Weddings in Hanoi: The day itself

What we say: 3.5 stars

Apologies. It’s taken me longer to write part two of this blog than it usually takes a couple in Hanoi to get engaged. So let me get straight into it and recount my Hanoian wedding experience.

No, they weren't showing the football

No, they weren't showing the football.

First I should say that the wedding I went to was in the suburbs and was what I believe to be a more traditional wedding. Weddings for the city’s rich residents are reportedly quite different and more similar to weddings back in the West, and let me tell you, there were very few similarities between the wedding I attended and my previous experience.

My first surprise came with the casual nature with which invites are distributed and RSVPs given. Mainly, there is no expectation of an RSVP. What? Cry all of you who have planned a Western wedding. How do you know how many to cater for? Where to seat everyone? These are not concerns here: everyone related to the families is invited and this can lead to many hundreds of guests, all of whom are welcomed, fed and watered.

Having turned down the invitation to travel at first light in a minibus with my students, I took a taxi the 40 kilometres to the village, planning to arrive at around 13:00 (as advised). As I neared the village I received a call: “Don’t worry about coming if you don’t feel like it, Sarah,” said Mai. “You’ve missed the food now and I know it’s expensive for you in a taxi.” What? “You told me to come at 1pm,” I responded, “I’m nearly there now, I’m coming.”

Too pretty to eat

Too pretty to eat.

After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing in the taxi trying to find the place, I arrived at the hall in which the party was in full swing. An alternative to setting up a tent outside your house / shop / restaurant is to hold the party in the village or community house, which is where this one started.

The welcome was quite overwhelming: the groom’s mother grasped my hand and took me to an empty table where an array of food was presented, and she kept hold of my hand for quite some time. As I attempted to eat a sufficient amount of food to satisfy my hosts, the groom’s uncle started serving up the rice wine, of which I was also expected to drink a sufficient number of shots.

While I was eating a crowd of other guests were singing karaoke. That’s a new one for me at a wedding too.

I expected that after I’d eaten the ceremony would start, but it seemed we had quite a wait, so I wandered through the village to a tea shop, and spent an hour or so with my students sipping tea. Then it was back to the groom’s house and into his bedroom, where the bed had been set with a heart-shaped pillow and a large photo of the happy couple (taken a few weeks ago), all ready for the night ahead. There was some joviality and some photo taking and then into minibuses for the drive through the countryside — very pretty — to the bride’s house.

Unique wallpaper

Unique wallpaper.

So, as is traditional, the groom and his family and guests go to the bride’s house and the groom goes to receive the bride (having asked permission for this previously). They then go to the family altar for the ceremony, along with selected family members. At the wedding I attended, while they were off going through this special and sacred ceremony, the rest of us guests were treated to green tea and sweets and overbearingly loud dance music. This music continued on their return, along with essentially an MC shouting into a microphone.

Then it was back to the hall in the groom’s village for the more modern exchanging of rings — not a tradition — and more karaoke and loud MCing. At this point we left. That seemed the natural thing to do, although many of the other guests looked like they had a good few hours left in them.

All in all it was an incredible day: it was wonderful to see one of my students get married, for me to be so warmly welcomed by his family, and amazing to experience a day that contrasted so vividly with my vision of a wedding day.

Although I haven’t been to a Vietnamese wedding since, Australian friends of mine held a Vietnamese wedding party at the end of last year — it’s not legal to marry here but they wanted to hold a traditional party as they’ve been living here for a while. They organised for a tent to be put up outside their apartment, had photos taken in advance and displayed at the wedding, poured champagne into a tower of glasses, arranged an MC for the event and provided us all with bia hoi and food. It was quite a do — even though it finished by 14:00.

Last updated: 8th October, 2014

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