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I'm invited to a wedding in Ho Chi Minh City.

I know virtually nothing about Vietnam, I'll be there for the first time in my life. I know a little about Asian culture, but the only country I've visited until today was Japan.

I know the groom very well, but I have seen his parents only once. The other party is totally unknown to me. Furthermore I won't know anybody on the wedding and I'll perhaps be the only one incapable of speaking and understanding Vietnamese.

I'm interested in the procedure of the whole ceremony and all clangers I can drop.

Two questions are predominant at the moment:

  • What should I wear?
  • What present should I give to the couple?
  • 9
    Maybe wear something different to what you're wearing in your profile pic though :-) – user568458 Sep 12 '16 at 9:40
  • Is ask the groom if I were you – CMaster Sep 12 '16 at 10:17
  • I wouldn't worry about it too much. I have visited a dozen or so countries in Asia, and the Vietnamese struck me as by far the most hospitable to Westerners and forgiving of our quirks. If you wear a jacket and tie, give cash, and are generally polite, you'll do fine. – Malvolio Sep 12 '16 at 19:06
  • Have you done any research? It does not sound that way if SQB has to point you to the Wikipedia page. – Jan Doggen Sep 16 '16 at 11:11
  • @JanDoggen: I tried to. But I was distracted by the fact, that in my mother's tongue there is no wikipedia article. Could have checked the English page though... – Ariser Sep 16 '16 at 11:27
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TL;DR:

Give money, wear regular formal attire.

Of course, if you know the groom very well, just ask him what will be expected of you. He will understand that you're not familiar with Vietnamese tradition.

Vietnamese wedding ceremony

Wikipedia actually has an article about Vietnamese wedding traditions, which should give you a good idea.

But I can add some personal experience as well, which largely confirms the article, as earlier this year my brother married his Vietnamese wife.

The wedding ceremony is as follows.

The groom, accompanied by the groomsmen and all of the groom's family goes to the home of the bride to claim her. They come bearing (symbolical) gifts. If you are to be a groomsman, the groom will provide you with the gift to bring. Don't worry about not speaking Vietnamese, as little communication is needed for the groomsmen; they're mostly the bearers of the gifts.
The representative of the groom's house will state their business and ask for permission to enter. The gifts will be placed on or near an altar for the ancestors. Then, representatives of both families will introduce the families to each other. A ceremony will be performed by the couple and their parents to ask the ancestors for their blessing. A tea ceremony (not as elaborate as Japanese tea ceremony) may be held.
Afterwards, the party will then take the bride to the groom's family's home.

At the wedding of my brother, the wedding location was used as stand in for both of their homes. Also, since the groom's family didn't speak Vietnamese, a relative of the bride translated everything for their benefit.

The bride wore a traditional Vietnamese dress during the ceremony, but most of the others wore regular Western formal wear.

Gifts

Gifts are traditionally money in envelopes, preferably red. According to Wikipedia,

During the reception, the bride and groom "chào bàn", which is the customary process of going from table to table to personally thank guests for their well wishes and to collect cards and gifts.

  • How much money is expected? – Michael Hampton Sep 12 '16 at 23:07
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    @MichaelHampton Ah, that's the million dollar question. A lot of factors come into play there, like the personal wealth of both the guest and the couple, their relation, the fact that the OP already needs to spend some money to attend the wedding, how much the other guests are expected to give. Also, the OP may want to see if there's some "lucky number" close to the amount they're willing to give. – SQB Sep 13 '16 at 4:37
  • I can't manage a million dollars, but I can certainly give a million dong... – Michael Hampton Sep 13 '16 at 5:41
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    I'll emphasize the red envelope. Avoid a white envelope, that's only used at funerals (in southern China at least). – Dennis Sep 13 '16 at 14:57
  • To follow up on Dennis' comment: Color Connotations in the Vietnamese Culture – Jan Doggen Sep 16 '16 at 11:14
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I'll post my own findings as an answer because it's too long for a comment.

I have to say in advance that both the families of the groom and the bride are residents of Ho Chi Minh City, so the event might be adapted to the metropolitan customs somehow.

The wedding took place in a wedding hall in Ho Chi Minh City. As a good German I came 30 minutes before the official beginning. The groom had also told me I could show up earlier, to attend some of the official photo shootings.

I wore my best formal dress. Later on I found myself a little bit ovedressed. Upon arrival the highly professional staff explained to me that it's unusual to show up early but I did not cause any difficulties anyway. The groom asked me then to be on a bunch of pictures with his and his wife's family, which must have been some privilege, because they did pose only with a few of all the 600 guests.

The gifts were to be placed into a box on a big decorated table near the entry of the hall. I was told that it is not longer necessary to use the red envelope for the gift. In fact most guests used the white envelope in which they had received their invitation to deposit their gift.

The wedding started on the spot at 18:00 and had a tight schedule with pictures, a movie about the couple and show dance on a stage among other events. There was neither space or time for the guests to dance or mingle with each others. Great diligence seemed to be spent on the distribution of the guests over the many big tables in the hall.

We were only four non-Vietnamese and sat next to some close relatives of the groom, (brother, uncle, niece IIRC), who all spoke English fluently. I guess other than most of the guests.

The meals were as orchestrated as the whole event, which ended at 9 pm on the spot. I got the explanation for that: assuming any wedding in a big town has 200 to 1,000 guests, it is rather clear that you are likely to be invited to a wedding every two weeks if you have some relatives and friends. If weddings took the time they used to take, the employers in a city might start a mutiny if 10% of their staff came to work with a hangover every day.

The couple, knowing about our European understanding of weddings, took us to a bar afterwards.

Finally it seemed to me that weddings in the capital are somehow adapted to European or American weddings in terms of clothing, decoration and location but with some very special flavours. It was a very interesting experience I didn't want to miss!

  • 1
    On the invitation letter there will be 2 times: invitation time and ceremony time. In HCMC typically people will go about 1-2 hours later than the invited time (i.e. at ceremony time). In other parts in the South you'll go at the exact invited time. In the North it'll be very different – phuclv Jul 19 '18 at 6:15

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