Culture & Lifestyle

Traditionally, Vietnamese life has revolved around family, fields and faith, the rhythm of rural existence continuing for centuries at the same pace. For the majority of the population still living in the countryside, these constants have remained unchanged, with several generations sharing the same roof, the same rice and the same religion.

But in recent decades these rhythms have been jarred by war and ideology, as the peasants were dragged from all they held dear to defend their mother land, and later herded into coopera­tives as the party tried to take over as the moral and social beacon in the lives of the people. The Communist Party failed to move the masses in the post-war period.
 Communism only converted a few, just as the French and Americans had only corrupted a few before it, and, for the majority, it was to the familiar they looked to define their lives.

This is beginning to change and it's not due to Uncle Ho or Tricky Dicky (Nixon), but to a combination of a population shift from the countryside to the cities and a demographic shift from old to young. Like China and Thailand before it, Vietnam is experiencing its very own 60s swing, as the younger generation stand up for a different lifestyle to that of their parents.
It is creating plenty of feisty friction in the cities, as sons and daughters dress as they like, date who they want and hit the town until all hours. But few live on their own and they still come home to mum and dad at the end of the day, where arguments might arise, particularly when it comes to marriage and settling down.

Extended family is important to the Vietnamese and that includes second or third cousins, the sort of family that many Westerners may not even realize they have. The extended family comes together during times of trouble and times of joy, celebrating festivals and successes, mourning deaths or disappointments. 

This is a source of strength for many of the older generation, while for the younger generation it’s likely to be friends, girl friends or gangs who play the role of anchor.

With so many family members under one roof, the Vietnamese don’t share Western concepts of privacy and personal space.
Don't be surprised if people walk into your hotel room without knocking. You may be sitting starkers in your hotel room when the maid unlocks the door and walks in unannounced. One tradition that remains central to Vietnamese life is geomancy, or feng shui as most of us know it today. Known as “ phong thuỷ “ to the locals, this is the art (or science) of living in tune with the environment.

The orientation of houses, tombs, dinh. (communal meeting halls) and pagodas is determined by geomancers. The location of an ancestor’s grave is an especially serious matter; if the grave is the wrong spot or facing the wrong way, there's no telling what trouble the spirits might cause. The same goes for the location of the family altar, which can be found in nearly every Vietnamese home.

Westerners planning to go into business with a Vietnamese partner will need to budget for a geomancer to ensure the venture is successful.