My Vietnam Wedding: Honest Commentary From An American Groom
In America, the focus of a wedding ceremony is entirely on the bride and groom in every way. There is a long isle for the bridal party to walk down, all chairs are facing front to see the couple, and all of the choices and ceremonial events surrounding the wedding are chosen and customized by the bride and groom. At least, that’s how it was for ours. In Vietnam, this was still somewhat the case. The decorations and venues selected are up to choice, but there is a process that almost always occurs, such as the “kiss the bride” in America (or stepping on a cup depending on your religious-based decisions). In other words, something that remains consistent from wedding to wedding. In the case of Vietnam, the focus is slightly shifted from 100% bride and groom, to 100% family. The focus is entirely on family, and the joining of two families, rather than the joining of two people.
The beginning of our ceremony (which is still different than the traditional ways) began with all of us seated in our proper seats, positioned with Hang’s family at one side of the table, and mine on the other. The videographer was there with a single camera and LED light mounted on top (although I don’t see how he’d be able to capture adequate sound with his positioning choices), and the photographer actually showed up late (I grabbed my DSLR for Hang’s cousin to use during the ceremony, so that we’d at least have a few pictures of the place). Hang’s father stood up and began speaking to begin the ceremony, with a translator at the ready to help us understand what was being said.
He spoke about his family first, presenting the people who were present that represented their family. Each person, from uncles to cousins, and even notable people such as grandparents that were unable to attend were introduced to my family for the first time, one by one. The process took a bit of time, but in terms of knowing who everyone I was meeting actually was, it was useful. After this, the same was done with my side of the family, except Hang’s father did the introductions for us (since we simply don’t know how things are done here). One by one, my family was introduced to their family.
The next part will again reinforce my argument that marriage here is entirely about family, and not nearly as much about the couple (us). After introductions were made, both Hang and I were given incense to light at a couple of altars. These altars are found in the home all of the time, and represent the memory of ancestors that have passed away. In this case, Hang’s grandfather and great grandparents. You can read a bit more about these altars by reading my brief overview of them within this article here if you’d like. The incense were lit, and then placed on the altars after a brief bit of respect was paid to them. We then concluded this event by making our way over to Hang’s side of the family table, where we would then proceed to the final stages of this ceremony: gifts.
Giving gifts is a big deal in Vietnam weddings, and it’s almost always in the form of money or gold. We received both, although understandably, Hang received more of the gold in jewelry. She was given two bracelets, and we were given two 24k gold rings, which weren’t actually meant for wearing so much as they were for selling for money (so I’m told). I wore my ring the entire day on my pinky finger (it was the only finger it would fit on). Due to the nature of gold, and it being .9999 gold, the rings were super soft metal, and by the end of the night, the once tight ring was close to falling off of my pinky finger. I guess my finger stretched it out (that’s why it isn’t really meant for wearing).
We also received a pure gold coin. The coin celebrates 300 years for Ho Chi Minh City (yup, this is one of many cities that are older than my entire country). The coin was heavy, but it’s still soft metal. Later in the night, the coin was accidentally dropped (it wasn’t me), and a small knick is in the side of the coin now. It still means just as much to me as it did when it was without any marks though, so no worries. Of course, many of the attendees came with gifts of money as well.
After gift giving, the ceremony was basically concluded. There was no ‘kiss the bride’ or anything like that. Not even really a hug or anything. The ceremony concludes after the couple are presented with gifts, I guess. Guests were given Bánh cốm, a Vietnamese dessert made from rice and mung bean. It is made by wrapping pounded and then green-colored glutinous rice around sugary green-bean paste. To my American friends and family, hearing that likely doesn’t sound all that appetizing, and for the most part my family didn’t much care for the taste (although they made noticeable progress with it to be polite).
Hang and I, without actually being given bánh cốm for ourselves, proceeded outside where the flower-covered archway was set up at the entrance to the home. It was here where my family and I would spend the next 20 minutes standing in the heat, posing for a photograph with pretty much every single person that showed up to the ceremony. The job as a photographer here would be a super easy one for sure, as it is one of the most repetitive processes I’ve ever seen. I’m still amazed that he didn’t come with a tripod, since every photo he took was at the exact same angle, distance, and focal point. As the day went on, I would later learn that posed group photographs are unfortunately the primary activity for a married couple at a Vietnamese wedding, and that ‘fun’ activities simply don’t happen like they do in America.
After another hour of mingling and speaking with people, it was time to load up in the car, and head to the hotel for the reception… a party not at all like my party in America.