expat marrying in Vietnam/family reactions/skipping traditions

I'm going to ask one of those questions that you may have heard a thousand times. Still, I'd like some up-to-date personal narratives or advice from experience: I'm wondering if it's possible or common to have the Vietnamese family of one's finance come out swinging against her marrying a foreigner. How tough can these circumstances be? Let me add: what if you skip the traditional expectations of the family, such as the fancy traditional parties? I am not so familiar with VN. I'm not into the traditional stuff but my fiancé seems both anxious to, and scared, to do it the way she wants and hasn't sprung this relationship on her family yet. I'm out-of-the-loop and open to doing what's necessary. However, I think because I don't live there, and am usually in and out of there on business, doing things the step by step way have become hard. Neither of us are in our 20s, although she still lives with her family. Another VNese friend of mine scared me by telling me that it's possible her family will hate me and be extremely difficult. I'd love to read some experiences. I've no idea.

It goes without saying that there are many marriages between expats and Vietnamese that are just perfect.

In most of the horror stories that have been posted here about expats marrying Vietnamese women there are two main themes that repeat over and over again.

The first is where the family supports the marriage, primarily out of financial interest. They see the expat spouse as little more than a bank branch with feet. The expat ends up supporting the parent(s), and even brothers and sisters of the Vietnamese spouse. They usually end up getting taken for everything they have and in many cases are then cast aside.

The other scenario, like yours, is where entire family opposes the marriage. If the marriage takes place despite the family's opposition the Vietnamese spouse often is alienated from the entire family. That can build to great resentment and the marriage goes south anyway.  Vietnamese people, especially the women, are very tied to their families. You can't really fight that.

Move on while you still can, there's no real good that can come from willingly putting yourself into a situation that has more chance of absolute failure than any chance of success.

It's a great big world and the girl you think you love is not the ONLY one out there.

James Experts Team

Intersting and frightening answer James. I've no idea, actually, about these matters. I have an idea of what is a good relationship. So, that is not the question. But your two horror scenarios seem to warn us away entirely. Hmm...well...I appreciate your response. Any other perspectives? I'm sure there must be more positive views? Even if you have a good relationship, the family can be that bad, huh?

Have you met her family specifically her mom and dad. Vietnamese love foreigners especially white skin ones.

The well off family might object but if her family is not that well off find out why they would reject her marrying a foreigner. It may be something simple as not knowing who you are.

My experience was similar to James point. Out of interest for money. Though my wife didn't marry me for the money. Her family didn't force her or have any influence on her marrying me. She was hesitant even meeting me in the first place. It was all her choice. But I can see the difference when we just married to now.

Back when we just got married the expectations from her family was that I was an atm machine. It wasn't implicitly stated but just the way they treat you than and now. I'd get invited to every gathering and sometimes someone would take me out to eat.

Having lived mainly in Vietnam last 2 years I'm now treated as an outsider to the family. When they have informal family gatherings I'm never invited. No one ever comes to my house just for tea or conversation except brother in law #6 out of 9 siblings, When my wife got hospitalized on numerous occasions no one came to visit. Even my daughter's birth just her sister #6 came to visit. Her sister #6 is more well of than the rest though.

Compared to the rest in the family I'm pretty generous giving the most at birthday's and Tet. Gifts for their kids when I come back to Vietnam which always get criticized. But I don't give money directly to anyone but her parents.

That's just my experience but I'd say if you want to keep her family happy you better be raining money on them. Otherwise I'm just happy my wife and her parents are living well. I don't really care for the others and my wife understands this too.

Thanks for your reply Khanh. It's good to get different perspectives. I think being left alone, as you are, by the family sounds pretty good. Well...your experience doesn't sound too bad, how it's worked out now. I guess there is a difficulty in establishing/discouraging expectations in the beginning vis a vis family. Of course in a relationship itself, these points should be clear. But as to extended family...I knew the family connection is very strong and I've heard about the money point. But my VNese friend, who has never met my GF, seemed to say that there would be all kinds of objections to the marriage and family obstacles and that they might just come out hating me. That shocked me. It's not me I'm worried about but her. But, that friend is alway negative about everything.

If you've never met her family and your friend hasn't either I'd say the chances of her family liking you is far greater than them hating you. Bonus if you're white skin.

