A Comparative Exploration of Daily Life in Traditional Markets and Among Local Residents in Vietnam and France

14 Mar 2022 Alexandre Germouty Dossier thématique




In Southeast Asia, there is a country that needs no introduction, for it is already known to all. That country is Vietnam, infamous for its tumultuous past, but let us leave history behind. Vietnam was left to wither in the darkness after 30 years of war, but it has emerged as a country that overcame adversity. Like the legendary Phoenix, Vietnam has risen from the ashes, stronger and more resilient than ever before.


After the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Vietnam and Western nations sought reconciliation. The 1990s brought foreign investment and membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The United States established diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995, and in 2000, Bill Clinton became the first US president to visit north Vietnam. In 2006, George W. Bush followed suit, and Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2007.


The Vietnamese people are battle-hardened, proud, and fiercely nationalistic, having fought and earned their stripes against the world's mightiest powers. The older generation remembers every inch of the territory they fought for, but for the new generation, Vietnam is a place to succeed, to ignore the immutable structures of communism, and to have some fun. Life revolves around family, with several generations often living under one roof, just like in other parts of Asia. Poverty, as well as the transition from a predominantly agricultural society to a more industrialized one, drives many people to seek their fortune in the larger cities, altering the structure of the modern family unit. Women make up 52% of the workforce but remain underrepresented in positions of power.


Vietnam's population is primarily composed of 84 percent ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) and 2 percent ethnic Chinese, with the remaining being Khmers, Chams, and members of more than 50 ethnolinguistic Montagnard groups.


Vietnam is not just a conflict, but a country with a rich culture and history. Today, it is a magnificent country with a silhouette resembling that of a dragon, a symbol of strength and goodness in the Far East. From the sun-drenched rice fields, bamboo hedges, and conical hats to the preserved colonial architecture of Hanoi and the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is an exciting discovery.


Vietnam is a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors and subtle tones, exotic sights and strange sounds, compelling history and contrasting culture. Nature has gifted Vietnam with soaring mountains, emerald-green rice paddies, and a curvaceous coastline. In the interior, peasant women in conical hats still tend their fields, children ride buffalo, and minority people make a living from impossible gradients. If Vietnam has a soundtrack, it must be the buzz of a million motorbikes, the cries of street hawkers selling their wares, and the tinkle of pagodas calling the faithful to prayer. Vietnam is a culinary treasure trove with over 500 different dishes for culinary crusaders, a fantastic world of pungent herbs and hidden spices.


Vietnam may be known as 'Nam to a generation, but the agony of war weighs heavily on the minds of all who remember it, and the Vietnam ide of the story is told at poignant locations across the country. The Vietnamese fiercely protect their independence and sovereignty but graciously welcome foreigners who come as guests, not conquerors.


The Vietnamese people are as lively as the traffic on the street, and the country is in high gear. For now, it remains one of the most enriching, energizing, and enticing countries on the planet.


This study aims to contrast the daily lives of local residents in Vietnam with those of French citizens and compare Vietnamese marketplaces to those in France.


I. Urban daily life


A. Daily life in Vietnamese cities


In the frenzied and hurried cities of Vietnam, life begins at the crack of dawn, if not earlier. At 5 a.m., street vendors hustle to purchase ingredients, boil soup, and chop vegetables, all in the hopes of providing their customers with fresh produce. By 6 a.m., the streets are congested with a flurry of motorbikes and cars honking their horns, as the city comes to life.


Vietnamese believe that an early morning visit to the market is key to obtaining the freshest fruits and meats. After dropping their children off at school, they head to work, which begins at 7 a.m. But for many, the day starts much earlier, with the streets teeming with bicycles, motorcycles, trucks, buses, and people engaged in buying and selling food. While most offices close around 4 p.m., many shops remain open late into the night.


Despite the long workday, many people, both men and women, are forced to work two jobs to support their families. Grandparents often look after young children while their parents work, but childcare centers are available for those who need them. Respect for elders and assistance with household chores are expected of children, ingrained in Vietnamese culture from a young age.


B. Daily life in French cities 


France has undergone a massive urbanization shift over the last decade, with cities now comprising three-quarters of the population, according to INSEE. The urban sprawl and agglomeration of communes characterize this evolution.


A typical day in the life of the metropolitan French can be summarized by the phrase "métro - boulot - dodo" or "subway, work, and sleep." Adults and school-aged children typically rise at 7:00 a.m. to prepare for work or school, which begins at 8:30 a.m.


