Learning Vietnamese – Are you married yet?

Many foreigners in Vietnam are surprised and incomfortable to find that they asked day in and day out about their marital status, by people they have just met. As you progress further in learning Vietnamese, you will understand that the Vietnamese personal pronoun system contributes to the sense that all socail relationships, even amongst strangers, are structured along kinship lines. Similarly, for most Vietnamese, when we meet someone new, we immediately think of him or her as not just an individual, but as a member of a family and an extended set of relatives. The person we have just met is not just our co-worker, or the person we are sitting next to on the bus, for example, but also a wife, mother, daughter, cousin etc. to a whole network of people who have contributed to who this person is today.

In addition, for most Vietnamese, marriage and family establishment are considered to be both important obligations and source of happiness for young men and women. Getting married and having children are considered among life’s greatest joys, so when people ask about your marital status and your children, they often want to congratulate you and share your joy.

While the word for “getting married” in Vietnam languague is “kết hôn”, Vietnamese people often use the more general term: “family” (gia đình), to ask about marital status. For example, you might be ask, “Anh, chị có gia đình chưa?” which literally means “do you have family yet?” but would be better translated as “do you have your own family yet?”. This question always refers to the process of setting up your own family though marriage. Alternatively, you might be asked “Anh có (lấy) vợ chưa?” (“Do you have a wife yet?”) or “Chị có lấy chồng chưa?” (“Do you have a husband yet?”). If you answer that you are married, the question that will almost centainly follow is, “Anh/chị có con chưa?” (“Do you have children yet?”). Because there is a general expectation that all married couples wish to have children, you will often not even be asked whether you have children, but simply “Mấy con rồi?” (“How many children do you have already?”)

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