It’s no longer strange to see a Vietnamese man and a foreign woman walking hand in hand on the street. The obstacles their marriage normally encounters, however, are numerous.
In Vietnamese history, King Le Than Tong had foreign concubines, one of them from Holland, who lived with him in Thang Long imperial city (now Hanoi) and learnt Vietnamese to talk to local people.
Nowadays many Vietnamese men, especially those who have studied in foreign countries, possess few internal barriers to marrying foreign women. A foreign wife is also funnily called “Dau Tay” (strawberry) in local slang though its hidden meaning has yet to be explained in official Vietnamese dictionaries.
Some Vietnamese men are very proud of their foreign wives’ beauty and talent, and – as they say – their lesser predilection for jealousy. Others are unhappy, claiming their foreign wives are too lazy to cook or do housework and don’t want to have more than one child.
In some cases, Vietnamese-foreigner marriages fall apart on account of insurmountable differences in culture, language, and lifestyle. Many unsuccessful marriages are blamed on the Vietnamese mothers-in-law for being hard to please and overstepping the boundaries of a couple’s private life.
Collin, an Australian woman, says her marriage with a Vietnamese man has broken down mainly because her mother-in-law was often involved in their private life. “She gave me a list of a housewife’s “must dos”, such as getting up early, going to the market, cooking three meals a day, cleaning the house, taking care of children and father, and caring about family business”.
Collin says she was too tired of sharing hard work with her husband.
Some foreign wives have managed to meet such onerous demands. In the eyes of Natalia Kraevskaia, a Russian woman who married a Vietnamese artist, Vietnam is a second homeland worth her devotion to her art gallery. Her marriage has allowed Natalia to immerse herself in and adjust herself to Hanoi’s lifestyle. Her knowledge of the local interpretations of the art of drinking tea has earned her the praise of her husband’s family.
Discussing his German wife, Tuan – a former resident of Berlin – says his family life in Germany was very happy. However, he says, since returning to Vietnam it has changed for the worse. His wife can hardly please his mother and adapt to a new lifestyle that is strict and complicated beyond recognition.
Hoang, another Vietnamese, has recently married Lindsay, an American woman whom he met while studying in the US. “My mother cooks dinner for my family and my wife can only say “Cam on, me!” (Thanks mom)”. No doubt, she has been asked by her husband to speak in Vietnamese to show respect for her mother-in-law.
Hoang admits he loves Lindsay in different aspects – she is always open-hearted and happily enjoys her time with him. It seems his wife understands him well, but he is not sure how long their marriage will last. His wife wishes to return to her homeland and she is not yet ready to have a baby.