TYING THE KNOT IS CERTAINLY STRAIGHTFORWARD IN VIETNAM
As autumn gives way to winter in Vietnam it is the season for wedding bells. I’ve been to my fair share of weddings throughout Vietnam, from the cities to the countryside, and there is always one commonality: excess and ostentation.
“When I get married, it’s going to be small and simple”, I told the five faces sitting around me at our table at a recent wedding, but realized my comment had all but fallen on deaf ears. Our one-metre by one-metre table of six was scattered with a 15-course King-sized feast that was enough to feed a small Vietnamese family for a week. The onslaught of food came in rapid-fire succession as I barely managed to fumble a piece of chicken into my bowl. Cigarette smoke, laughter and the musk of alcohol filled the air as sounds of beer and small shot glasses reverberated in my ears, “clank, clank”.
“You won’t have a choice” one woman snidely replied. I glared at her knowing that if I marry a Vietnamese woman this would indeed be my fate. This, it’s true, is a common setting on days deemed by monks and spiritual leaders to be “good days” for marriage. The problem was despite the extravagance and grandiosity suitable for a royal wedding, this was only the betrothal/ engagement party known in Vietnam as an hoi.
The ultra-complicated process of becoming husband and wife can happen over the course of a full year. When a man has intentions, he must first inform and ask the permission of the woman’s parents. This gives the woman’s family time to consult a fortune-teller or spiritual leader to see if the potential couple can be married.
Once everything is settled in the “spiritual realm”, the next step is the betrothal process.
This consists of an elaborate ceremony in which the groom and his entourage bring gifts and traditional food to the bride’s home. Representatives from both sides of the couple will say a few words and after a few exchanges, pure formality at this point, the party moves to the groom’s home and concludes with a luncheon.
At this point the man and the woman are only engaged. The wedding, which in itself has its own intricate process, will take place weeks or months later and will be an even grander affair. The extravaganza isn’t just reserved for family and close friends but for neighbours, distant relatives, past and current co-workers, high school friends, and anyone else remotely known to the couple. Weddings have seemed to become more for families, friends, and society than for actual couple.
The overall cost can also carry a financial burden, especially in the countryside where the wedding ceremony alone can run for three days straight. While the newlyweds can gain financially through wedding gifts. I find whole ordeal to be excessive and unnecessary. One can make the argument that it is tradition and custom, but times are changing and the economy is down. I, for one, believe people should be more prudent and exhibit more discretion. Isn’t a simple “I love you” and a simple exchange of marriage vows enough to express one’s love anymore ? When did weddings become a spectacle put on for everyone else except for the bride and groom ?
Maybe I’m cynical and critical because I’ve yet to married, but I hope my future Vietnamese wife doesn’t make me endure this. The younger generation of Vietnamese is starting to realize that the process is complicated and uneconomical. Weeks after the engagement party, at the conclusion of the actual wedding, I finally get a brief second with the bride and groom. They turn to me with a big simultaneous sigh of relief and say “we’re glad it’s over”