My first morning after arriving in Vietnam was to be spent at the wedding of a friend of Thao, my kind guide. Only I discovered the night before that it wasn’t a wedding at all but an engagement ceremony / party. It seems here that more emphasis is put on the engagement than on the wedding which follows. In a way, this does make sense. After all, the engagement is where the initial promises are made – getting married is only a confirmation of those promises.
Either way, it was wonderful to have the invitation and I dressed as well as I could for the occasion. Which was not very well, I admit. My only long trousers (which needed to go in the laundry but seeing as I ripped the crotch out of my only other pair the night before, this hadn’t been possible) and my ProDive Bali polo shirt, as it’s the only thing I have with a collar on. Not exactly classy, but thankfully nobody seemed to mind.
Thao looked far better in a traditional white ao dai. I don’t think I quite have the figure for one, but it would still have looked better on me than the clothes I picked.
It took us an hour to get there with me driving and Thao guiding. Or trying to. We managed to get completely befuddled by a one-way system, something that Thao says has never happened to her before. Fortunately, one of her friends met us at a petrol station and was very easy to follow in the crowded traffic, being that she was wearing a striking pink outfit.
I was made to feel very welcome by everyone when we got there, and was the only obvious westerner. I did talk to one chap from the US and a young boy from Canada both of whom were obviously of Vietnamese heritage. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people spoke English of varying levels and was more than happy to sit and chat with as many as possible.
Soon enough, though, the “bride” arrived and the ceremony began. It was very simple and I couldn’t follow a lot but what I did see and picked up from Thao follows.
A selection of large round boxes are handed to the bride’s side of the family by the groom’s – men pass them to women, one of whom was Thao. These are filled with small gifts such as fruits and placed in a table.
In front of this table, the fathers of the bride and groom introduce their families to each other – it all seemed very informal and there was a lot of laughing. Half of the contents of the boxes are taken by the bride’s family and half left alone.
The bride and groom then take centre stage and the engagement ring is slipped onto the bride’s finger – formalising the engagement. Much applause and smiles all around! The bride then takes some tea and offers it cup by cup to all the members of the families.
After this, they all disappeared upstairs. Virtually all Vietnamese households have a shrine to their ancestors and this house was no different. I didn’t see this part, but a ceremony took place whereby the engagement is “shown” to these ancestors so that they can approve of their descendents’ actions.
Then we ate.
And I thank the families for their generosity! The food was excellent and the conversation both enlightening and enjoyable. I only had about a pint of beer, but Thao decided I was “drunk” so she drove me back to the hotel.
Before this, though, one more part if the ceremony had to be observed. The half-empty boxes brought in at the start were officially handed back by the bride’s side to the groom’s. The bride and groom also very kindly let me have a snap with them.
Again, thank you so much, people. Hopefully everything here is correct – by all means if I’ve cocked up any details, do let me know and I’ll update it.