Your Guide to Dating Dynamics in HCMC

By: Keely Burkey

Recently a 23-year-old Sebastian Harris, the self-titled “Global Seducer”, wrote to us in response to an article he had found on City Pass Guide: Beautiful Vietnamese Women in ‘Ao Dai’. Based on our interest in vintage ao dai, Sebastian offered his own article, 44 Reasons to Date a Vietnamese Woman.

After reading a few of the paragraphs, pretty traditionally masculine statements began to emerge: “In case you have dated women from other parts of Asia, you know that self-reliant women are rarer than diamonds,” and “There’s one thing you need to know about Vietnamese culture and I bet my ass that you like it. Women are supposed to be submissive.”

However, as purposefully provocative and offensive as Sebastian wished to make his article, and his website in general, he did touch on one thing all people who live in Vietnam can agree on: the dating culture, when it comes to Vietnamese girls, seems to be slanted in favour of foreign men. If you meet any foreign man who has a girlfriend or is married in Vietnam, it’s about 90% certain that his partner will be Vietnamese.

Vietnamese woman

This interesting dating dynamic is universally acknowledged and endlessly discussed. So, we decided to get four different opinions on dating in Vietnam to get a broader perspective. Phuong, a businesswoman from Hanoi; Son, a sound engineer from a province near Saigon; Kate, an English teacher from Australia; and Thomas, an online marketer from France all agreed to give us their views on what it takes to find love in Ho Chi Minh City. So form your own opinion.

Note that all these interviews deal substantially with personal histories. This is in no way meant to be indicative of feelings as a whole, either of different groups of people or of City Pass Guide.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity, and some names have been changed for anonymity.


Interview 1: Phuong, 35, Businesswoman

How has your dating life been, in general?

When I was young, I was afraid, I don’t know why. I broke up with my first boyfriend [when I was 18], and after that I didn’t date anyone until I was 25. And something started with a Vietnamese-American guy for only one month. And then I started dating only white guys. I didn’t plan for it to happen, it just happened.

Because Vietnamese guys didn’t dare to come to me. They always told me I’m too strong for them or something. Or I was too skinny for them. I got a lot more attentions from white guys.

For you, has it been different dating a foreigner from a Vietnamese man?

It’s hard for me to tell because I didn’t really date a Vietnamese when I was already a grown-up. I was 18 and I was dating for a few weeks, or a few months. And it was very different, yeah, because what can I say? We went out for food, and then for dessert, and had conversation. And then he brought me back. We dated for a few months but we didn’t even hold hands. Didn’t even kiss. I think [it was] because he was a good man and we were shy, I don’t know. But after that I was afraid of something. And I think he wanted [this to be] serious. It’s not like I didn’t want to be serious, but I was young, so I didn’t want to continue.

With foreigners, how does a typical date compare with that?

[Laughing] Actually, with Vietnamese people, 18 is still very young. And this was already 15 years ago, 20 years ago. It was different [than today]. Now, 18-year-old teenagers kiss or even go to bed together. But, at that time it was different. So when I started dating foreigners, of course it was different. We had more privacy, so we started kissing quite early, after the second date or something. And after that, I started to know what a one-night stand is or I started dating and went to bed after one week or something, you know?

How about your friends? Who do they tend to date?

My friends from high school or university, they got married quite early already because it’s like the normal mission of the Vietnamese people: after high school you have to go to university; after university you have to get married; after getting married, you have to have babies. So they already did everything like 15 years ago. And my current friends, yeah, i think most of them date foreigners. And they have different stories than mine.

What sorts of different stories?

I think it’s about how you meet [men]. I think I’m quite lucky that I, most of the time, I meet good guys. It just didn’t work out so we broke up, you know? But then I had some friends who have a similar job to mine, but they don’t meet good guys, or they have to meet on Tinder. So at first they just have a date and see that the men played with them or something. Or [they’re] not that serious. Or they met some guys that already had a girlfriend, but [they] didn’t know it, and they found out later. You know that each girl has a sense [about men]. Some people don’t have this sense, so they can’t tell. They just go for it, and if something happens, it happens.

So some people will just take a chance on anybody?

I think so, yeah. And also, because you have to select. I’ve been out a lot and I’ve met many, many people and many guys.

Not many guys like me because I’m quite arrogant when I go out. But it’s not because I’m arrogant. It’s just because I don’t want them to see that every Vietnamese girl is the same.

Like we need their money or [want to talk to them] just because they’re white. Because there’s too many Vietnamese girls like this out there. It’s just because I’m not the same, so I just ignore them or something.

So do you think that most white guys think that Vietnamese women are the same?

