that is still evident today. Confucianism has shaped the Vietnamese culture into a collectivist society, one main theme being that it places importance on family and respecting others.
One famous quote from Confucius is “the strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home,” and this is reflected in Vietnamese culture. Their lifestyle is centered around the family. All decisions and major life choices are decided by the family. One example of this is that in history marriages were traditionally arranged. While this isn’t so common anymore, it’s not unique that marriages have been arranged. Many Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and European countries along with many other cultures worldwide have conducted marriages in the same manner. This practice is becoming less popular throughout the developing world as western values permeate other cultures and couples choose their own partners, but it’s a great example of how the Vietnamese can make decisions collectively. However, the father is seen as having the final say in all matters, as discussed below in the next section. (Interesting aside: Traditional wedding clothes differ from western styles in that both the bride and groom wear ao dai (“ow zai”) robes, which are the traditional, long, slitted dresses worn over pants, usually made of silk. The bride wears red, and the groom wears blue. I’m wearing an orange ao dai in my main blog photo above.)
The Vietnamese function for the family, by the family, and with the family. Each member has a different role in order to best benefit the rest of the family. “Families are essentially patrilineal, but Vietnamese women work alongside men in many jobs and play a major role in raising children and managing family finances.” Men are the main “bread-winners” and decision-makers since Vietnam is a patriarchal society. When I traveled there this summer I went to the Women’s Museum in Ha Noi where I learned about the huge role the average Vietnamese woman undertakes. Women take care of the children, run the household, take care of their husband’s needs, and often work during the day during normal business hours. That’s a lot of effort! Women who sell produce in the streets have to get up as early as 4 in the morning to buy their fruits and vegetables from local markets. I watched a documentary while I was at the museum that said some women from rural areas stay in the city for weeks on end without seeing their families in order to make enough to send their children to school or otherwise provide for their families. Women are also highly valued and have held influential government positions, especially during the war with America, although traditionally they “took a secondary place in family.” As Vietnam modernizes, women are increasing their presence in the workforce with men, especially in urban areas, as opposed to their traditional stay-at-home positions. Vietnam has made several advancements in this area within the last century.
Ancestors, the Elderly, and Others
The Vietnamese have great respect for their family and ancestors. As I mentioned in my last blog, ancestor worship is common because the Vietnamese believe that their family will be blessed if they do so. “The traditional Vietnamese worshipped ancestors as a source of their lives, fortunes, and civilization.” Vietnamese pray to ancestors at altars in their homes and flock to public altars in order to pray to their ancestors. According to Asian tradition – again, much of it is based in Confucianism – relationships and “saving face” are more important than individual gain. It’s very disrespectful to call someone out or argue with them in a public setting because this harms the relationship with that person and brings them shame in the eyes of those who see and hear. Before I went to Vietnam, I was trained in how to correct students without making them lose face and how to interact with those of higher status than me in a respectful manner. I was taught that being too direct was insulting because it meant that I didn’t want to take the time to talk to someone. So, sometimes finding and giving answers took a lot longer than I was used to because it needed to be so indirect. Being culturally sensitive with this round-about method of communicating was difficult work for me as an American used to being direct and to-the-point!
Again, as I said in my previous blog entry, there’s so much more to talk about! I feel that I’m not being thorough or doing justice to the information I’ve gleaned from research and experience. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do a better job of discussing this country and its culture.