Most French people start their day with a cup of coffee at home or at a bar terrace before taking public transit, such as the bus or metro, to their workplace. The typical workday starts at 9:00 a.m., but in France, the lunch break can last up to two hours. Many businesses close from 12:30 to 2:00 pm during this time, leading to later work hours. A typical day concludes around 6 or 7 p.m.


The metropolitan French are constantly pressed for time, prioritizing their work duties over socializing with strangers. They devote a large portion of their time to their profession and are unpleasant when rushed or wasting time.


The French take their work-life balance seriously, with a 35-hour workweek and generous vacation days. Evenings are spent at home, completing homework, watching television, or reading literature. Dinner is typically served at 8 p.m., when the entire family is present.


Weekends are dedicated entirely to family time, with opportunities to see friends, engage in activities, or simply relax. The "right to be disconnected" law prohibits employees from reading work-related emails, further emphasizing the importance of work-life balance in French culture.


II. Rural daily life


A. Country life in Vietnam


Approximately three-quarters of Vietnam's population lives in rural areas, villages, or small towns, where family is the cornerstone of life. Respect is paramount in Vietnamese culture, with the head of the household receiving the most. Each family member works diligently, with the elderly assisting with childcare while parents work.


In the north, farming villages consist of clusters of cottages connected by temples or other structures serving as community centers and meeting places. In the south, villages are frequently grouped around a single road and built on stilts to avoid flooding. Some farms are collectives, with family groups sharing equipment and labor. Men perform hard labor such as plowing and digging canals, while women do housework and weeding. Everyone pitches in during rice seedling transplantation and harvesting.


Houses in rural locations are constructed using locally available materials like bamboo, mud, or cement, and many have thatch roofing made of straw or palm leaves. Each dwelling is rectangular in shape, with the family altar flanking the door on one long side and the kitchen on the other. Lowland communities have sacred spaces like shrines or temples dedicated to the village's guardian spirit.


Mountain settlements are primarily composed of ethnic minority populations and frequently consist of stilted thatched dwellings. Fishing settlements built on stilts line rivers and canals, and floating settlements in Halong Bay and the Mekong Delta serve as both fish farms and fishing communities.


The village is a place of skill and craft, where farmers used the time following harvest to create exquisite handicrafts for personal use. Techniques were shared within the village but kept hidden from outsiders, leading to several villages' reputations for particular handcrafts or arts. Rural life in Vietnam is a world of tradition, hard work, and skilled craftsmanship.


​​​​​​​B. Country life in France


From the hedgerows of Normandy farmland to the rugged Alsace and gentle rolling mountains of Champagne, the French countryside is a breathtaking sight to behold. With a vast land area of 644,000 square kilometers, France boasts a diverse range of landscapes, making it one of Europe's most beautiful countries. Its population of 67 million has a population density of only 111 inhabitants per square kilometer, creating a sense of tranquility that is often sought after by rural residents.


However, although numerous villages in France feature authentic architecture and a plethora of historical monuments, they are sparsely populated. Yet, despite the lower population, rural French people have a more fulfilling social life than city dwellers. With smaller communities and a stronger sense of community, villagers spend significantly more time communicating with their neighbors, while city dwellers are too rushed to converse.


In contrast to the hurried pace of city life, rural French villagers value their social lives over maximizing their financial gain. They work fewer hours, and their stores frequently close earlier than those in larger cities. The French villagers' community spirit contributes to the preservation of numerous traditions found throughout France, as numerous events are organized to bring people together.


However, rural life in France is not without its disadvantages. Communities are generally homogeneous, leaving little room for ethnic diversity. Young people have limited social space and employment opportunities, leading many to travel long distances to work in larger cities. Nonetheless, France's countryside remains a testament to its natural beauty and the French villagers' strong sense of community, making it a sight worth seeing.


​​​​​​​III. Traditional markets


​​​​​​​A. Vietnamese Markets


In Vietnam, markets are more than just places to buy and sell goods - they are a fundamental part of the culture. Locals come together at traditional markets to share knowledge, personal experiences, and baking tips while preparing fresh food daily. Vietnamese people have a saying that living near a market and river is best, emphasizing the importance of easy access to food and travel. These markets also offer a unique insight into the lifestyles, cultures, and customs of the people who live there.


