How to survive a Vietnamese wedding

By Pham Van   August 1, 2016 | 05:00 am PT
Read on to save yourself from the shame of misbehaving at Vietnamese weddings.

Wedding, as many tell many others, is the happiest day in the life of any individual on earth. And just the way life sentence is reserved only for felonies, when two human beings decide to bind their life together forever, no one can take it lightly.

As with all kinds of social gatherings, attending a Vietnamese wedding requires certain social knowledge to ensure you make it out without becoming the laughingstock of the day.

The wedding politics

Wedding, in the age of materialism and increasing class divide, has evolved to become a political tool that could make or break your relationship with your boss, your childhood friend or even your relatives. So once invited, don’t dare to skip it. If you must, make sure your presence is known in other ways. Hint: monetary.

You’ll receive a delicately designed paper invitation in traditional red or a-la-mode pastel palette. Vietnamese like to deliver their wedding invitations in person to ensure people make the effort to come as the more the guests, the better the fortune. So don’t be surprised if one day you get a sudden call from a friend for a meet up after years of no contact.

Photo by @ng.viethung/Instagram

Photo by @ng.viethung/Instagram

Outfit of the day

Life is, actually, all about compromises. No matter how much of a fashionista you are, let the couple have their day. However there remains a tip one can take: Black or white tie is only acceptable if the wedding is hosted at places with at least five gold-plated stars under their names. Anywhere else, smart casual would do.

Gift guide

Don't bring a bottle of whatever or anything that is not cash.

Weddings in Vietnam are agreed to be reciprocal debts, where people pay back the financial support received at their own or their offsprings’ weddings. Even if you’re “forever alone” and struggle to feed yourself, you are not excluded from the cycle once you step through wedding venue’s doors. Couples here keep the list of things they want for future life to themselves, so cash is much appreciated.

There is no decree or circular instructing how much one should put in an envelope (yeah, money doesn't go naked). The unspoken rule dictates it depends on the splendor of the wedding venue and the nature of your relationship with the couple. If it’s under a tent in the couple’s neighborhood, spare VND300,000 ($13.4); if an average restaurant, a VND500,000 note ($22.3); if a hotel whose name bears Hilton, InterContinental and the like, VND1 million ($44.6) would be the minimum.

VND300,000 place. Photo on Ngoisao

VND300,000 place. Photo by Ngoisao

However, money's not everything. Actually it's nothing because that day, you're just one of hundreds of “donors”. So remember to describe yourself clearly on the envelope with your name and association with the couple or you’ll be marked as “been there but never done that.”

Now that you have the money, you have to know where to put it. All weddings in Vietnam boast a check-in counter with two heart-shaped boxes for wedding-goers to post their “envelopes”, one for the groom’s family, another for the bride’s. The rule is, you post the envelope to the side that invited you. If in doubt, just go for the bride’s family. Or, just wait until the couple arrive at your table and stuff the envelope in their hands. The materialistic Vietnam doesn’t mind it.

Heart-shaped box. Photo courtesy of Matt Hunter

Heart-shaped box. Photo courtesy of Matt Hunter

How to party

Money deposited, now sit tight and listen carefully. Stand upright at the entrance until you find your gang or somebody shows you to the right table. The wedding hall is usually divided into two, with family and friends of the bride on one side and the groom’s on the other.

The wedding tables are always six, eight or ten seaters. Remember this because some dishes are divided accordingly. Vietnamese love to have shrimp in their wedding partly because shrimps, together with the other must-have, chicken, have become the indicator of prosperity and mostly because of their divisibility. So, eat responsibly, especially when you’re seated with a bunch of strangers.

Photo by @tharo.tharo/Instagram

Photo by @tharo.tharo/Instagram

And if on a nice day, you’re invited out of your comfort city to the country, don’t be shocked when they give you a plastic bag as you sit down. Everybody knows you are fine, it’s just a habit that refuses to fade in many rural regions in Vietnam: one always has to bring home food from the party he goes to.

Another thing: prepare to have your food picked, or worse, shrimp hand-skinned, by the elderly. Don’t worry, that only means they love you. All you can do is accept their love with a smile and pray they’d washed their hands.

A quick reminder for those who love to venture far out of the city for a taste of country life: Take extra good care of yourself or a line of strangers will approach you for the longest toast you have ever got with the kind of moonshine that will either get you high or the worst hangover the morning after.

And for those who like to stay around: No after-party, unless the couple is western enough to leave calculating the “endorsement” received in the day first thing in the morning.

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