“Isn’t it high time you got married?”
“When are you planning to get married?
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
Every person she meets asks Phuong variations of these questions when she returns from Hanoi to her native place in northern Thanh Hoa Province for the Lunar New Year holiday (Tet).
Phuong, 35, also receives a lot of advice to get married soon, and is tired of such conversations.
The questions and suggestions “are repeated so often that I can’t enjoy the gathering,” Phuong said.
“When people keep asking me these questions again and again, I feel hurt and disrespected,” she added.
It is normal in Vietnamese culture to ask personal questions, and they are not considered intrusive, usually. However, women have to bear the added brunt of being considered “on the shelf” if they are in their mid-twenties and are yet to get married.
At this stage, parents, relatives and even friends get anxious, prone to prodding single women to get hitched soon, even if they are interested in doing so.
For people like Phuong, it has gone too far. Phuong said she no longer feels like meeting anyone during the new-year celebration.
The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday of the year in Vietnam when millions of people return to their hometown to reunite with their families. It is an occasion eagerly awaited by everyone, but single women like Phuong do not look forward to being bombarded with the same questions, year after year, time after time.
Dao, a Hanoi resident, wrote on her Facebook page that she was longing to visit her parents in her hometown, but considered not going just because she would face constant questions about her single status. Her Facebook status, though , received hundreds of “likes.”
A user named Tran commented under her post: “Husband is not a cake, we cannot just buy one.”
And if the women were married, they are asked questions if they do not have children.
All this questioning has been normal for a long time, but now, it adds to the stress of modern life.
When pop star Bich Phuong’s music video “When do you get married?” was released in January 2017, it quickly went viral.
The video of a young independent woman receiving constant questions about marriage during the Tet holiday became a top trend on Youtube, attracting more than two million views in the first two days.
The lyrics included statements like: “Don’t ask me about having not married”, “This spring I haven’t married yet” and “I don’t want to get married, I just want to stay with my parents,” which immediately reappeared on many women’s Facebook status and photo captions.
“In the past, growing up and marrying was considered the most natural thing. Many people still think that if you graduate and have a job, you should have a family right away,” said Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS).
“Building a family is considered a symbol of luck, success, and maturity.”
Furthermore, asking private questions is also seen as a way to show care and affection towards one another, Hong said.
“Vietnamese people usually ask questions when they meet, thinking that this shows care and love towards those being asked,” Hong told VnExpress International.
Change some norms
However, in a modern society where women choose often to focus on their career, study and travel abroad and do not consider getting married “in time” a priority, maybe it is time to change what was once considered normal, Hong said.
Despite caring, some questions are not asked with thoughtful consideration, she added.
“I feel very uncomfortable,” Phuong said. “I have had to ask my parents to politely field the questions for me.”
Hong said she believed that the norm should be changed.
“I think it’s time we reconsider the way we greet each other, and think carefully about what we ask, to avoid making people uncomfortable.”
“This Tet, when someone asked me when to get married, I wanted to ask them, when will they stop being too curious about another’s life”, wrote Nguyen Thi Khanh Huyen, in a perspective piece on VnExpress.
“But to avoid breaking the happy mood of the holiday, when people advise me not to be picky or focused on my career, I just smile and pretend to agree.”