Sitting around at the start of a two-week holiday thanks to Tết, and I realised how late I am with my next post here, so thought it would be good to at least get one more done before the month is over.
This would be an ideal time to get out of town, under most circumstances… and indeed, the majority of friends are off exploring other places, or visiting their own families wherever they live. I’m staying here for various reasons, but the biggest one is that my wife loves spending this time of year with family.
I believe I’ve briefly mentioned before what an integral part of Vietnamese society (as with many neighbouring societies) the family is. This time of year it becomes more obvious than ever, as everyone works to sort things out and make sure everything’s perfect before we tick over into a new year in a few days.
This post isn’t about Tết, though… but there’s still plenty of time for that.
No, I thought that as the last of my introductory (or January) posts, I should finish up on my general family introduction, but this time, rather than a language lesson, talk a bit about its importance.
To some degree, family is important in all countries, obviously… but it’s different here. Where I’m from, family is just one of many important aspects of life – how important really varies depending on who you are. In Vietnam, it’s the core unit that makes up society. Almost everything is centered on family here. You can see it change at the edges, just a little, as friends become more a more important part of the young Vietnamese social life, but even nowadays, rarely does that come at the expense of the family itself. Family is an overwhelmingly cohesive whole, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon.
The nice thing of course is that this extends to others welcomed into the family too – such as myself. As a foreigner, I was never quite sure what to expect at first, as in some countries, families can be rather standoffish and even wary of extending familial closeness to a foreigner, but Vietnam is by far the most welcoming place I’ve ever been in, in this respect. Even in the beginning, I was treated as as much a part of the family as everyone else, and that is not an unusual experience to have here.
This has both its good and bad sides, of course. The good side is the closeness of family here. The well-being of everyone in the family is of the utmost importance, and if someone’s in trouble for whatever reason, everyone will come together to help. There’s never a need to feel awkward about asking for something, because it’s never going to be an issue – not within the immediate family, and often not within the extended family either.
Despite the official name of the country, there’s no real socialism here – if people get sick, get in an accident, remain unemployed for a long time, there isn’t much in the way of official support. But in its way here, the family provides its own socialist network, and everyone will do their best to support the ones that can’t support themselves. And those people, in most cases at least, won’t let that help go unappreciated.
There are exceptions, of course, as always – there’s no such thing as perfect harmony, after all, and a Vietnamese family can be an intriguing soap opera at times.
But that too is all within the family. Looking outside, the family comes together as a whole.
But this is where it can get problematic – it pretty much stops at family and friends Despite this strength of family, there can often be an extreme amount of apathy towards outsiders. I do want to emphasise here that this is by no means a universal truth in Vietnam, and this is not to say that Vietnamese people are hostile to strangers (they’re not at all, and are often still quite friendly) but among many, at least from my perspective, there can be a distinct lack of concern towards others.
This manifests in its most obvious form on the roads, I think, where everyone pretty much acts like they’re the only one on the road, but you can see it other places too – lifts and queues, for two. I’m not going to get into those in any more detail now – I don’t want to turn this into a complaint blog – though I may touch on them again later, after some more positive and/or neutral stuff.
Next, if I can get to it in the next few days (and I should, since I wont be doing too much else, but there’s a lot of preparation in the build-up to Tết, so who knows…), I’ll write a bit more about the holiday itself, though there’s so much to get through that I’ll probably still have a lot left over for next year!