Vietnamese wife, western husband: when cultures collide

By Kim Thuy, Tue MinhMarch 23, 2016 | 07:44 pm PT
Getting married to a Western man is getting more common to Vietnamese girls, but along with the new adventures can come times where cultural difference might leave a new wife not knowing whether to laugh or cry

Different cooking habits

Nothing represents a nation’s culture like its food. Huong Nhi, a Vietnamese woman married to a French man, has even been known to use her country’s cuisine as a weapon.

Nhi, a chef, and her husband have experienced many delicate situations when it comes to different eating habits.

“I eat mam tom (shrimp paste) whenever I want to tease or ‘punish’ my husband,” she said. “He cannot stand the smell of it.”

“No matter how many years we are together, I don’t think he will never enjoy my favorite dish with me. The first time I made mam tom in the house, he left me alone in the kitchen and went to eat in the living room,” Nhi said.

Not only is her husband not a fan of the smell of mam tom, but also his wife’s style of cooking.

For several weeks after getting married, Nhi prepared food they way she always had. The dishes were thoroughly cooked, crispy and tough. She had no idea at that time it was miserable for her husband. He had to “make a real effort” to chew the tough meat she cooked.

She said that at the time, her husband simply thought that she was a terrible cook and the well-done, tough meat was an accident. Unfortunately, this ‘accident’ lasted longer than he expected.

After several weeks trying to chew through the meals, he finally had an honest talk with her about her cooking.

“He explained that most westerners want dishes to be less well-cooked, more tender,” she said.


Huong Nhi and her son. She usually cooks traditional Vietnamese dishes for the Lunar New Year.

On the other side of the coin, she said her husband admires her ability to patiently gnaw every last bit of meat off a chicken wing. Nhi also never throws away anything that is edible, even chicken or pig organs - which many westerners will not eat.

“These things are very cheap in France. It is really cute that sometimes people give it to me for free,” Nhi said.

Early morning cleaning is not allowed!

When Kim Chinh first moved to Netherlands to live with her husband’s family, she tried to get up at  5 a.m to do housework.

However, her good intentions backfired.

“The noise from the vacuum cleaner woke my mother-in-law up. She immediately asked me to go back to sleep. Housework is only allowed after 8am,” Chinh said with a laugh.

Chinh has lived in Netherlands for 13 years. To her, living with her husband’s family in the Netherlands gives her more freedom than if they were in Vietnam.

“My parents-in-law treat me nicely, as if I were their guest,” she said. “My mother-in-law does not even allow me to wash the dishes when we have meals together.”

Giving gifts

Knowing nothing about the tradition of giving gifts in different parts of the world can also leave you in a cultural minefield.

Kim Anh, who married a British man, was embarrassed when she gave her husband’s sister cosmetics as a gift.

“I noticed that she was a little displeased when receiving the gift. My husband explained that people here do not give that kind of thing as a gift,” she said.

“When you offer somebody cosmetics, they assume that you think they are ugly,” she said. “Since then, I have never given cosmetics to anyone again.” 


Kim Anh and her British husband.

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