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What is it like for a foreigner to marry a Vietnamese in Vietnam?

What is it like for a foreigner to marry a Vietnamese in Vietnam?

Tuesday, April 02, 2024, 10:02 GMT+7
What is it like for a foreigner to marry a Vietnamese in Vietnam?

I never wanted to get married. In fact, I was very happy living a single life here in Vietnam.

But one day, about six years after moving to Vietnam, a lady entered my life and everything changed.

Within two years of meeting her and in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown, we got married.

And with that marriage came the realization that I was entering a whole new culture with my new Vietnamese family that lived in the countryside north of Ho Chi Minh City.

Every country has its own culture. Vietnam is no different with some unique and quirky cultural differences to most Western countries.

And as a Westerner, I found this part of getting married the most challenging of all.

My wife's family not only spoke no English, but they also resided in the countryside outside of Ho Chi Minh City, where life contrasts starkly with the bustling metropolis.

In the early stages of my relationship with my new wife, I found matters such as food, communication, customs, and privacy to be particularly challenging.

I want to clarify that my new family had no malicious intent; rather, the challenges stemmed from my adjustment to a new culture where people think and behave differently from what I was accustomed to in a family setting.

Food was the first big challenge in the changes to my life.

Local and regional foods in Vietnam are very different from what we experience in cities like Ho Chi Minh City.

As with every Vietnamese family, high carbohydrate meals with lots of rice were very common.

As an overweight Australian, visiting the family in the countryside presented many challenges, seemingly exacerbating my weight gain with each visit.

During special occasions such as birthdays and the Tet celebration, I discovered that one consequence of marriage was a noticeable increase in weight, as my body struggled to adapt to the unique diet prevalent in rural Vietnam.

In this supplied photo, Ray Kuschert and his wife take a toboggan ride after visiting Ba Den Pagoda in Tay Ninh Province.

In this supplied photo, Ray Kuschert and his wife take a toboggan ride after visiting Ba Den Pagoda in Tay Ninh Province, southern Vietnam.

Communication was also another factor that I had to change in order to fit into my new family.

None of my family members spoke English except for my wife, and although I had a reasonable level of Vietnamese communication skills, there were evident challenges in establishing connections and feeling at ease around my extended family.

Fortunately, my mother-in-law and the entire family were incredibly kind-hearted individuals.

Despite the challenge of accepting a foreigner into their family, they made extraordinary efforts to communicate and warmly welcome me into their home.

Adapting to new customs was undeniably the most significant challenge during this phase of my life.

Like any family, adhering to strict customs when visiting cousins, uncles, and aunts was crucial to demonstrate politeness and respect.

Understanding and following these customs proved to be exceptionally difficult for me. Simple tasks such as addressing the extended family in Vietnamese, accepting food and drink properly during visits, and knowing the appropriate etiquette while seated at the table with relatives all presented challenges as I familiarized myself with these customs.

While it remains a work in progress, after five years, I am gradually gaining a deeper understanding, and navigating these customs is becoming easier for me.

Adjusting to the concept of privacy presented a significant change and challenge for me.

After living alone for over 10 years before marrying into the family, I encountered a markedly different atmosphere within the family home.

In the countryside, it's commonplace for people to sleep together or at least share the same room, fostering a level of closeness in shared spaces that was far beyond what I had experienced, even while living with my family in Australia.

I found this adjustment particularly challenging and frustrating because there was no escape from constant interaction with others.

While it brought comfort and connection to my wife, it also caused me significant frustration and discomfort, prompting me to challenge and change my own mindset.

I am actively seeking ways to balance this issue, and with understanding from my wife, we are discovering ways to achieve a more harmonious equilibrium where everyone feels happier.

After three years of marriage and a total of five years in a relationship, I have come to understand the tight and caring connection within my wife's family.

Thankfully, I've managed to strike a balance between maintaining connection with my family and honoring my own need for privacy and a balanced life.

By making small adjustments in my attitude, supported by my wife who also made corresponding changes in her life, we've achieved a harmonious balance in our relationship with our extended family.

This has fostered a healthier dynamic within our familial relationships overall.

I know that every family is different and it's impossible to generalize about Vietnamese culture by seeing one family.

This is my experience of going from being a single man living alone to someone who is married to a family from a totally different culture.

I am sure that many other foreigners have had very different experiences to mine, some good and some bad, but overall I consider myself really lucky to have been accepted and treated kindly by caring and loving people.

My new family, especially my amazing mother-in-law, has taken me deeper and deeper into the culture of Vietnam and for that I am forever thankful.

I have learned that marrying a Vietnamese woman is not simply joining with an individual, but connecting one's soul to an entire clan.

It's a union vibrantly woven with rituals, food, values, and a love that extends far beyond the couple.

For anyone marrying into this rich culture, open yourself fully to the experiences. Immerse yourself in the teachings. Be accepting of the cultural rituals.

You've earned the heart of one Vietnamese person, and that heart will usher you into the core of the culture -- a vibrant world you will forever be grateful to call your own.

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Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News Contributor


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