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     Culture - Cuisine

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It can be said that there were three layers of culture overlapping each other during the history of Vietnam: 
1/ Local culture
2/ The culture that mixed with those of China and  other countries in the region

3/ The culture that interacted with Western culture.

The most prominent feature of the Vietnamese culture is that it was not assimilated by foreign cultures thanks to the strong local cultural foundations. On the contrary, it was able to utilize and localize those from abroad to enrich the national culture.

The Vietnamese national culture emerged from a concrete living environment: a tropical country with many rivers and the confluence of great cultures. The natural conditions (temperature, humidity, monsoon, water -flows, water-rice agriculture ...) exert a remarkable impact on the material and spiritual life of the nation, the characteristics and psychology of the Vietnam-
ese. The Vietnamese nation was formed early in the history and often had to carry out wars of resistance against foreign invaders, which created a prominent cultural feature: a patriotism that infiltrated and encompassed every aspect of life.



Vietnamese culture is classified as a communal culture, somewhat different from individual cultures. Its typical features are identified by the people's lifestyle seen in two ways: how Vietnamese people organize their lives and the way they communicate with one another.
For the Vietnamese, the family life plays the most important role in social relations. It is a time-honoured tradition that family members of several consecutive generations live in the same dwelling places. In other words, the traditional family in Vietnam is an extention of different generations composed of great grand-parents, grand-parents, parents, children and children-in-laws, grand-children and in some cases it also includes uncles and aunts and their spouses, and cousins. It might embrace up to six generations inter-linked either by blood or marriage. There is always a strong feeling of attachment and cohesion among members of the same family in spite of generation gaps, either large or small. Typically, one finds grandparents, parents, and children living under the same roof. In the case a house cannot accomodate all members of one extended family people tend to find residential quarters not far from each other in a village, small town, or place easily accessible to large cities.

The central area of a traditional home is devoted to the ancestor's altar. Candlesticks, incense, decorative scrolls, and the ancestor's tablets are carefully placed. The revered tablets are inscribed with the names of up to four generations of ancestors who are worshipped to look after and support every affair of the household. There are some differences between urban and rural lifestyle. Most urban families live in self-contained flats or modern houses whereas rural households gather in small homes surrounded by plots of gradens hedged with protective bamboo. The communal house of a village, a combination of temple and meeting centre, often lies at the centre of a typical village. In addition to its established functions, a present-day communal house may be utilized as an administrative office, co-operative headquarters, public information centre, or clinic. The rural life is simple since it conforms to a cycle of annual life based on agricultural production such as seed sowing in spring, seedling transplanting after first rains of the year, and harvesting in autumn.

Lifestyle, to some extents, is seen in people's costume. Men and women often wear loose-fitting cotton tops and dark pants in the countryside whereas urban youth of both sexes now prefer jeans or trousers. Thongs and sandals are commonly used. Hats inscribed with logos of foreign firms or sport clubs are favorite items. In rural areas, shoes cannot be used in water-logged rice fields. People of both sexes often wear wide, conical-shaped hats that may shield their bodies from scorched sun or torrential rains. In Vietnam, on some special occasions, Vietnamese girls and women wear traditional costume, called ao dai (long dress), a full-length, high-necked tunic slit to the waist. It often matches with white or black satin or silk pants. Feminine high-heeled sandals made of wood, called "guoc", complete the long dress ensemble.

The Vietnamese, basically speaking, are easy-going, friendly, and hospitable people. The way they communicate with one another in society is influenced by Confucianism. In other words, Confucianism has exerted crucial influence on the Vietnamese people's lifestyle. The leading principle of Confucianism is humanism, benevolence and leniency among people. It lays the emphasis on reciprocity and unity is of great importance in society. Relationships of the family type are also seen among friends and fellow workers. More specifically, friendship is highly treasured. In Vietnam, there is a saying that "next-door neighbours are much more important than distant relatives". This is part of Vietnamese traditional culture. Friendship has been enhanced by the Vietnamese people whose hospitality is always praised by visitors. They are willing to receive friends and visitors, either pre-arranged or unexpected, and give them warm welcome. In addition, many Vietnamese are reluctant to accept help from others because gratitude is thought to be a debt. Self-respect holds a high status in the traditional code of virtues. Overstatement is not common and Vietnamese are not generous with praise. Lauding someone improperly or in his presence is regarded as flattery and sometimes even as mockery. If a Vietnamese is praised for his achievements or other reasons, he usually shows his modesty by passing the praise to other people's merits. Those are typical behaviours of the Vietnamese.

Generally speaking, the Vietnamese still retain a myriad of long-standing fine traditions in their lifestyle, an indispansable part of the nation's identities. Their lifestyle is reflected in the relationship between the family and society in which the family is to preserve and develop traditional values for future generations.

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