25 Social Customs

Customs and Beliefs

In the past, and even today, a traditional Vietnamese person would comply with most or all of the following traditions and precepts:

    The Family
  • The family is the basis of society, not the individual
  • Three to four generations often live together in one home
  • The family is patriarchal. Within the family, the wife deals with all household matters, and the husband deals with the outside world

  • Children
  • Elderly parents are supported by married or unmarried children until death
  • Names are written in the order of Family name, Middle name and Given name, e.g. Nguyen Van Trung
  • The family name is placed first to emphasise a person's heritage
  • Children live with their parents until marriage

  • Men usually marry between the ages of 20 and 30, and women between the ages of 18 and 25.
  • Marriages must be approved by the parents of both the male and female, regardless of age
  • Apart from some Christians, the celebration of marriage takes place in the home of one of the marriage partners or a hotel, not in a church or temple
  • Legally, women keep their own names after marriage

    After marriage
    The wife lives with her husband's family. She is considered to ‘belong’ to her husband's family and expected to do the housework under the direction of her mother-in-law.
    Before 1959, Vietnamese men could have several wives (polygamy) ranked according to responsibility. Thereafter, only one spouse remained married to the husband and second or subsequent marriages were dissolved.
    When a child is born, it is considered one year old.
    The eldest son has a duty to perform ancestor worship at home.
    Brothers and sisters do not touch or kiss one another.
    If a parent dies, the children customarily wait three years before marrying.
    If a wife dies, the husband must wait one year before remarrying.
    If a sibling dies, the other siblings must wait one year before marrying.
    To show respect, Vietnamese people bow their heads before a superior or aged person.
    While conversing, Vietnamese people don’t look steadily at a respected person's eyes.
    Women do not shake hands with each other or with men.
    Women do not smoke in public.
    Vietnamese never touch another's head. Only the elderly can touch the head of a young child.
    Persons of the same sex may hold hands in public and/or sleep in the same bed without public derision.
    Incest is punished by law and is strongly resented by society.
    The legal concept of equality between the sexes is the same as in Western countries, but socially, men are still considered superior to women.
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