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Dating & Marriage

The sexual revolution was late to arrive in Vietnam; more accurately, it arrived during the sixties and promptly departed on the last American chopper in 1975. But the tag team of AIDS and the Internet sparked a new sexual revolution at the turn of the century. Young men and women suddenly had access to information about sex and contraception - taboo subjects largely absent in Vietnamese society under the Communist government.

This new wealth of information has dramatically altered the younger generation's views about dating, sex and marriage. Until this decade the vast majority of Vietnamese brides remained virgins until their wedding day. Today that percentage is dropping faster than a bride's dress on wedding night.

Economic equality is not catching up quite as fast. A large proportion of women work outside the home; however, you'll find that women are still considered second-class citizens in social situations. I have been entertained in several Vietnamese homes where the men talked, drank and dined for hours, while the women were relegated to the kitchen, even during dinner. (Although a female friend told me that she feels good about this!)

Public displays of affection between members of the opposite sex are frowned upon and are almost never seen. Ironically, Vietnamese of the same sex frequently hold hands, walk arm-in-arm, or ride down the street with their hand on a friend's shoulder. (I still cannot get used to construction workers in hardhats walking down the street with their arms around each other!) Men in particular will find that people will touch you, squeeze your arm, pat your back and put their arm around your shoulder. This includes men, boys and young girls, but never women! Do not be alarmed, this is considered perfectly normal.

Dating is a little more complicated than in most western countries. If a boy asks a girl for a date, they may go for a ride around town or perhaps for a cup of coffee, but never a movie. (Any girl who would got to see a film on the first or second date is considered easy!) If they decide to go steady, the boy will ask the girl if he can meet her family. If she agrees, he'll visit the house, usually on a Saturday or Sunday night, and meet the entire clan. He will then visit regularly, usually once a week on Saturday or Sunday night.

The decision to marry is of course a family one. When a couple decides to marry, they first ask their parents for permission. Having been granted permission, the couple then visits each set of parents, usually bringing gifts of food or wine.

Male travelers will frequently be asked by both men and women (and even children!) if you like Vietnamese girls. (Yes, "girls", "women" are married in Vietnam!) The appropriate answer is yes; in fact, the only answer is yes, as you will offend them if you respond with anything else! Don't be surprised, however, if you receive a cool to downright hostile reception when you are seen with a Vietnamese woman (Oops - I mean girl!) in public. Apparently the Vietnamese take great pride in Western men marrying Vietnamese "girls", but frown on them dating. Go figure!


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