The Vietnamese value romantic love highly, but since most people are poor, economic factors are important in the choice of partners. Young people are encouraged to date openly. However, they must adhere to certain cultural expectations, especially what is considered appropriate behavior for each gender.
Economics and Social Status
Women are encouraged to date men who are wealthier than they are. If a man can afford foreign luxury goods like cars and watches, he is considered more desirable, since these items are difficult to obtain in Vietnam. Women often aim to "marry up" by meeting a man who is better off economically than their own family.
Clan relations are another important factor in dating. Children are considered part of their father's patrilineage and are strictly forbidden from marrying anyone within that same patrilineage within five generations. Thus, before a couple makes the decision to date, especially in small towns and rural areas, they will often examine their family trees to determine whether they might be distant relations.
Vietnam is a patriarchal society, so if a man wants to date a woman, he is expected to ask her out as well as propose marriage when the time comes. When on a date, women must dress modestly, speak quietly and defer to the man. The reason is that the public domain, or "ngoai," is considered the man's domain, whereas the women's domain is the home, or "noi." In addition, women usually do not drink alcohol or smoke and will refuse certain foods considered "exotic," such as snake meat.
Most unmarried young people live with their parents and extended families. Thus, it is hard for dating couples to find private time, so most dates take place in public places. Few Vietnamese eat in restaurants. Rather, couples will take a walk to a local park or historic site or spend a night at the opera (hat tuong), which is a very popular form of entertainment. Meeting each other's families is an important event for a Vietnamese couple. When in their partner's home, they always defer to family elders, which means greeting them first with respectful forms of address and allowing them to be served first at meals.
Particularly for women, openly dating a large number of people is often met with disapproval by elders, so most Vietnamese are quick to enter into exclusive relationships, followed by marriage and children at a relatively young age. Vietnam's economy is still largely agricultural, so marriage and having children can help increase a family's economic output. Ultimately though, young people make the choice to marry based upon their own personal wants and needs.