It's complicated: When a Vietnamese woman meets a foreign man

By Cameron Shingleton   February 14, 2018 | 05:46 am PT
What one culture considers normal may be seen as cheating by another. 

Vietnam’s love market has welcomed “strangers” that were largely unheard of in the past decades.

Take my friend Brad, also Australian, who is still single and came to Vietnam to learn Vietnamese. He’s been dating Vietnamese women for the past year.

His ex-girlfriend is an overseas Vietnamese. She’s beautiful and smart but broke up with Brad because he was “too serious.”

He dated Dung, who had once asked him whether he was ready to settle down. Brad then decided not to see her again because he found her question inappropriate.

He went on a second date with Hanh. She didn’t ask him about anything. She was busy playing on her phone.

I’m not sure if Brad would have more luck with Ms. Cong (work) or Ms. Ngon (speech) [in Vietnam, women are judged based on four Confucian values Cong - Dung (appearance) - Ngon - Hanh (virtue)].

So I introduced him to Trang to see if it will work out.

After almost a year in Vietnam, Brad said he had only met two types of Vietnamese women. First, those who would only go out for coffee if he had promised to love them forever. Second, those who would jump at an opportunity to sleep with him so long as he paid them two $100 bills.

Perhaps he had wandered around Bui Vien backpacker street far too often. But I’m sure none of these women would be able to fool my friend.

Brad’s problem is minor. Vietnam’s problem is another story.

Vietnamese women dating foreign men is no longer rare. It’s a rising trend.

Pictures of singers and actresses marrying foreign men and giving birth to cute biracial babies always attract a lot of attention online. A television show just needs to introduce a foreign husband who speaks Vietnamese and his young and beautiful wife to become a hit. Out on the streets, Viet-foreign couples holding hands always attract curious onlookers.

More and more Vietnamese, especially women, have been marrying foreigners in recent years, according to data from the Ministry of Justice.

Globalization has extended social relationships beyond country borders. Transnational marriage has become a new trend in Asia. In Vietnam, “getting married to a foreign man” has become a familiar phrase.

But every trend has its drawbacks. There’s gossip and quite a few news articles have named and shamed foreign men.

There are dozens of secret groups on social media dedicated to both sides. Vietnamese women heartbroken by foreign men take to these groups to “expose their lies”. Foreign men who had a bad experience with Vietnamese women turn to secret groups to lament.

Many of them, both Vietnamese women and foreign men, have said they had felt cheated or mistreated.

The worst thing Vietnamese women find in foreign men is that they don’t just date one woman. Sometimes, dating to the men is just a fling. Another foreign man’s “crime” is that he is too easy on sex. Trouble comes when a Vietnamese woman dating a foreigner finds out he has several other dates and assumes he’s cheating.

The concept of “cheating” ranges from a calculated confession of love to a seemingly solid relationship ending quietly after a romantic getaway in a five star resort.

Meanwhile, foreign men complain about money. Some of my countrymen told me more than half of the women going after foreigners are gold diggers or want an Australian citizenship for themselves and their “cousin” who’s actually the real boyfriend.

While in the past, most married someone from their own community, nowadays, our choices are limitless.

While in the past, a relationship was strongly dictated by shared cultural norms, nowadays it's not necessarily the case.

If you speak English and know how to use the internet, falling in love with or marrying a total stranger is no longer a mission impossible.

The thing is, culture and one’s mindset don’t change as fast as preferences, fashion and technology. And since each person comes from a different side of the Pacific, they are bound to have different if not conflicting cultures and mindsets. It’s a problem faced not just by Vietnam but by any country affected by globalization.

While many Vietnamese women continue to be romantically involved with foreign men, there are signs that the rate of disappointment is rising. Two years ago, an education official of Hau Giang Province said that “the number of biracial children returning home has seen a spike.” This province is well known for transnational marriages, like many others in the Mekong Delta.

I do not deny that a number of Vietnamese women have been deceived by foreign men, just as some foreign men have fallen into local women’s trap.

What I’m trying to say here is that cross-cultural misunderstandings happen when people aren’t fully aware of the complexities of the global dating scene.

Both sides at some point experience self denial when thinking that cross-cultural relationships are more simple than traditional ones.

The truth is, relationships have never been simple. Whether he or she is foreign or Vietnamese, happiness only comes when both take time to genuinely get to know each other.

*Translated from the original in Vietnamese. 

*Cameron Shingleton is a university lecturer from Australia. The views expressed here are his own.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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