@Khanh44 Well, I'll take that as a positive. I guess my friend was reacting to the idea of my GF (mercifully) wanting to skip some of the usual practices. Aside from that, I couldn't understand why jump to them hating it or me. I thought VNese also had the prejudice that a woman past her 20s was un-marrry-able, so they'd be pleased! Well. Time will tell. Wherever you go, people will find reasons to criticize. In conservative, less progressive societies, I know it's worse: just being happy for your loved ones takes a a bit of wisdom. Maybe a little traditional Buddhist mindfulness?

True Love is our commitment to another: no reason is involved.   A current story on the BBC has a stork flying South for each Winter, leaving its disabled mate alone. (and cold)  That it has returned each Spring for the last fifteen times forces us to ask if this is an example of genetic predisposition - or do they just need the break from each other..?   Seriously.   Even biology has its parameters...

You might also Google Wikipedia's report on Bang Cock vs Krung Thep; the true name of the capitol of Thailand.   Guinness's book of records hold it as the longest name.  It is also the world's most visited city and favoured destination.   We need not guess why...

But to return to the answer within the question,  ( Traditional Expectations )  We need to examine where these expectations come from.   Sadly(?) the same origins of religion; Rite, Ritual and Dogma.  Themselves evolving from repetitive practice.   Cultural attitude?  - or again, a predisposition to believe..? 

So rather than do yet another Romeo & Juliet, can you open your mind far enough to examine just where (the family) expectations arise from?   Maslow's heirarchy of needs answers that one.  Survival.   There is no welfare system here, so family is everything.  This also explains the volunteer suicide squads in Bangkok.  No Family: No Hope.   In caps.

   Agreed.   While you might well believe you have a good relationship, the family can not only be that bad  (to protect its genetic investment) It may also be far worse than you can ever imagine.  Romeo and Juliet feared their families for the very same reasons.  Trivial differences? - not from their perspectives.

Meanwhile, back at the walking ATM..?    No.   As previously reported, the family might be well off enough not to need you.   Your true qualities might just qualify(?)    And No, I'm not being cynical.

Attention = Approval = Love?   No again.   That's only the child abuse model, where (we?) all kick up a fuss just to be recognised.   A tough call in a tough world.   Reality Bites.  Hard.

So, sad to say, given you admit that you 'have no idea', your chances of survival are very bleak.   You are actually asking your love to overcome a genetic bond, and while there are (very few) positive examples, the reality is that the ideal will die from natural causes.   And even (especially) good relations die from drudgery.
Your (last?) hope is to make firm friends with the family.   That will cement the bond you already have.
Sorry.  Those are the facts.    It is your choices, not chances, that will decide your destiny.

  My best wishes.

@Bazza  :) Very interesting and amusing post. You make some good points, but you're also self-indulgent (and snarky?) in questioning the reality of what someone (me) in particular believes (about my relationships: not the topic here) and for reducing their relationships (the child abuse model? that's your relationship maybe, not mine). Perhaps you just misunderstand what I "admit" I have no idea about. You do make some good points though. You may be right about chances and odds when it comes to the family part. Then again, I wonder if most or many of the expats here who married Vietnamese women feel they were racing the family bonds? It's an interesting question for sure. Perhaps others will weigh in. It certainly enters in as you've pointed out convincingly. On the other hand, I think your advice about making friends with the family is very positive and helpful.

I think Bazza's post is very helpful and in my opinion right in lots of ways.

It's human nature to take pleasure in people agreeing with our opinion. Yeah I won't lie I felt it had a negative tone to it. But a good friend is one that will tell you the truth and won't sugar coat it.

Bazza brings up the point of welfare. Vietnam doesn't have one. So the culture revolves around family values, supporting the elderly in old age and respect for those higher up in the family hierarchy.

Family bonds is what attracts expats to marrying Vietnamese locals.

I have had many arguments with my wife over her deep trust in taking the advice of her elders over my advice.  And superstitions. Those will drive you bonkers.

But your fiance not wanting a traditional wedding tells me she's from the city and not country side? Those from the city now are more open to ideas while those from the countryside where I live are deeply ingrained in tradition.

As you move closer to the city family value becomes less.

