I feel I’ll be getting a fair amount of confusion
about my “three” first names.

[Note: I’ll be splitting this experience up into a four part series (see the links at the bottom of the page after they’ve been posted). It was my first truly epic night in town!]

It was odd to me, to say the least. I’d only been staying at my hotel for 20 days when, in the middle of the afternoon, my host knocked on the door. He had brought me two things: my clothes (they do the laundry here) and an invitation to their son’s wedding.

At first, I thought I must have misunderstood. I did not. They were actually inviting me to the swankiest place in Saigon in honor of their son, who I’d shaken hands with once and exchanged a few words with a couple days before.

I was honored, to say the least! Bit puzzled, but I was going to roll with it.

What to do about a gift, though? I didn’t know anything about VN wedding customs and traditional gifts. At home, my standard wedding gift is a flat check in a card. Well, fortunately, it seems this is THE gift in Vietnam: cash money in a card.

The invites were beautiful!

A few local acquaintances made suggestions, which I happily accepted. The amount in the card seems to be largely based on (to my limited understanding) where the wedding dinner is held and how much the families are thought to have spent on the reception, including food and entertainment.

The parents and newlyweds will go around at the end of the ceremony and pose with each half of every table once. Traditionally, this would be where the gift cards were handed over. However, many modern Vietnamese weddings feature a large card receptacle next to the register right at the entrance. That’s what this one had. (With 500 guests, carrying all those cards from table to table would have added up quickly!) Occasionally, the amount of money collected through the traditional envelopes full of cash will completely pay for the reception.

Like many other things in this fascinating country, Vietnamese weddings are a mixture of cultures and religions, based on the tumultuous history of their struggle for national independence.

For instance, even the markings on the front of this invitation exhibit this history, representing the influence 1000 years of ancient Chinese rule has had even to the present day. The symbols mean song hỷ, or “double happiness.” [BTW: North Side Chicagoans… if you didn’t know… This place has amazing noodles.] It’s a traditional symbol that appears on gifts, boxes, cards, and more at weddings.

There were several things that stood out for me.

The other half had the names of the Bride and Groom,
the parents, and an announcement about another ceremony.

First, why receive an invitation? I assume at the time it’s because I’m the only long-term visitor. It’s so cool, though, how could I possibly say no? Normally weddings are a little anxiety-producing for me, but I was so honored there was no way I could really miss this. What a cultural adventure! And hopefully, some culinary adventure would be found as well.

Second, the invite is in English! It was only the first of many Western influences the we saw.

There’s a call for two ceremonies on the card. I was invited to the wedding reception. There was another ceremony that took place at the hotel (the groom’s home) earlier in the day. The wedding reception was at the restaurant on the 5th floor of the Majestic Hotel, which ended up being Swank Central – the nicest place I’ve been so far in town!

So there I found myself, Friday morning, making sure I had the invite and envelope (with picture directions!) in my messenger bag, determined to make friends if I could and take pictures of as many things as I could without being escorted from the premises.

I was nervous, it’s true. I didn’t know anyone but my hosts, don’t really speak much vietnamese yet, and didn’t know what to be prepared for. But, as always seems to happen with weddings, once I got there it was only a short time before I found myself having an amazing time…!

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The Wedding links:

The Wedding: The Invite and the Traditional Gift
The Wedding: Culture, Confetti, and an Awesome Surprise
The Wedding: Food, Conversation, and Bia in the Evening Heat
The Wedding: Choose Your Own After-party Adventure