When westerners look at Vietnamese love relationships, they may be astonished by the differences between the cultures. Whether it's the customs of a rural village or the high-tech flirtations in the metropolis, the way that Vietnamese love relationships form and develop are very interesting.
Traditional Vietnamese Love Relationships
Many courtships actually occur when Vietnamese men and women are only children, through negotiations between parents. These aren't always formal - some betrothals can occur almost on a whim as parents are simply socializing with each other.
Of course, as in any culture, the parents love their children and want the best for them. However, what is considered "best" are things like family status of their potential mate, wealth, proximity to their own parents, and health. These betrothed children, unless they move from the village for work or some other reason, almost always end up marrying the person their parents pick. However, the idea of "love" as westerners think of is not factored into the arrangement.
It's not that they don't want their children to love their mates, they simply assume that part of a child's obedience and honor to their parents will include being happy with the arranged marriage. "She likes him because I think he is a very good match for her," said one Vietnamese mother of her daughter in an interview with Iana Iebozec.
What would probably surprise Western romantics the most is the fact that this is not the mother of a young Vietnamese girl in some rural village. This woman interviewed for an article on love and marriage among the Vietnamese living in the United States, and the marriage she was arranging for her daughter who is a professional woman with a career. When it comes to love, many Vietnamese prefer the traditional methods of relationships that have lasted for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Of course there are many Vietnamese living all over the world who have adopted other methods of courtship similar to the West. But in the large cities of Vietnam, where technology such as cell phones and text messaging is common, new methods of courtship have developed.
Text Matchups in Vietnam
In an article for CNET by Dong Ngo, he tells about the combination of tradition and technology going on with young urban Vietnamese.
Still holding on to some traditional values, couples rarely actually get to spend time dating as Westerners would think of it. It is inappropriate for men and women to spend time unchaperoned, and the common Western practice of living together is almost unheard of before marriage.
The technology of the cell phone has provided couples with a medium through which they can talk to each other easily, quickly, and with astonishing expression. Text messages are very cheap and free for incoming messages. Ngo tells of cafés where young professionals sit for coffee to the ongoing sound of beep after beep as sweet messages are sent and received.
The Art of Emoticons
One very interesting part of this custom is the way that the emoticons (the smiley faces and such formed by using punctuation like :-) and more) have been brought up to a fine art by the courting Vietnamese. Long past the simple frowns and smiles, they are using symbols such as =; ("talk to the hand" or sometimes waving farewell) and :-t is used to signify "I'm going to hammer you on the head!"
Some emoticons are similar in form to those used in the West, such as ^:)^ for "I'm not worthy", but have different meaning (that one in particular, according to Ngo, means "po-tay", slang for "you are too much; I give up!" You won't find that phrase, or a lot of other slang terms used in text, in any Vietnamese dictionary. It is a language development that is occurring naturally as the young people look for their true love.
The one thing that Vietnamese love relationships do have in common with the west is that they, too, have a hard time finding that special someone. Especially with very little "dating" going on, more and more city folk are waiting longer to get married. Like any relationship, though, finding your match is exciting and well worth the wait.