I think it's helpful but I've been around the block as an expat for many years in a totally different Asian country with it's own inscrutably negative values (vis a vis well being). The condescension of the expat-expert is boringly familiar. We become terribly knowing about other people's illusions/delusions. Maybe more than half the people I know are unhappy in relationships and some of them project. Their warnings don't go unheeded I guess. However, their personal misery is not mine. If I want someone to comment on my relationships I'll ask a true friend not an anonymous stranger. What he's saying about family is a helpful input though and that can become misery. Though I've known my GF for a while, I'm not really familiar with VNese family life and he might be right that it could be a nightmare. It's something to be considered. I take his opinion that it could be worse than imagined seriously. That's what I asked about. The cash machine bit is all over the internet. However, the stuff about the family just being against it surprised me. I didn't know that was common. I can see the other stuff about family being a big smothering tie though. That I get. I thought your personal experience was instructive though. Um...the extemporaneous psycho-socio profiling by Bazza, less so.

if you read Bazza's profile he's into psychology.

But yeah I agree with you I've been on this expat forum for I think more than 4 years. I've seen all sorts of people and seen all sorts of arguments break out because of what someone wrote.

We just have to accept the indifferences and appreciate the time they've taken to provide advice.

My advice would be to meet her family. I'm sure that would put all your worrying and concerns to ease.

A VN language newspaper survey some years ago found that around 75% of respondents agreed that it was acceptable to marry a foreigner. So it's 3:1 for and against. I simply advise you to meet your fiancee's family and give them time to get to know you. Also, no matter how old your fiancee is, it is likely that both she and you must still formally ask her parents for permission to marry.

My wife's family could have chosen to make things difficult for my wife and I  when we planned to marry. They didn't. Rather, they have been supportive, kind and helpful in every respect and have been a wonderful family to be part of over the last 17 years.

Even more difficult than marrying a foreigner is a marriage between northern and southern families. They were on opposing sides of a long war, remember. The parents of one cousin declared a resolute and unchangeable "NO" when he planned to marry a northerner. After four years the parents relented when they realised that the young couple would NEVER find other partners to marry.  I am pleased to report the happy couple now have two children and all is well.

You should insist on limiting the numbers coming to your wedding. Six hundred or eight hundred guest list is absolutely ridiculous. You could point out that the Communist Party has issued a guide that weddings should have no more than 300 guests. Unfortunately , this guide is frequently ignored.  Around Nha Trang, 300 guests appears to be an acceptable number for appearances sake.

Good luck and  best wishes for the future,

My story seems different to many other stories I read on here and elsewhere. maybe I was lucky. I have a wonderful wife who has looked after me when I was ill and who is almost a part of me now as we are inseparable. That prolly wouldn't do for some people but it works for us.

It is 8 years (almost to the day) since I met my wife in Saigon. It was two years before she took me to meet her family. They were just like any other family, given the cultural differences. Maybe the fact that I have lived in many countries and have a degree of tolerance of culture, ways of life and so on made it easier for both sides. maybe they are different to some families. They are farmers and are not paupers. They are proud of their country and proud of their land.

They invited me to join them for dinner and her brother in law fussed around me making sure that I had enough rice and chicken. Her brother made sure that I had plenty of beer. Her mum kept grinning at me with red stained teeth. Before dinner she had been chewing betel nut.

It was during our second meeting that my then g/f father motioned to me to go with him for a walk. We walked a couple of hundred meters and stopped by a piece of land of about half a hectare full of mature coffee trees. A piece of land with beautiful views across the a valley in the central highlands.

It's yours and hers, he said.

He died a year later and shortly before that, during a visit to his farm, I realized that he was in great pain. He had stomach cancer and there was nothing the doctors could do for him.

With the rest of the family eating in the next room, I held his hand. He gripped mine tightly, but never made a sound. He had been Vietcong and then NVA and knew all about suffering and pain.

My g/f and I were married in Dalat in 2014 - 6 years after we first met. I wish that I had met her 20 years before.

We had her niece staying with us for a year or so when she started her medical training here in Saigon. A visit to the casualty department of the local hospital cured her desire to be a doctor and she is now studying pharmacy. Her parents came to visit us after she had been staying with us for a couple of months. They wanted to pay for her room and board. I declined and my wife agreed. So the delivery of chickens, fruit, vegetables, rice and coffee beans from the families farms became regular events, ("what the hell are we going to do with 12 kilos of avocados?).

