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The family is the most important of all social units in Vietnam. In contrast to the focus on individualism in the West, the close-knit family is the basic unit in Vietnamese society. "Hieu", or filial piety, is one of the basic virtues. This refers to the idea of love, care, and respect that children give their parents. This obligation is unconditional, even in the case of a parent who abandons the children or does not fulfill his or her parental duties. Children are taught this virtue from a very young age (see THE ROLE OF CHILDREN). The socialization process normally begins at home with the teachings from grandparents and parents. This educational process continues throughout a child's early years and is reinforced throughout all the social institutions.
     One of the most well known Vietnamese proverbs is "Cong Cha nhu nui Thai Son, Nghia Me nhu nuoc trong nguon chay ra. Mot long tho Me kinh Cha, cho tron chu hieu moi la dao con," or The debt we owe our father is as great as Mount Thai son; the debt we owe our mother i
s as inexhaustible as water flowing from its source. We must repay their debt in order to fulfill our obligations as children" the cradle of traditional Vietnamese society was village place that provided individual with a sense community and security in potentially hostile environment. This along importance family created network extended kinship ties.

In traditional Vietnamese culture, strong individuals in a family have an obligation to the weaker and less fortunate members of the family (or village). Every action of every family member reflects on the family, be it achievement or shame. There is a sense of obligation and of providing for the welfare of each and the entire family. An individual who achieves fame at the expense of the family is discouraged and even sanctioned.
      The family in Vietnam was also an extended one, unlike the typical "nuclear" family in the United States. The family traditionally was composed of three to five generations living in the same house, typically including parents, children, grandparents, and sometimes, unmarried uncles and aunts. The extended family acted as a source of mutual support and as an institution where individual problems and social conflicts could be resolved. However, the long history of multiple wars changed the basic structure of the Vietnamese family. Because many family members and individuals were killed during all the different wars, it would be difficult to maintain the expected ancient traditions and practice. Although the family structure fundamentally remains an extended one, in urban areas particularly, the family is limited to three generations: grandparents, parents and children. Vietnam also has patriarchal system where the man, or husband, serves as the head of the family... (See THE ROLE OF MAN). He takes care of money matters and is responsible for providing for the family. The woman (see THE ROLE OF WOMAN) is in charge of the affairs in the home and raising the children.


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      In traditional Vietnamese society, respect as a cultural value is deeply embedded in all social relations and interactions as well as in all the activities of daily life. Thus, the social hierarchy of the society is clearly observed and maintained in everyday life. The cultural value of respect can be seen in the Vietnamese language by the proliferation of titles designating the relative position of an individual vis-a`-vis another person.  Forexample: In Vietnamese, the title designates not only the family relationship such as mother, father, aunt, uncle, sister, brother, grandmother, and grandfather, but also which side of the family that individual comes from. In other words, when used, the title clearly reveals whether that person is from one's paternal or maternal side and whether it is an older or younger relative. When siblings are described, the term reveals whether the sister or brother is younger ("em," for women and men) or older ("chi" for women and "anh" for men, respectively). When addressing strangers, the person's title is judged in relation to one's parents. If they are seen as older than one's parents, they are generally referred to as "bac" (older uncle or aunt), and "chu" or "co"(younger uncle or aunt, respectively) for someone younger.
       Another way in which respect is shown is by avoiding eye contact with someone who is higher in status because of their education, social standing, age or gender. Direct eye contact generally conveys a direct challenge or an expression of intimate passion. One must also bow the head slightly in the presence of an elderly person, which also conveys respect. 


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      In the past, families enlisted the help of matchmakers to choose marriage partners.

Couples also consulted fortune-tellers to see if their horoscopes were compatible and to choose auspicious days for ceremonies. Ceremonies for the proposal and the engagement took place one or two years before the wedding. These traditions are no longer observed and the engagement ceremony may now be held two weeks before the wedding.

      The wedding ceremony consists of two parts. On the first day the groom-with his parents and a small group of family members or friends--goes to the bride's home to seek her parents' permission to marry her. Often, the groom presents the traditional offering of betel leaves and areca nuts to the bride's family. After the groom has made this formal proposal of marriage, the bride's family makes a similar request to its ancestors at the family altar. On the second day, there is a celebration after the bride and groom performed certain rituals at an altar set up for the occasion. Traditionally, at this ceremony held at the groom's house, the tutelary god of marriage, the Old Man in the Moon, is asked to bless and protect the couple. Three tiny cups are filled with rice alcohol. The elder who leads the ceremony bows before the altar, takes a sip from one of the cups, and passes it to who does likewise. The groom then takes a piece of ginger and rubs it in salt, and both bride and groom eat a little of it to signify their lasting love. Only then are they ready to exchange wedding ring. These days, the two ceremonies are often held on the same day. Once the solemnities are over, it is time for a feast with family and friends. If the couple can afford it, the wedding feast is celebrated at a restaurant and a wedding car is hired for the occasion. 
      Most Vietnamese have adopted Western attired--a bridal gown for the woman and a su
it for a dowry before he was permitted to marry a woman. This practice is not formally observed these days, but men are still expected to give jewelry and other gifts to the bride.It is traditional for a married couple to care for the man's parents; subsequently, it is very important to have a son! If there is only one son, he and his wife must live with his parents. Family continuity is accorded highest consideration, and for a family without boys there is sadness and serious concern. It is not unusual for parents, seeing that the only son has no chance of having male heirs to carry on the family's name, to try and try. And if necessary, to succeeding tremendous pressure on a son and daughter in-law to find another woman for their son, even at the risk of creating a family rupture.The parents control almost all of the children's life, even though they are over eighteen years of age.


