A young couple pose for their wedding photo in Da Nang. Most modern Vietnamese weddings incorporate both Western and Vietnamese traditions. Photo: AFP
Relationships between men and women are complex and problematic under the best of circumstances, and when you mix cultures as different as Western and Asian it can really get muddled.
And the fact that Vietnam is still coming out of a long period of difficult circumstances, both socially and economically, further contributes to the problem.
This can be seen even in relationship situations between Vietnamese couples. For example; young women are increasingly expressing a reluctance to follow the marital patterns of their mothers and grandmothers. It used to be that a girl who was unmarried after she passed into her mid-twenties was considered too old to attract a husband and was the object of sympathy among her family and peers. No more! Girls are delaying marriage into their thirties while they pursue education and careers, and some seem not to care if they never get married if a suitable mate has not put in an appearance.
Like all cultures, Vietnam has its social levels and levels of educational attainment. Depending on the background of the expatriate this may or may not be important. At the risk of sounding snobbish, for me it was. My first Vietnamese romance was with a young woman who was half my age, had no education and spoke no English. But she was lovely and promised to learn English, so things became serious and we talked of marriage. I envisioned making a brief visit to my former town and watch the envy of my aging friends with their equally aged wives! Foolish me!
Over time it became obvious that she was not very serious about English, saw me as a way out of relatively modest circumstances and we had absolutely nothing to talk about when we did have the benefit of someone to translateâ¦ in other words there was no common ground for us to meet on. In addition, I discovered that she had threatened a friend of hers that was helping her by translating for us, with physical violence, for being “too attentive to me” (a fallacy!) Not a young lady of good character, it would appear. After giving it a reasonable effort, I bade her goodbye!
I subsequently met a number of very lovely women of varied ages but none of them could speak much English, although several were engaged in a serious effort before I met them. I had determined that being married to someone with whom you cannot have a conversation is not very appealing, at least to me, and my feeble efforts at learning Vietnamese were coming to naught.
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