Are you married yet?
I don’t love everything about Vietnam.
Specifically, I don’t like having this conversation so many times I’ve become a broken record:
Random Stranger: Where are you from?
Stranger: America… English teacher?
Stranger: How old are you?
Stranger: Are you married yet?
That’s where I’m supposed to say “Chưa. Not yet.” But I can’t do it. Instead, I say, “Không. No.”
Không garners one of two reactions:
1) The questioner will laugh at this crazy white lady who doesn’t know she is supposed to get married and so has not given the appropriate response. The idea of saying, “No” to marriage is, my Vietnamese teacher explained, absurd.
2) The questioner will demand why. I will respond, “I don’t like men.” If the questioner is a woman, they probably understand. If the questioner is a man, they will ask me out on a date, thinking they can reform me.
I don’t appreciate either response but the second is more fun, even though it isn’t true. For the record, I understand that the Vietnamese consider marital status, age, etc. public information. But what does it have to do with my ability to teach English to your kid, bargain with you in the market or pay for the coffee I’ve just ordered?
Gender expectations are where the differences between my culture and Vietnamese culture are most evident to me. Granted, western feminism in the philosophy that governs my life and, as much as it is about intersectionality and global feminism, I still consider it a freedom to be able to choose whether or not I get married. It’s not as if there isn’t pressure on American women to get married; it’s just that I’m allowed to tell my own culture to go suck an egg. (Get married? Maybe for the tax break. Kids? They’re too expensive.)
When I moved here, I thought I had to love Vietnam and all it’s baggage. It’s too hard to do that. When I first discovered that I didn’t like everything about Vietnam, I felt terrible but I’ve realized that I don’t have to like all aspects of Vietnamese culture. And it’s okay. Do I think the gender roles in Vietnam are limiting to women? Absolutely. They limit men, too. Do I think everyone needs to get married and have kids? No. Am I mindful of the fact that I am constantly navigating someone else’s culture? Most of the time, I’m sensitive to that.
But, no, I’m not married yet. Marriage isn’t even in the ten-year plan and I don’t want kids, no matter how uncomfortable that makes you.