What is success? “Success is simple, more simple than you often think, success comes when dad and son try to cook a favorite dish for mother on Mother’s day or International women’s day even if it is not as delicious as others do” Those are the sentences a young Vietnamese pupil usually writes to answer to the topic at a test . How significant a dinner is when members of family have not met each other for a long time! When some foreigners want to explore Vietnamese culture, they often come to families, go to local markets and buy things for a meal. Is this the way to learn how to cook? The answer is “Yes” but the result is more than that.
Traditional values of Vietnamese lifestyle were deeply affected by Confucian ethics. During thousand years under the invasion and domination by Chinese, Vietnamese culture was also permeated by their Confucian philosophical beliefs. It was believed that “in order to achieve human perfection, one must follow the established codes of behavior which include reverence for ancestors and respect for elders…The importance is not upon the individual’s accomplishments but upon his duty to family and society”
Most Vietnamese placed more emphasis on their roles, privileges and obligations within this group than on their own individual desires. The Vietnamese household traditionally followed the extended multi-generational pattern. The parents, their sons and their wives, their children, and unmarried siblings usually constituted a Vietnamese household. In this extended family, the most important expectation was the respect for the elders. Hence, the family decisions were made by the parents and grandparents.
For centuries in Vietnam, traditional family values were accomplished by the fulfillment of traditional roles – the role of man and woman as parents. Since the highest status in Vietnamese families is given to the man or the father, he had absolute authority in the household. As he provided the main source of income, he was never expected to work in the kitchen or to cook. After work, he returned home and relaxed. As a head of household, he had the final decision in all matters. The father, however, had the duty to exercise restraint and wisdom in running his family in order to deserve his respected position.
Having a boy in family was a “must” because the eldest son would assume the duties of his father when he died. A family which had no son to continue the process was superstitiously thought to have disappeared forever.
In a patriarchal society, Vietnamese woman had limited rights and took a secondary place in family. Women were brought up according to a strict discipline and have been traditionally less educated than men.
After marriage, woman became housewife and mother. She was expected to be depended upon her husband, took care of children and even grandchildren as well as performed all household tasks. A wife can be unhappy in her marriage, nevertheless, rather than accepts divorce; the family encouraged her to sacrifice and to endure the difficulties of the marriage for the sake of her children.
In Vietnam, family meal is very important. It is one part of a happy family especially when people become busier with their business. In some big cities such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, parents are always busy. They have to get up early in the morning
to take their children to schools before going to work. In the past, a wife often prepares breakfast for the whole family but this tradition or habit has been ignored somehow due to limited time.
These days, the value of family’s meals has been still highly appreciated as dinner is an opportunity for them to share a meal and talk together after a hard day. That the reason why restaurants have still been strange to many people and families in Vietnam. For many people, family meal is one way to keep their family happy. The meal is not simply understood as lunch or dinner; it can be understood as feeling and sympathy, sharing and care. In many Vietnam families, the wives know which are their husbands’ or children’ favorite dishes. Then, they try to make those dishes as frequently they can or at least on special occasions.
Come back to the parental role in Vietnamese family. Obedience and respect were the traditional virtues which Vietnamese children were taught to exhibit in their family. Discipline and physical punishment were acceptable remedies for disobedience. When parents grew old, children were expected to take care of them to compensate for the gift of birth and upbringing.
Boys and girls are not free to do what they want. Yet, girls are under strict supervision. Western style courtship and romance were seen as inappropriate things for unmarried children. As virginity is cherished, pregnancy out of wedlock is a grave disgrace to the family. For their children’s marriage, parents generally made decision because they could judge better.
Vietnamese placed a higher value on education rather than on material success. That the reason why parents encouraged their children to study and excel in their education. Vietnamese parents had a high regard for it which was considered as a way for family advancement.