The people I spoke to were conscious of the change occurring in their culture.Their responses repeatedly began with phrases like: “in the past,” “before was different,” and “nowadays.” For example, when I asked Nguyen and Trang about sex before marriage they said, “Yes, also normal nowadays; it’s okay, no problem.” And when I asked Ly about arranged marriage she said: “In the past, but now it’s not popular; we feel independent [about] who we marry.” They all displayed a broad awareness of American culture gleaned from movies and TV.On my trip around the world, I have repeatedly found myself attempting to persuade others that America is not in fact Dreamland.
Your presence here is really tremendous.” He kept saying “tremendous.” I winced.
Not much time has passed since the Viet Nam War, so I found this Vietnamese celebration of American culture especially puzzling if not troubling.
I asked about dating and the courtship process and what they described fit the near universal paradigm. Ly disagreed, saying Viet Nam is still “more traditional than U. A.…a relationship of girlfriend and boyfriend not so common that before they marry they have sex together.
According to Nguyen and Trang, two first-year university students, and Ly, a 27-year-old mother, boys and girls start dating around 14 or 15. I think in America much more common and also they have sex very early! Here now it’s a little different, maybe they can have sex before they get married but maybe 19 or 20, not 15 or 16.” Nguyen and Trang heard Ly telling me this and gave me some silent headshakes.
I want culture of the other; I want ritual and strangeness and a more interesting story.
It took Saigon to illuminate my hypocrisy and to remind me that in an era when the virus of American culture devours and replaces almost everything it touches, we have to remember that “culture” falls all over the good-bad spectrum and so does Westernization.In Thailand, a few friends told me I would never be able to get Vietnamese people to talk about their dating culture.They are known as a shy, proper, and generally more repressed people.I tried to explain the difference between America and American Pie. Although I’m glad horny Vietnamese kids can hook up before marriage now—I mean, it seems like a good thing—I have to admit that during these interviews I found myself disappointed to hear about vanishing tradition. In the South, it’s a little more relaxed.” Then she and Nguyen began conferring in Vietnamese about the topic.This led to a discussion of American movies in which teenagers have lots of sex. How could they pretend they didn’t want to do that? I wondered how many waste-of-time boys an initial visit with my family could have weeded out. Western girls have more opportunity to promote themselves.” I looked to Nguyen to see his reaction, “Yes, that’s my culture. They said there was a word they couldn’t translate into English about Vietnamese husbands.Zoe Mendelson is traveling the world, talking to friends and strangers about the messy, wonderful business of love.