Weddings in the countryside in Vietnam are common, even if you live in major cities and most of your friends do, too. Most people who reside in urban areas have some ancestry in a rural province. ‘My fatherland’, even ‘my countryside’, is a commonly heard reference, even though they may only visit the place once or twice a year. Getting married often means organizing a countryside wedding, sometimes in two provinces, the bride’s and the groom’s. It can be quite an experience to attend these kinds of weddings.
Getting there is half the fun, though on popular wedding days, the traffic departing Hanoi in the mornings and arriving back in the afternoons can be worse than city traffic jams. Often the travel time is far longer than the time spent at the actual wedding. In my experience, finding the location of the wedding is always quite a challenge. Because maps of rural areas in Vietnam are non-existent, finding the way once the town is reached involves asking directions from half a dozen or more locals – some who may not have a very good sense of direction. I’ve been known to actually phone the bride or groom for some decisive guidance. In several cases, special guides may be sent on motorbike or bicycle to greet guests at a particular landmark. In western weddings I know that it’s common for the ceremony to be delayed because the bride is late. In Vietnam, it is more likely to be the guests!
In the countryside, weddings normally occur in the family home. Sometimes a tent is erected to accommodate the invitees, which commonly include the whole neighbourhood or village population. In almost all cases, relatives and neighbours are recruited to help arrange the event. They cook the wedding meal, erect the tent and decorations and are generally available throughout the day to deliver food, pour drinks, collect and wash dirty dishes. It’s a real group effort and the atmosphere is very warm as a result. The parents of the bride or groom are usually at the gate to welcome all of the guests before tea and candy are served prior to the wedding meal.
There is little ceremony in these weddings, apart from the official welcome and a speech or two, mostly just to thank everyone for attending. Guests toast the couple by wishing that they love each other until they are old, in fact until their teeth and hair are falling out! There is no priest or celebrant on hand, no kissing of the bride or bridal waltz. But there is normally very loud music playing throughout the occasion and sometimes karaoke. Noise is atmosphere at these weddings.
When it seems that all of the guests have arrived, people are seated for the wedding meal. Because there is a tradition to consult a fortune teller about the most auspicious time of the day for the groom to pick up his bride for the wedding, it is not uncommon for everyone to be sitting down to this meal at 9am. Numerous toasts of local rice wine or sometimes Vang DaLat are compulsory, regardless of the time of day. Chicken, beef, goat, pork, veal and dog are the most popular meats served at weddings in rural provinces but in some places they also add their local specialty. In Thai Binh, I ate cat once at my friend's wedding and I didn't know it was cat until I left the party. A range of vegetable dishes are also served and the meal is generally finished with more tea and seasonal fruit.
And then it’s over. With little fanfare, the guests start filing out little more than ninety minutes after arriving, onto buses and into cars for the journey back to town.