Vietnam boasts three distinct market types, each with its own charm and appeal. Rural markets in the countryside, known as cho que, offer fairs and evening markets where visitors can find a variety of goods, including indigenous products and high-priced items from other locales. Highland markets, found in mountainous areas, serve not only as commercial establishments but also cultural festivals where individuals dress in their finest attire, play their pan-flutes, dance, and sing while making new friends. The Mekong River Delta is home to the unique floating market, where thousands of boats come together to create an economic hub for agricultural products. Here, commercial activities take place on boats at cho noi, and most of the products sold are intended for wholesalers who resell them to food processing factories or ship them to the north.


Vietnamese markets are more than just shopping destinations - they are a window into the heart and soul of the country.


​​​​​​​B. French markets 


Markets are not just a place for commerce in France; they are a cultural institution passed down from generation to generation. The French have mastered the art of the market, with two distinct types: Sunday markets and flea markets, the latter known as "vide greniers". 


On Sunday mornings, almost every French town and village is alive with a farmer's market, brimming with fresh produce such as cheese, fruits & vegetables, and meat. It's a feast for the senses and a celebration of French cuisine. 


In the summer, small towns and villages host garage sales known as "vide greniers", a mix of locals clearing out their attics and professional secondhand traders selling everything from antique furniture to vintage books, jewelry, and glassware. It's a treasure trove of hidden gems and undiscovered treasures.


France is home to some of the world's most famous markets, including Bordeaux's wine market, Provence's renowned olive markets, Strasbourg's enchanting Christmas market, Nice's fragrant flower market, Paris's famed Porte de Clignancourt flea market, and Marseille's bustling fish market surrounding its historic port. These markets are more than just a place to buy goods; they are an experience that embodies the essence of French culture and history.


​​​​​​​IV. Important keywords of the daily life


​​​​​​​A. Youth


1. In Vietnam


Vietnam's youth, comprising over half of the 96 million population, belong to the 8X generation - born in the 1980s and beyond. These city-dwelling youngsters have embraced Western culture and consumerism, and are proud digital natives who frequent trendy bars and cafes. They have no interest in the past, the war, or political ideologies. However, this urban lifestyle is vastly different from that of their rural counterparts.


2. In France

With 11.7 million young people aged 15 to 29, accounting for 17.4 percent of the population, France has a significant youth population. Unfortunately, they are also the first victims of unemployment in the country. The current unemployment statistics indicate a precarious situation for young people, with a staggering 29.4 percent increase in unemployment for those under 25 in 2021. One in four 18-24-year-olds struggle to pay bills and are 30% more likely to forego or delay healthcare. Even more alarming, one in two young people admit to cutting back on food expenses and skipping meals. INSEE reports that half of France's poor population are under 30. The Covid-19 pandemic has further disrupted their personal projects, travels, and social lives, leading to a surge in anxiety, laziness, isolation, and depression among young French people.




​​​​​​​B. Education


1. In Vietnam


Education is deeply rooted in the Vietnamese culture influenced by Confucianism, where it is considered fundamental. However, the country's education system has remained largely unchanged and is criticized for its rote learning approach. Is this why Vietnam ranked only eighth in the PISA rankings, while France is twenty-sixth?


Nonetheless, the government continues to prioritize education by providing free and compulsory elementary schooling. There are three types of schools: state-funded public schools, community schools run by local governments, and private schools. School vacations are set around the Tet festival and during summer from mid-June to mid-August.


  1. In France


Education is compulsory and free from the age of three until sixteen, and it consists of three years of kindergarten, five years of primary education, and five years of secondary education and three years of high school.


After completing their studies, students can take the baccalaureate state examination, leading to admission to higher education. Over 65,000 schools, mostly under the Ministry of Education's jurisdiction, exist in France, with approximately 15-20% of students attending private schools. The country boasts of a 70% baccalaureate degree holder rate, with over 15 million pupils and students, representing a quarter of the population.


​​​​​​​C. Leisure


1 In Vietnam :


In Vietnam, the weekend is a highly anticipated break from the monotony of work. Despite having limited vacation days, the Vietnamese still make time for leisure, finding joy in the simple pleasures of life. From shopping to sipping a beer with friends in a karaoke bar, dining out, or even just staying in and watching TV, they prioritize spending time with loved ones. Exercise and games also play an essential role in their lives, while amusement parks, theaters, and cinemas are gaining popularity.


2. In France :

Meanwhile, leisure time in France is highly valued, with nearly 12 hours dedicated to leisure activities each week. The French take pleasure in socializing with friends over drinks, attending cultural events, listening to music, playing sports, and, above all, indulging in the sacred act of sleeping. Whether it's a night out on the town or a cozy evening at home, the French have mastered the art of leisure, savoring every moment of their well-deserved free time.



