For foreigners, Vietnamese weddings are as strange as they are exciting. There are fireworks, endless drinking, loud music, incomprehensible speeches and enough family politics to last a lifetime. It’s an overwhelming experience, even for veteran expats, so let’s get you up to speed.
If you’re a casual friend or colleague of the couple, then you can skip right to the reception part because you won’t be at the ceremony. It’s just for immediate family and very close friends. If the family is Catholic, then you probably already know what to expect: hymns, prayers, priests and a church. But even Catholic families will usually go through at least some of the Buddhist traditions as well. It’s bad luck in Vietnam to not ask for the blessings of your ancestors before getting married.
First, the groom’s family is received at the bride’s home. After giving gifts and speeches, the couple asks the bride’s ancestors for blessings, introducing the departed to the groom’s family. If the couple wishes to do so — and most do these days — they will exchange rings here. Traditionally, the couple will repeat this ceremony at the home of the groom’s family. These days, however, the latter part of the ceremony will happen at a later date — or not at all.
For most people, the festivities begin at the reception. When you come into the reception hall, the newlyweds will be the first ones to greet you. Every guest gets a picture with them, which gets pretty amusing after a while because their smiles begin to look robotic.
After your picture, grab a spot inside. If there are assigned seats, one of the planners will point you in the right direction. Now the real show begins: firecrackers, loud music and comically awkward speeches. But unless you speak Vietnamese, you’ll probably just have to sit there and smile until the food comes.
Cash is the preferred gift for newlyweds, since they’ll typically be moving into their own place after the ceremony. Whether you bring cash or something you know they’ll love, make sure you wrap it in red, the color of luck. Western-style weddings will have a table with a sign-in book and a place to display gifts. At traditional weddings, the couple will accept gifts as they make their rounds to visit all the tables. If you are a foreigner, a gift of 500,000 VND ($22 USD) is appropriate.
And now we come to everyone’s favorite item on the schedule: the food. Vietnamese weddings spare no expense when it comes to impressing guests. Typical meals consist of six or more courses. If you’re not a fan of seafood, we’ve got bad news for you. But since you’re in Vietnam, you probably already knew this.
The first courses are usually cold platters, often featuring cheese, bread and spring rolls. The main course will be a hotpot, or a choice meat with several side dishes. Fruit is the traditional desert, though many families splurge for modern dishes like ice cream and a western-style wedding cake these days.
By the time the night ends, your arm will be tired. The first toasts are given by speakers and the couple themselves. After that, the couple and other guests make their way around to all the tables to say hello to everyone. Every new guest means another hearty “một, hai, ba, vô!” (Pronounced: Moe, Hi, Baw, yo!)
The funniest part of Vietnamese weddings, by far, is how they end. For all the ceremony and hoopla, the night ends in a blink. One second you’re raising your glass and drinking with a bunch of friends and strangers, the next you’re waving down a taxi outside. And don’t think that the exodus is insulting to the wedding couple either. They’ve had a long day and are usually more than happy to get it over with. The facial muscles weren’t meant to smile for 12 straight hours. After the food is cleared from the tables, people only hang around for a little while. The closest family and friends are the last to leave, but even they don’t stick around for too long. Sometimes rowdier family members will head out for karaoke. If they ask you to join, do it. It’s hilarious.
Now you now what to expect. Good luck and have fun!