Vietnamese life is profoundly influenced by ancestor worship. Children learn at a very early age that they owe everything to their parents and their ancestors. Doing well in school and working hard honours one’s parents and the family name. Respect for parents and ancestors is extended to all elders, whose life experiences are valued.
Marriage and family are very important in Vietnam. In the countryside, parents often arrange marriages; divorce remains uncommon, though is more frequent in cities. In traditional Vietnamese families, roles are rigid. The man of the house is primarily responsible for the family’s economic well-being and takes pride in his role as provider. Women are expected to submit to their husbands or to their eldest sons when widowed, and girls to their fathers. Older children help to look after younger siblings. Discipline is viewed as a parental duty, and spanking is common once children are past early childhood.
The woman of the house is referred to as nôi tuong, “General of the Interior.” She looks after her in-laws as well as her parents, husband and children. In rural areas, women also do much agricultural work. Vietnamese women live by the “four virtues”: hard work, beauty, refined speech and excellent conduct.
Communism in the 1960’s brought big changes for women, who were suddenly given equal economic and political rights, as well as the right to choose their own husband. Years of warfare and dislocation in camps have also altered family roles. With so many men away at war, women took on many traditionally male duties, including managing factories and co-operatives.
More people are moving to cities, but most Vietnamese are still farmers. Houses are sometimes built on stilts to avoid flooding. Materials such as earth, straw and bamboo may be used for walls, and red clay tiles or sheets of corrugated metal for roofs. City homes are often made with brick, wood and/or tile.