Sunday, 8 March 2009

Girl Power (Vietnamese style)

International Women’s Day is a big celebration in Vietnam with women receiving gifts and cards from their families and friends. Even the 4 women IBMers received cards wishing us ‘happiness today and always’. We did, however, struggle to convince the rest of the team that they should be sending us flowers to celebrate this day. So to mark the occasion, I thought I’d share some of the things we have seen and heard about Vietnamese women, their role in society and some of the cultural differences we have experienced so far.

I was told by my interpreter that women account for less than half the population of Vietnam. As a result, there are not enough women for the men to marry and she explained that, in this very traditional society, it causes them some concern. Vietnamese women perform a very traditional role in the household and family, and some we have met, have to balance their family commitments, such as caring for their husband’s parents, with those of running a business. They are a pretty impressive group of ladies, and are working alongside their male counterparts to develop the Vietnamese economy while still fulfilling their traditional obligations.

As we observed during our spa experience and in my daily greeting from my accountant friend, they don’t hesitate to share personal space and information. This was beautifully demonstrated by one of our female team members who announced to us one evening, with a look of horror on her face, that she was ‘sleeping with her client’. This is not how it sounds and demonstrates a quirky, but very funny, cultural difference between our societies. This specific team member works with a female director of a company and, as it is not unusual for Vietnamese women to share a bed with one another, she spends her lunchtime naps sandwiched between her client and her interpreter. This, I can tell you has given us no end of amusement.

To recognise the overly affectionate nature of Vietnamese women to other women, my phrase of the day is something that my accountant friend says to me often. It sounds like toy tick ban and means I like you.

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