My Vietnam Wedding: Honest Commentary From An American Groom
The Reception: Part 1
Our wedding reception took place on the 7th floor of the Windsor Plaza Hotel, the same hotel my parents were already staying at. The large room consisted of over 20 tables ready with name cards labeling the groups of people that should be seated. Along the walls were lights and drop down video screens, which would play the wedding video I had already prepared for the event. A 28 minute video showing exactly what our party in America was like, complete with music, transitions, etc. We would soon learn that the hotel was unable to accommodate audio with the video feed, essentially rendering all the work I had done pointless (aside from our parents having it, of course).
Still the show must go on as they say, and as the guests began to show up for the party, Hang and I stood at the entrance to the room, ready to greet each guest that came to see our wedding. There were far more people attending this part of the celebration, which is understandable considering the size of the place, and the fact that there was a nine-course meal being served with as much alcohol as they wished to drink. Turns out, lots of people wanted to join us for the party… more people than were even invited. In fact, the Vietnam wedding reception had double the people of the American one, even though the same number of people were invited to attend. With all those attendees came a new person I had to greet. Sometimes I greeted them properly (acknowledging them properly by their title in terms of age and relation), and other times I didn’t have to. They simply greeted Hang, and then stood with us for a photo before moving towards their seats. I got a head nod or something most times, and for me, that was enough. I didn’t know how to communicate with them anyways, so the less awkward I could feel in the moment, the better. I was already out of my element with this day anyways, and it was only going to get more unfamiliar as the night went on.
Most of the people who attended wanted a photo with us at the front door where we were greeting them. This was a nice touch, since they would all have a record of their attendance, as well as having a cool photo to show us who all came to wish us well. It was good for the first 20 minutes or so, but it didn’t take much longer than that before I began to realize a pattern forming around photography, as each person came with the same posed pictures that happened at the ceremony. They wanted more photos… more of the same photos. As a person who wants to be up front and honest, I’m forced to say it was the only part of the night I didn’t actually enjoy the longer it lasted. That isn’t to say that I don’t like the people, because all of the people are great. I enjoyed seeing them and, when I could, conversing with them. Standing for lengthy periods of time doing nothing but smiling for photos, all without any food yet, was a bit much though. I simply didn’t enjoy that, and I don’t really believe my family did either. It just felt way too mechanical and repetitive, and it’s certainly something that’ll make your feet hurt fairly quickly. We wanted to start the show. Start the introductions and speeches. Start dinner.
Aside from the long standing sessions for repetitive photos, the reception was a great experience though. It began with a performance on stage, something that I’ve never seen at a wedding before, and I don’t really think I enjoyed it all that much as is. Our wedding reception even started late due to the performers having been double-booked for the wedding across the hall as well. They had to finish up with another wedding before performing for us (I assume the exact same performance).
Wedding events should be about the couple, in my mind, and this wasn’t us at all. It was just a show that held us up and disrupted our party, and when it concluded, all of the performers were lined up in a row on each side of us as we walked down the long isle to the stage. That means that the people who join us on stage for our special day, are people we don’t even know. Nobody does. They are just performers, and they actually share the spotlight with us, even though they have nothing to do with OUR day. I’ll continue.
My family was announced and came in after Hang and I, including my grandmother. Hang’s parents followed mine, and eventually we all ended up on stage with loud music and lights (a fairly ‘rock star’ sort of entrance). There was a brief bit of rehearsal beforehand, so I wasn’t totally ignorant on what was to come. That doesn’t mean I was completely confident in what I was doing though.
So we’re all standing on stage now, facing the 300 people looking on at us. All of the announcements and such were spoken in Vietnamese, and then in English so that were could understand them as well. My dad spoke first, giving a ‘short and sweet’ speech on how wonderful it was to be there, and how beautiful he thought the country was, thanking them for the great welcome. The speech was translated back to Vietnamese after he finished. From there, Hang’s father spoke, giving a slightly longer speech that I unfortunately cannot translate, as it wasn’t ever translated to us well. I suppose that part was just forgotten. After that, I gave a short speech as well. This part was not conventional, but I wanted to say something at my wedding, just like I did at the one in America. This one was much shorter, completely off-the-cuff, and yet still came out great. I thanked Hang’s family for the amazing hospitality they had provided, and the wonderful presence and spirit that they have, and have kept throughout our relationship together. I also thanked my family for being such good sports about things, and for joining us here in Vietnam. I really couldn’t’ have imagined doing this without them there as well.
After translations were completed, there was a quick round of applause. I’m not sure how well everything was translated though, as the vocabulary differences between English and Vietnamese are astronomical. There simply isn’t a way to translate sentences as intended sometimes, especially when you want to say a joke, or speak with some sarcasm (something I do frequently). I’m hoping they received our words well, but I have really no way of knowing for sure.
Next came a toast to our future and good fortune… at least, that’s as I understood it. Hang and I shifted ourselves over to my grandmother and presented her with a glass of wine together. Then, I gave a glass to my father, and Hang to my mother. My brothers were given glasses by the staff (typically, brothers aren’t on stage at this time, however this isn’t a typical wedding). We then shifted over towards Hang’s parents, and I presented wine to my father-in-law, and Hang her mother. Lastly, we were each handed our own glass, and then a group toast of sorts took place in the middle of the stage. In a way, the formation we were in reminded me of a team huddle breaking before the play, except we were in tuxedos and had wine to drink.
With this group toast concluded, everyone except Hang and I cleared the stage and took their seats at their respective dinner table. The next part of the reception was cake cutting. Yes, this happens right away, even before dinner begins. We aren’t actually cutting a real cake either. It’s instead a fake cake cutting act with a cake that we aren’t actually going to eat.
In fact, nobody eats cake at the reception at all. It’s just for show. The ‘real wedding cake’ is actually provided to us from the hotel, and wasn’t actually brought out to eat until Hang’s mother brought it out the next day to eat with my family. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of a wedding without a cake. It just seems like one of those consistent things that always happens. It’s one of only a select few rules you never break. Weddings have cake… it’s simple, unless you’re in Vietnam I suppose.
Right after the fake cake cutting, we immediately headed over to a large group of wine glasses arranged atop one another in a pyramid formation. Our task was to pour wine in the top glass as we filled the glasses below it with the overflow. It took two bottles to do it, and even then there were glasses left empty at the bottom.
With this concluded, that was it for the opening event for the reception. Hang and I exited the stage down the long isle way with some applause, and then exited out the doors we initially came in. At first I wasn’t sure why we were exiting, but Hang reminded me that she was going to change dresses. (it was one of those “oh yeah, of course” sort of moments). Eight to ten minutes of waiting around the lobby later, Hang returned with her mother (who had also changed) in new dresses, and we walked back into the reception together.
See the rest of this story on the next page.