Her mum, who has her own farm, stays with us for months at a time, whilst her son, my wifes brother, looks after her farm.

There are family squabbles of course and sometimes my wife confides in me that this family member, or that person has made derogatory remarks about us and said that our house was rubbish and that the doors aren't real wood (the things they jib about can be a bit unreal), but I just shrug it off and laugh.

When it comes down to it though, the family is a tight place and its all for one an one for all, totally unlike UK families (well mine anyway).

I dont support my wifes family. They don't ask me for money. However if they needed it and I had enough to give them  I would give it willingly, because they are ferociously hard workers.

Now about the OP snd his missus. Make sure of her feelings for you and yours for her. If you are true to each other you can survive just about anything. If your wife is easily swayed by her family you may have problems in future.

An example: I was QC manager for a project in the Mekong Delta a couple of years ago and one of my guys didn't turn up for work one morning. I asked my interpreter to call him and she did.

She told me that in Vn culture if a senior member of the family tells a junior member to do something, or not do something, the junior must comply. In this case the young mans grandmother had said that he couldn't go to work that day - and of course he didn't call in and let us know. I enquired if the grandmother was sick or needed help and found that in fact the granny was just exercising her familial right of authority. So I put it to the guy that if he hadn't turned up for work by mid day he would be suspended without pay for 7 days. Which worked. He was at work by 11:30 in fact.

My wife has a very strong personality and she is also very highly educated, which allows her to make decisions based on common sense and logic as opposed to tradition and custom and practice. So even if her family hadn't taken to me we would still have got married.

You and your wife might incur family disapproval via your relationship, or you might not. The only thing to do is to meet them. When yo do meet them, just be polite and warm with them. Do not discuss financial matters with them - someone is bound to ask how much you earn. Just deflect the question with a gentle smile and say that it all depends on what work you are doing.

Take plenty of time to get to know your wife (a couple of years at least) and her family and always remember "marry in haste, repent at leisure".

Sorry for the long rambling post, its early in the morning and I haven't had my (sister in laws farm) coffee.

..and there you have it.  In Black & White, as you asked.   

Define epistemology to find me.   Unconditional objectivity is an ideal, for we all have our unique methods of explaining ourselves.   You might also read Marcus Aurelius' meditations to see the wood is part of the trees..?    Maybe.   I hope you find the right questions.

@khanh44, @ralphnhatrang, @eodmatt Thanks for the posts folks. I appreciate it. I think I really do understand the situation better now. I realized ties were strong, but I think I didn't realize in what manner and how disapproving families can be. This makes sense. This is something to anticipate. Having lived in India and in Tokyo for years, I didn't know what to expect from VN. I feel much better informed now. I don't know what will happen in our case...perhaps I'll revisit the post in the future with an update.
@Bazza139 "Define epistemology to find me." - "I've always felt that the truth is in the silence.” - Garry Shandling

yes keep us updated VanRoss.

I got married not knowing the family bond and hierarchy situation. Lots of arguments in the beginning but because of our love to each other we rode through it, compromised and are happier than we've ever been.

I think you don't realize what love is in Vietnam until you've reached year 2 of marriage. Anything before year 2 is infaturation or the discovery period.

A few words about the wedding......

As someone once said in another post elsewhere on this website, a Vietnamese wedding is about as interesting as getting a driving license.

The wedding reception, which may take place later, is another matter.

The number of guests that your wife will invite( the wedding reception has nothing to do with you, as you are merely a prop) depends on the size of her family and their ability to travel - some will live far away and some will be old and infirm.

Yes the government has suggested a limit to the size of wedding parties, but the wedding is a chance for your bride to show her family - and the world - what a great catch she has made. And the Vietnamese have anyway an almost Germanic regard for government advice: When I lived in Germany a local doctor asked me if I could get him a couple of bottles of Caol Ila malt whisky. I reminded him that it was illegal for me to do so and he replied: "Legal; Illegal; Scheiss-egal". Which pretty much sums up the Vietnamese attitude too.

Whilst 100% of the people invited will state that their intention is to attend, only 80 - 85% (I have no proof for the figures, just observation) will actually attend.