I think so, because they don’t know. I think that from the first time they arrive in Asia, they don’t know who is who. For example, one time I went out with my foreign friend, right? 99.9% of the time, I go out with my foreign friends. So, I’m the only Vietnamese person. I always thought that they would think that I could be different. But actually, one time I met one guy when I went out with my foreign friend, and I felt lonely at that time. So I decided to go with him, right? And on the way, he was like, “Do I have to pay you?” I said, “No, you’re crazy!” I left. So, before, I thought that they have to know that I’m different. Some people can tell, but some people cannot tell. Of course, I was dressed sexy, but elegant sexy, right? They can’t tell between me and a hooker at the bar.

Do you think it’s easier for Vietnamese women to date in Vietnam than it is for foreign women?

It’s becoming more and more difficult for Vietnamese girls to meet someone to date. If a single girl is my age, the chance for them to meet a married man is high, since the men who are the same age or older are all married. And the young ones? Too childish for them. Many of the girls – they’re 28 to 35 years old – around me are still single. They’re colleagues and the people I know from other companies.

Vietnamese man with western woman

They work and go out with their friends or just go home. No chance to meet a man.

Most of them just want to meet up with friends at a coffee shop or restaurant to dine as they don’t like going to the bar to drinks. Not their thing. They want to meet someone to date but they don’t know where. And since they can earn money they become more independent and more picky than traditional woman. So they just work, hang out with friends and travel with friends.

What does your family think about your dating past?

I think that they have to accept what I like. This is my family’s tradition – they let me do what I want. So I could just date, and I informed them, and they were happy whenever I had someone. But I was quite picky, so it never worked out. Like I would date someone for only one week, two weeks, three weeks, one month max. Because for me, if I was not happy I just broke up, or the other way around.


Interview 2: Son, 28, Sound Engineer

What has your dating history been like?

I have so many drama dating stories! Most of them are Vietnamese. A lot of times, it didn’t work. And I think about it, and sometimes I feel like a loser, a little bit, because I think I’m different from the other Vietnamese guys here in Vietnam. The way I think about life, the way I think about passion, about jobs, about money. My longest relationship was two years, and we broke up, of course, for many reasons.

But the most important thing that I remember is, she told me to quit my job, because you can’t make good money with your job.

But when I do something, I want to do it with my passion. And I want to live with my passion. I don’t put money on number one of my list. It’s not my number one target in life.

And your girlfriend wanted you to have a stable income?

Yeah, she wanted it in the opposite way. Many Vietnamese girls want a stable life. They don’t want to have a dream. They just want to get married, taking care of their husband, have kids, and go to work every day. In my opinion, it’s not life. Life should be more interesting. Go out and see the world and see what you can do.

So you think a lot of women here don’t want to travel abroad? They’d rather stay in Vietnam?

No, that’s no problem. They want to travel a lot, but the problem is they don’t want to make their own money to travel. They just want to travel with their boyfriend’s money, their husband’s money, their husband’s family’s money.

I think it’s a problem of culture, because when you’re a girl, your parents will teach you, OK, you don’t need to study well. You don’t need a good job. You don’t need to be independent. You just need to be beautiful.

You just need to take care of yourself and you just have to have a good outlook and then just date with a rich guy and his family or he is going to take care of you.

How do you think the fact that they need to think about money will affect the way they treat a boyfriend?

There are advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is they don’t have to worry about money every time they hang out. And the disadvantage is, they have to do whatever their boyfriend wants or their boyfriend’s family wants if they think about getting married. And yeah, to me, please keep in mind that I don’t say all Vietnamese girls. To me, there are two types of girls. I don’t know how exactly to call them, but the first group are the independent girls, who are passionate, confident, who want to do something very meaningful in their life.

They want to work, they want to make money, they want to travel around the world by themselves.

And the second group, they don’t want to be independent. They are not confident at all. Sometimes they are confident about their looks. They can dress well and they can go shopping and they can laugh, they are confident in their beauty. But inside, their core values, they are not confident.

Why do you think some people become pretty but insecure, while others become independent and secure?

I think it’s about culture, about parents. The way they were educated in the past, when they were kids. Some families, they have a very modern, a very Western mindset. They try to teach their daughters that no matter what they do when you grow up, you have to be independent. You have to be happy with yourself. But some families, most Vietnamese families, don’t teach their daughters to be independent. Especially in the countryside.

How about the men? What are they looking for in a woman?

Very easy to understand! If you live in a society that produces the kind of woman, they also produce the kind of man who fits the kind of woman. In Vietnam, a man who has property and money, they will love to have a woman who they can control. Who’s willing to do anything they want. It’s culture. Patriarchy. They want to control everything in their family.

How do you think foreign men fit into all of this?

