Editor’s note: Bui Duc Tien is an internal immigrant who has lived in Ho Chi Minh City for almost a decade. He currently works as a university lecturer at a major teacher training college.
A Hanoian dabbling his feet in the customs of Saigon’s nuptial celebrations has been startled by their complexities, while in Hanoi a Saigonese invited to a local wedding has been bored by its simplicity.
Vietnamese weddings are often a showcase of people’s personal networks, with throngs of family, relatives, friends, acquaintances and even strangers in attendance.
Yet, receptions differ wildly depending on each location, with Hanoi and Saigon the most obvious example.
A Saigonese wedding reception involves several distinct steps.
Beginning with the newly-wed walking arm-in-arm as cameras flash from the entrance to the stage, a live music performance usually follows, with the happy couple sometimes going the extra mile by singing themselves.
After this, each set of parents will join them on stage, with representatives from each family taking turns to deliver well-rehearsed speeches, which are met with cheers for the bride and groom.
The bride and groom then proceed to the cake tower, posing with a knife they both hold before slicing into it and holding for one last picture.
The same level of importance is given to the champagne tower, with dry ice flowing over dozens of glasses arranged in the shape of a pyramid.
The newly married couple then opens a bottle of wine and pours it over the glasses, creating a visually pleasing cascade that draws cheers from everyone present.
In Hanoi, neither the cake-slicing nor wine-pyramid ceremonies are common. The wedding procedure usually only includes brief greetings from the newly-wed and a few kind words from the families’ representatives.
Things tend to go at warp speed and remain intensely focused.
I tend to believe that in Saigon people do not care that much about the fuss above. The moment the lights are turned back is the most awaited, as it signals the key to any party: food.
The dishes then proceed in order: first the appetizer, then the main course, followed by desserts, all distributed in a strictly adhered to timeline.
Hanoian wedding diners miss out on the privilege of such a focused sequence, as their dishes tend to come all at once.
I myself prefer the Hanoian style. Based on years of experience awaiting the next dish, I know how funny we invitees look: passive and at the mercy of the caterers.
I have seen many guests pull faces like my own: “Please sir, I want some more.” Slightly pathetic you could say.
While it is not that much of a big deal, as guests chit-chat away, at least in Hanoi people like myself can do as I please: eat whatever I want and in the order I want!
To rush or not to rush, that is the question
While guests at Saigon weddings are picking or gobbling their food, the two main characters have the most important duty: to rush around to every table, stopping at each to chat and of course posing for a photo. Well, two to be precise, as one shot usually only covers half a table.
However, it’s not just the couple who has to make this tiring journey, as both sets of parents have to make it, too.
Meanwhile, there is the music. It can be simply background music played from the convention center’s stereo, but more often than not it is either a lovely, or noisy, or crazy, or ‘hotpot’ music show.
The Saigonese also love singing, and they prefer to do so on stage!
These so-called ‘singers’ will either entertain people with their well-practiced voices, or sing in a ridiculous manner, highlighting their horribly out-of-tune effort.
The moment these rituals are over normally marks the end of the eating and drinking spree, and is the sign for the couple to march to the door for farewells and a final round of photos.
In Hanoi, the newly-weds will generally sit down and enjoy themselves over gentle background instrumentals. To me, the Hanoi way is like: a word or two then sit down and chew.
A Saigonese wedding ceremony can last up to three hours, while the Hanoi version can be done inside an hour.
Whatever the length, a wedding reception should be festive, right?
Without the cheers and beers and shouting and fuss, what fun would there be at this lifetime event?
I certainly would not want to arrive, eat, have my fill and then roll out.
The Saigonese style of wedding is the way a wedding should be (even the food part which I can live with but do not really love).
A wedding reception is not just a free meal for hungry eaters. It is a themed celebration.
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