Also, the more people who attend, the more red envelopes you will receive. Your wife will be eager for as many red envelopes as possible, as the cash in them will contribute to the cost of the wedding - not that you will see any of it, it will be salted away for the future.

Practice smiling and shaking hands. A lot.

Quote from my wedding reception, from a very senior police officer: "so what do you think of corruption in Vietnam?" My response that, as he is a very senior police officer, he has far better knowledge of the matter, was met with guffaws of laughter.

@eodmatt It's an interesting dilemma, wishing to skip all that stuff and risking the eternal disapproval of a family. I wonder if anyone around this forum has skipped it all and survived to tell the tale. I appreciate your thoughtful recollection.

As I read the different stories about married with a Vietnamese girl/woman, it's only how to interprete the words "I love you" (before marry).
It's sometimes not easy to fall in love with somebody but it's very easy to believe if somebody tell you "I love you".
Sorry, but sometimes you have to be married many years before you realise that. And in countries as Vietnam it's more easy to use that words than exemple in Europe, Australia or the States.
The best way is not to marry too early, wait a few years and maybe you realise then what they mean with " An yeu em".

I think it's always a good idea to wait. Time is important. We have to know what our relationships are. I live in a different Asian country and probably 50% of the married people I know are unhappy. It may be the same every where, I don't know. What's important is to have a good relationship. And that takes time.

VanRoss :

I'm going to ask one of those questions that you may have heard a thousand times. Still, I'd like some up-to-date personal narratives or advice from experience: I'm wondering if it's possible or common to have the Vietnamese family of one's finance come out swinging against her marrying a foreigner. How tough can these circumstances be? Let me add: what if you skip the traditional expectations of the family, such as the fancy traditional parties? I am not so familiar with VN. I'm not into the traditional stuff but my fiancé seems both anxious to, and scared, to do it the way she wants and hasn't sprung this relationship on her family yet. I'm out-of-the-loop and open to doing what's necessary. However, I think because I don't live there, and am usually in and out of there on business, doing things the step by step way have become hard. Neither of us are in our 20s, although she still lives with her family. Another VNese friend of mine scared me by telling me that it's possible her family will hate me and be extremely difficult. I'd love to read some experiences. I've no idea.

When you marry a Vietnamese woman, you essentially marry her family as well. As everyone else is saying, you need to meet and get to know the family.

One of my saddest experiences while working as the Navy version of Military Policeman in Japan, was with a young Marine who fell in love with a Japanese girl who fell in love with him. The result was a forced abortion and an arranged forced marriage for the girl. The formally good young Marine went nuts and I stuck my neck out and angered a number of people for strenuously objecting to a Dishonorable Discharge for the stupid stuff that the Marine did. The Base Commanding Officer agreed with me as did the C.O. of the Marine Detachment and the Marine was reassigned to a remote base as an E-1 with his pay docked for the maximum amount short of a Court Martial.

Agreed Viet Nam is not Japan. But, going against family can be an absolute disaster anywhere, and especially in Asia

@70 years old
Japan sure has changed. No forced marriages these days. But Vietnam may be now like Japan was decades back. I'm not sure if saying "confucianism is the influence" is a lazy charge. There are some commonalities in Asia perhaps. Many differences between countries too but family is still a different concept than in some of the "west." I have heard of Japanese kids paying off their parents debts. But there's much more variety in Japan these days. Some people I know aren't that connected to their families in Japan and don't bother with their family's opinion. I'm certainly interested in hearing more from people's experiences in VN.

If you want to get a good insight into the workings of VN,have a chat with Ralphnhatrang. I met him in Nha Trang and he is a wealth of information, he speaks,reads and writes VN's and has a very good  knowledge of VN. If I remember correctly he used to be an interpreter during the war years. Really nice guy to spend time with.



VanRoss :

... she hasn't sprung this relationship on her family yet.

Won't meeting the family answer all your questions? Why ponder hypotheticals when your gf can simply bring you out of the closet and see how it goes? All people and families and relationships are different. Might not be any problem at all. Dude, be bold.  ;)

@gobot, very wise man you are. 😏  Best advice I heard so far.

@gobot Not a bad suggestion. Hmm...I'm almost going to quote Tolstoy here...

Very kind, Yoda is. Gobot blushes.

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