I have the answer! It’s very interesting. I’m a Vietnamese guy, but I think it’s fair. And I feel so sorry because, do you remember, I only care about the first group of girls, who are independent, confident. And I think these kinds of girls will love to date foreigners. Why? Because foreign guys become independent earlier than Vietnamese guys. They have to move out when they’re 18, and due to to that, they have to learn how to take care of themselves well. They have to learn how to live alone and love themselves before they love somebody else. And this is cool to the modern girls who want a similar life. They want to conquer some things in their life, and Vietnamese girls don’t have it. I can tell.

Why do you think a lot of foreign guys are drawn to Vietnamese women?

The foreign guys, they’re in two groups. The first group, they’re great. I have to say, I admire them. They are cool, really cool. The second group, they come to Vietnam, they travel around the world, and sometimes they just need somebody to hang out, to date, to have sex with, and they know that Vietnamese girls are interested in foreign guys, even when they don’t know English. And some foreign guys know that they are valuable, more valuable than Vietnamese guys in Vietnam, and they take advantage of it. And they just go out and find a girl to date and they’re not actually serious about a relationship with a Vietnamese girl. But for the other cool guys, they know how to respect women.

And when foreign guys know how to deal with those sorts of things, Vietnamese girls have no reason to break up. And people like that, who treat each other fairly, they can have a really great relationship.


Interview 3: Kate, 31, English teacher

What was your dating history before coming here?

Oh god, this is so personal! It’s long! I don’t know, I think I had everything. Long term, short term, periods of being single… But it’s never been particularly difficult to meet people, I find, outside of Vietnam. If you go to a bar or whatever you’ll always meet someone, which is a very different experience here.

For the first six months of living here, I thought, I can’t do this. I can’t be invisible. It’s too difficult.

It was just such a change. And I’m not saying that I’m this man-magnet or anything, but you notice a very big difference. It’s the best expression for it: you just feel invisible. You feel that Western men just look straight through you. That you’re not even there. They actually don’t even register you. Barely even make eye contact.

And Vietnamese men?

And Vietnamese guys, that’s a complicated topic, too. Yes, people say they’re shy, and yes, they are. But I think there are very complicated reasons why they don’t approach us. I mean, you got the language barrier… We tend to be taller, which they don’t like… They’re quite intimidated by us. And so you really don’t want anything to do with the guys that are really kind of forward. Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they have an expression in Vietnam: Man is king. And often, my students say that they could never have a wife who’s better than them.

What age do you teach?

My youngest would be about 15, but generally adults.

You wanted to move after six months. What kept you here?

Because I kept telling myself, you can’t prioritise that part of your life in determining where you live. So I guess I tried to put other things first. Does that make sense?

Sure. Is that kind of how you live your life now?

Yeah, with sporadic moments of absolute boredom because of that situation. I’ve learnt to live with it. I’ve lived here for six years. It’s a long time. And I’m not sure if it’s a healthy thing. But I actually did come here to escape men in a lot of ways. It just kind of backfired.

Because now it’s so obvious?

You’d probably have to move to Siberia to escape [men] more than here.

What’s your impression of the guys who come here and their dating life?

There’s definitely a mixture. I wouldn’t say there’s one type. I don’t know if guys purposefully come here for dating. I’m not really friends with that kind of guy here, so I don’t really talk about that stuff. But they definitely come here, and they’re like a kid in a candy store. You’re highly respected just for being white. And a male. Look, I get a certain level of respect for being a Western person. But if you’re a man, it’s doubly so.

So at work, you can’t put a foot wrong here, because no one’s going to tell you to step off. No one. And that’s why they create these monsters.

And in terms of women, it’s just this never-ending queue of attention. So, if you get one girl today, you get another one tomorrow. And they know that. And they take full advantage of it.

It seems like dating a foreigner is a completely different experience for a woman than dating a Vietnamese man.

Well, you’ve got to look: the men who rule the world are white men. They’re on top of the heap. So, if you’re on the bottom of the heap, you want to find someone who can bring you out of that. So, dating a white man gives you a higher social status in this country. I think they’re just looking to improve their lives. And if you bring a white guy home to your family, you’ve hit the jackpot. One of my students told me her dad used to say, “Girls should be thrown out with the dishwater.” Your daughters are to be married off. So, if you can marry her off to some wealthy guy, that’s great. Box ticked! But if a Vietnamese guy brings me home, that’s a whole different story, because I’m coming into the family.

So you think the family wouldn’t view you the same way as a man?

Oh, god no. Because the woman is kind of like the caretaker of the family. It’s your role to take care of him, the children, his parents. And they know that a Western girl is probably not going to do it. I’m not going to do it. [Laughs] And she wouldn’t have a good understanding of the cultural values. It wouldn’t be enough.

