Like China, let's make Tet a cultural export

February 11, 2024 | 03:28 pm PT
Vo Nhat Vinh Researcher
For about ten days now, here in France, we have seen stalls celebrating “Chinese New Year” (Nouvel An Chinois) at French supermarkets.

For many years, every Lunar New Year, major French supermarket chains have organized this holiday-themed sales week. The events not only attracts the Asian community but also a large number of customers from all backgrounds.

Most products come from China or related suppliers. Many people we know are also excited to use Chinese products on Tet days like this. I often think about the connection between the name and sales opportunities, and feel sorry for Vietnamese suppliers.

When I first came to France nearly 20 years ago, I was surprised to see that the French equate Lunar New Year as a holiday of one nationality, the Chinese, even though it is celebrated by many countries in Asia: Vietnam, South Korea, North Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Mongolia, to name a few.

This confusion was in part the result of China’s continuous activities aimed at the dual purposes of cultural dissemination and trade promotion.

Many Chinese cultural exchange groups regularly conduct annual entertainment events in foreign localities, and gradually they have become "familiar" to people outside China. They’ve made their mark, so to say, on people’s shopping habits. This method is simple, inexpensive, but suitable for Europeans who like to participate in simple, fun outdoor activities on weekends.

People wear ao dai and pose for photo on the first day of Tet in Hanoi, Feb. 10, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

People wear ao dai and pose for photos on the first day of Tet in Hanoi, Feb. 10, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Depending on the product and customer base, the French and Germans also have their own ways to introduce their specialties abroad.

The French like to promote products in a methodical, formal or luxurious way. Their wines earned more than 17 billion euros (US$18.35 billion) from exports in 2022 and are expected to have generated even more money in 2023.

Last year saw the Association of German Businesses in Vietnam create a buzz with their annual Octoberfest event, not just in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, but also in Da Nang or the first time. With more than 10,000 attendees each year, the event is not only a cultural promotion festival but also a sales opportunity for German beer. In fact, Germany's beer brewing industry totaled $2 trillion in 2022 exports, accounting for half the country's GDP.

Back to Tet in Vietnam:

Many businesses in the country rely on Tet every year to sell more goods. Tet is the year’s biggest business season, and yet the difficult economic situation last year caused general purchasing power to slow this Tet. Except for essential food products, other items related to fashion, decoration and gifts stalled in consumption.

Then, I thought about the agility of ornamental tree traders who bring peach trees – a northern specialty - to the south, and yellow ocna trees - typical of southern Tet - to the north. They’ve been successfully doing this in recent years... so, I wonder about the possibility of exporting Vietnamese Tet to Europe.

Promoting trade with massive events can be expensive, difficult to take place regularly, and requires abundant organizational human resources. Currently, such activities abroad are only organized or sponsored by Vietnamese diplomatic agencies and are usually limited to the capitals of the countries. The chance to spread the brand of Vietnamese culture in other countries is therefore quite limited. As a consequence, the brands of Vietnamese products are still unfamiliar to local people in those countries.

Vietnam alone may not be able to spread the Tet brand to local people, but combining with friends who share the same values of Lunar New Year, such as Korea or Singapore, could be a mission possible.

When Tet comes to Europe, receiving congratulations from local people to "The Chinese New Year," I always think that one day, Vietnam can export Tet - both its culture and goods - so that domestic producers can have a bigger market, and the Vietnamese community abroad can have more pride.

*Vo Nhat Vinh is a lecturer in France.

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