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Funerals are elaborate because it is important to give the deceased the best possible send-off. To ensure a comfortable after-life, the family provides colorful model paper houses, "spirit money," and other necessities that are burned to enable the departed soul to use them.During the wake, relatives take turns at guarding the coffin during the night for it is believed that if a cat lands on the coffin, the body will jump abruptly. Previously, a coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased for luck and a bowl of rice was left on the coffin. In some parts of Vietnam, a knife is rested on the stomach of the dead person to ward off evil spirits.For the funeral procession, family members put on mourning clothes of sackcloth or gauze. After the burial, family members go through a period of mourning that could last from nine months to three years.

More traditional Vietnamese wear a mourning band on their sleeve during this time and refrain from going to parties or indulging in other entertainment.Exhumation is commonly practiced. Three years after the burial, family members exhume the body from the gravesite and collect the bones of the deceased. The bones are cleaned and place in a small earthen coffin for reburial. The dead are not forgotten. A photograph is usually placed on the family altar at home and sometimes also in a temple. Offerings in the form of food or incense are made to the spirit of the deceased on special occasions and on the death anniversary.


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     To be a man, one must take four important steps: First, he must know how to cultivate himself (Tu Tha^n). In order to achieve this step, he must meet five requirements: 1) He must adhere to rites and ceremonies. 2) Strictly observe the family and social hierarchies (Le^~). 3) He must help the need and desperate (Nghi~a). 4) He must have strong will power and determination (Chi'), and 5) He should consistent and loyal so that people can trust and have confidence in him (Ti'n). Then he must govern or run his own family properly (Te^` Gia). Without these two prerequisites he might not be able to rule the country (Tri. Quo^'c). And after fulfillment of the three above required steps might hie pacify the whole world (Bi`nh Thie^n Ha.). 
      The Vietnamese man or more accurately the husband is the boss, or he claims to be one. In traditional conditions, he is breadwinner and decision-maker for his family. He is supposedly the most important member of the family and definitely has a higher status than his wife. He has the power to control all the things in the family. When the decisions must be made regarding important issues such as the mirage of his children. He usually consults not only his wife and the children concerned but also other members of his family, such as his parents, his parents in-law, his brothers and sisters, his uncles and aunts, etc. But the final decision is still his, and appropriate actions are taken.




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      Vietnamese woman are highly regarded by Westerners, who find them very graceful and gentle with all sorts of qualities that men look for. As young girls, they expected to keep their virginity until they get married and to getmarried only once in their life. As married women, they are expected to respect and be faithful to their husbands and accept whatever fate might come. When a woman gets married, she is no longer considered to belong to her family but becomes a member of her husband's family. In other words, she is assumed to have a new duty and responsibility toward her husband and in-laws only.Our women are taught to be observe three basic practices: While they are still under their parents' protection, they must be obedient to their fathers (Ta.i Gia To`ng Phu.). When they get married, they have to be submissive to their husbands (Xua^'t Gia' To`ng Phu). When their husbands die, they must listen to their grown-up sons (Phu. Tu* To`ng Tu*). Under the old custom and good woman must have four feminine virtues: 1) She must be good at housework, needlework, or any work peculiar to women (Co^ng). 2) She must have feminine deportment and appearance (Dung). 3) She must speak gently and be careful with her speech (Ngo^n). 4) She must show good conduct and act in a virtuous way (Ha.nh). And last but not least, when they go out, they have to dress properly and they had to have permission from their parents in order to go anywhere.  
      The role of women has traditionally been confined to the home. They are expected to bring up and educate their children, take care of the household, and not only serve their husbands in every respect, but also their husband's families as well. They are expected to sacrifice themselves for their husbands and children husbands and children.


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      Vietnamese children are polite and behave themselves at home and outside. They are subject to discipline, especially at school, and are taught to be absolutely obedient to their older siblings, relatives, and parents. They are also told to obey, respect, and listen to older people. 
      At home children are expected to help parents, take care of their younger siblings or aging grandparents, and do whatever they can in the way of babysitting, cooking, cleaning, washing, and so on and on, depending on their age and the economic situation of their family.
      At school children show great respect for their teachers and school administrators. Discipline is strictly observed, and any violations will result in severe punishments.Courting and dating are never encouraged by the parents nor practiced by the majority of young people. Casual friendship between boys and girls does exist but usually on a reserved basis and under strict control by parents or surveillance by school proctors. Girls tend to get together with girls, boys tend to flock with boys, and the dividing line in most cases is clear-out.



      Cultures of the World Vietnam
by: Audrey Seah and Marshall Cavendish


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