So how has your dating life been here?

An absolute [freaking] disaster.

Do you think just by the virtue of being here white men are somehow implicit in this dating culture?

Yeah, I’ve never been treated so badly by white guys, ever. In my life.

Do you feel that sort of disrespect in a casual setting, with friends as well?

I really don’t have anything to do with white guys any more. I have only one white friend. I’ve completely removed myself from that arena. Because I just find… I get so angry. Like, at the school that I’ve worked for.

Listening to how [white guys] treat the staff. With complete disregard and disrespect. Because they know they can, because no one will hold it up on them.

All of my friends are foreign, but Asian foreign.

Do you think this about all white guys?

This is what I’ve realised. We go on about old men that go over the Philippines and Vietnam and get their little wives and how revolting they are… But actually, those guys don’t worry me any more. I kind of understand them. They’re alone. It’s difficult for them to find a woman. It’s the young guys that come here and they’ve got a brain on their shoulders… They’re relatively okay-looking, and they still choose that option? That’s what worries me. And when they’re writing articles like that? It’s like they can’t help this modern movement of the fact that women want something different now. We don’t want to put up with that [stuff] that our mothers put up with. I certainly don’t.

White guy dating Vietnamese

A lot of Vietnamese women are quite independent and strong and will stand up for themselves, though. Where do they fit in this whole paradigm?

I had a friend Simon, and he always had really well-educated, hardworking women… Fantastic! We used to say, “Where do you find these women? They’re so fantastic! And they’re too good for you!” And they were amazing. But he was a really different kind of guy. All the other guys that I worked with or whatever, they wouldn’t end up with girls like them.


Interview 4: Thomas, 23, Online marketer

What was the dating scene like in France?

I would say that it’s less open than Vietnam. Girls are more suspicious of guys and not so easy to approach. They won’t trust someone that easily. Its different in Vietnam; I find it easier to approach someone just for a drink or a dinner.

And what year did you first come to Vietnam?

I came in Vietnam for the first time in 2015, for a week of holiday. At that time I was studying Mandarin in Shanghai. I really loved [Vietnam], the people, so I decided to come back to here six months later for an internship in January 2016.

What was your first impression of the girls here?

First, I have to say that Vietnamese girls are very beautiful – they got something. Past the physical appearance, they are really easy to hang out with: curious, always happy to try new food, to learn english, to discover new places. And they are really nice. [They’re] always keen to help with anything: to find an apartment, to book a bus ticket...

When you meet girls here, do you usually approach them, or do they approach you?

I approach them. Maybe I wouldn’t do that in Brittany, because there might be, like, a 50% chance that the girl tells me she isn’t interested. Even if I only try to make friends.

So you think Vietnamese girls are more open to speaking with Western guys?

Yeah, I think so. Not only Western guys. I think they’re more open to speaking to guys in general. Vietnamese girls like to make new friends and meet new people.

How do you respond to Sebastian Harris’ article?

I find it disrespectful toward women. It seems that he treats girls like they’re all the same, like if they were simple objects. And then he starts comparing Vietnamese and Thai women… I pity his girlfriend.

Ok, what about his claims that the women here are more submissive, or that they’re more likely to please a man than other girls?

I don’t think so. We are talking about a country with 90 million inhabitants, so let say there are 45 million women in Vietnam. They aren’t all the same. I’ve met many Vietnamese girls with more temperament than some of the Western girls I’ve met before.

Do you think dating, just little things are different… Like if you get in a fight with a Vietnamese girlfriend, do you think it’s different than fighting with a European girlfriend?

Of course it is different because of our different cultures, but nowadays, with globalization, young people tend to have an internationalized mindset. So I can’t really tell if it is that different.

So you think women here have a stronger character than what he’s saying.

Yeah, I think so. But even when Vietnamese girls are angry, they just look cute. Which wouldn’t be the case with a Western woman. When they’re angry, you better not tell them they look cute. [Laughing]

What about his claim that having a relationship with a Western man is somehow more stable and safer than having a relationship with a Vietnamese man?

I think it’s the contrary. I mean, it’s easier for a Vietnamese woman to get married to a Vietnamese guy, because they have the same culture. And often, the foreigner, if they’re young, they will not be as rich as they think. Like, many Vietnamese think that all the foreigners are rich, but it’s not true!

Do you plan on staying here?

Yes I am planning to work here for a while, and let’s see what happens next.

Can you see yourself getting married to a Vietnamese girl?

I can’t tell now, but I could totally see myself married to a Vietnamese woman.

Married to a Vietnamese woman

Do you plan on learning Vietnamese?

I was… until I found out that it wouldn’t be as easy as I thought. It is even harder than Mandarin, you know?

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