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Dating Culture in Vietnam

Photo credit Theodor Vasile

What is it like to date in Vietnam? This is an enduring interest for solo-travellers in the South-East Asian country. The answer opens-up a box of fascinating cultural contrasts between the West and Vietnam, on matters such as:

RELATED: Vietnamese Women vs. Western Women: Differences in Expectations in Dating

Urban Dating in Vietnam: Like Any Other Western City

For some segments of the population, especially urban centres, the Vietnamese dating culture is not so different from any Western liberal country. Metropolitan Vietnam is not conservative like India or China, where parents still play a prominent-role in finding partners for their children.

Instead, the courtship behaviours in the USA/UK are also the norm in urban Vietnam. This includes things like Tinder, awkward couples courting each other at cafes, hormone-drenched night-clubs full of short-skirts, cocktails and raunchy eardrum-bursting beats.

Even the expression “Netflix and chill” has been absorbed into the Vietnamese youth’s vocabulary.

However, some argue that “Hook-Up Culture” is less pronounced in Vietnam, due to the cultural norm that Vietnamese children live with their parents until marriage (and even beyond!)

Traditional Gender Roles in Vietnam vs “Progressive” Western Culture

Perhaps the main difference in dating habits between Vietnam and the West is that it is the West who has undergone radical change in the recent decade. For example, consider the growing ranks of effete man-boys who are afraid to “make a move”, or women who “fight the patriarchy” by eschewing beauty-norms.

This radical shift is also present in Vietnam, but generally, women want men to be manly and chivalrous, and men want women to be womanly. As an actionable insight, consider that it is the man who is expected to lead in romantic situations, and his degree-of-interest is broadcasted by his assertiveness in doing so. Vietnamese women are likely to be annoyed, confused, or angry if he doesn’t show aggressive interest.

For example, there is a saying that a Vietnamese woman should say no three times before going on date with a suitor — and this is if she likes him!

If you are from the West, you may read this and imagine a ghoulish caricature of traditional masculinity and/or traditional femininity and a toxic dating culture. Do yourself a favour and try the following mental exercise: it can help you get a good sense about Vietnam’s current gender roles vis-a-vis dating…

  • take the stereotypical traditional gender roles, and let these define one end of a spectrum;
  • take whatever you imagine to to be “progressive” in the West as defining the other end of the spectrum;

… in the middle is probably what is happening right now in Vietnam.

Fortune Tellers Acted as Love Brokers in Vietnam

As historical context for Vietnam’s modern dating norms, it is helpful to consider the traditional culture from which Vietnam has emerged. In particular, the role of quasi-religious institutions like fortune-tellers.

In the recent past, it was customary for parents to solicit the advice of fortune tellers in assessing a child’s prospective partner. The teller would use the Vietnamese horoscope (tử vi) and other mystical devices to determine a couple’s good luck or bad luck. Whatever the fortune teller said, the family would take very seriously: couples would be allowed or disallowed based on the fortune teller’s advice.

Today, this is very uncommon. But rumours still abound about such practices.

What to Talk About During a Vietnamese Date?

Sticking with the above idea that Vietnam’s cultural norms are in-between traditional gender-roles and (so-called) progressive gender-roles, then there shouldn’t be much confusion about what to talk about with a Vietnamese courtee: all the same trendy and boastful things you would discuss in your own country. Do you like gaming and hot-yoga? — good! Lead with that.

Two conversational differences may be the following:

  • Vietnamese dates place a larger emphasis on family. It would be normal for your date to recount, in detail, their extended family and what they do. In particular, what is their societal status. This is very different from the “working class” pretenses of North Americans or Scandinavians, where it is a serious social faux-pas to brag about one’s socio-economica class or wealth.
  • Vietnamese are more frank and boastful about their aspirations of success and employment goals. Don’t be shy to talk about your aspirations to accrue wealth and attain a high standard of living for yourself and your family.

RELATED: How to flirt in Vietnamese, and how to say “I like you” in Vietnamese.

Importance of Social Status in Vietnam

Cultural notions of status vary between countries. For instance, a marker of high status in the West may be a professional job in a trendy start-up sector, or having the luxury to study yoga at an Indian ashram.

The above would also be considered high-status in Vietnam. But, there are other unstated markers of status that may be opaque to Westerners. You may find yourself wondering why your date is rambling on-and-on about such-and-such. Likely, they are trying to signal that they are high-status in a way that doesn’t make sense to you.

For example, maybe your date really wants you to know that they have family connections in the government or military or police. Okay, enough, I get it! you may think to yourself. Well, do you really get it?

There may be a “aha” moment in that realization.

Read between the lines - in Dating

Are Vietnamese Families Accepting of Foreign Dates?

There are some Asian countries where inter-racial and international relationships are somewhat taboo. In Vietnam, however, international marriages and relationships are not uncommon.

Since the 1970’s and 1980’s, there has been a very large Vietnamese expat community in the USA, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. These historical connections have done a lot to normalize international couples. In some cities, like Hanoi, it may be hard to find a family that doesn’t have at least one family member who either: i) lives abroad, or ii) is married to a foreigner.

This contrasts with some countries like South Korea, where it is not uncommon to get hostile looks from strangers for being in an international or interracial couple.

Dates Taking Advantage of Naive Foreigners

Instead of encountering resistence to international/interracial relationships, foreigners in Vietnam sometimes report the opposite problem: they sometimes feel like they are treated as a novelty date, or “walking ATM”. They may feel objectified and used. Such fears are not necessarily unfounded. But, in our experience, these fears are less of an issue in Vietnam than other non-Western nations.

You will have to use your own intuition to feel-out each situation on its own terms. But, on the flip-side, a foreigner may mistakenly feel like they are being “used” just due to the more traditional gender roles in dating — especially men, who are expected to buy their dates a lot of frivolous gifts and meals.

There may be a lot of ambiguity about whether your date is earnest in their romantic intentions, or whether they are taking advantage of you. There is no rubric to know for certain. Probably the most you can do is try to talk to other expats to get some extra context about what you are experiencing.

Young Optimism in Vietnam: A Bright Future.

Perhaps the most iconic image of Vietnamese dating culture is the following scene: a young woman in short-shorts clutching the back of a young boy driving a scooter. Multiply that image x100 in Hanoi or Saigon. It is a constant reminder of the youthfulness and joie de vivre of the rapidly developing Vietnam and its youthful demographics.

How to Say Boyfriend/Girlfriend in Vietnamese? READ MORE

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