​​​​​​​D. Marriages


1. In Vietnam 

Weddings in Vietnam remain a grandiose affair that bring together the entire community, but at a great cost. Vietnamese parents spare no expense to ensure a lavish celebration, with debts often incurred to finance the event. Despite modernization, traditional customs and rituals are still upheld, with decorated tents set up in front of the bride's parents' house in villages and on the countryside. However, a growing number of middle-class families in cities are opting for privatized hotel rooms instead


2. In France

Marriage in France has undergone a dramatic transformation, losing its religious and familial significance and becoming a mundane legal procedure. In a society where divorce is all too common, marriage has lost its once-revered position. Despite same-sex marriage becoming legal since the May 17, 2013 law, the institution has lost much of its cultural relevance. Nowadays, marriages are conducted in front of a mayor, serving only as a formal recognition of the union, with one in every two couples ending up in divorce.


​​​​​​​E. Family


1. In Vietnam 

In Vietnam, family is everything. Shaped by Confucianism, the Vietnamese people have maintained their devotion to family despite the perils of their history. Multi-generations still coexist under one roof, standing in stark contrast to Western individualism. However, even with strong brotherhood bonds and a strong motherly role, modern challenges have led to an increase in divorces.


2. In France

In France, the family's once vital role has now become a fleeting phase, lacking genuine family values. The environment has become more influential in a child's life than their own family. Individualism has become deeply ingrained, and living a solitary life has become more significant, with one in every eight people living alone. The family is no longer an intangible foundation for French people.


​​​​​​​F. Family name


1. In Vietnam

The family name Nguyen is widely used in Vietnam, accounting for nearly 40% of the population. This is for a variety of reasons, the primary one being loyalty. Indeed, the populace adopted the name of the ruling dynasty out of loyalty. In the early nineteenth century, the Nguyen (1802-1945) were the last family to ascend to the imperial throne. It was granted its name as a result of its contribution to the country's unification prior to French colonization and the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Members of previous dynasties, such as the Ly or the Mac, changed their names deliberately to avoid repercussions. 


As a result, unlike in the West, Vietnam has a dearth of surnames. Other family names, such as Tran, Dang, Vo, Ngo, and Pham, refer to former imperial families that predated the Nguyen. It should be noted that there are frequently no familial ties between families sharing the same surname. This is why each Vietnamese must have two first names, the first of which serves as a sort of patronymic preceding their given name, allowing them to be distinguished from others who share the same family name.


2. In France

Each person baptized in the Middle Ages was required to take a single name, either biblical (Marie, Jean, Pierre…) or Germanic (Thibaut, Astrid, Bernard…). In the 12th century, as a result of the population explosion, each person acquired a second name, frequently that of the family head. Family names can refer to an origin (Lebreton, Lallemand, Lenormand), a geographical element near the place of residence (Dupont, Lagrange, Duchêne), physical characteristics (Leroux, Gros, Petit), or morals (Courtois, Gaillard). Additionally, one may be designated according to one's trade (Meunier, Boulanger, Tisserand). 


The law of 04/03/2002 modifies family name transmission by incorporating the possibility of transmitting the mother's name.


​​​​​​​Conclusion :


Vietnam's cultural heritage is captivating, and my first visit to the country immediately highlighted the contrasts with my home. I was fortunate to travel just prior to the escalation of the health crisis, and I made the most of my journey. I visited Phu Quoc and its beautiful white sand beaches where I savored the sublime turquoise sea's waves crashing against the shore. In Mui Ne, I walked the town's massive street and engaged in conversations with locals to learn more about their cultures and daily routines. Since tourism had ceased due to the health crisis, I was virtually the only foreigner. Next, I took a scooter to Dalat, where I was taken aback by the microclimate and had to rush to purchase warm clothes at the night market. Despite the frequent torrential rains, traversing the mountains and visiting the hidden waterfalls among the hills was a charming experience. Then, I drove to Phan Rang, where I was impressed by the city's modernity and pedestrian space. I enjoyed visiting the nearby pottery village and observing the locals' incredible talents at work. I also had the opportunity to admire the region's deserted temple at my own pace. To conclude my road trip, I went to Nha Trang, where I stayed in a local home and shared many stories. Although the city was deserted, and there was no nightlife, I found solace in the traditional mud baths, which revitalized me. Regrettably, the health crisis forced the end of my journey, and I had to return to Ho Chi Minh, where I spent three weeks alone. On my way home, I came across a small stray kitten that was abandoned by its mother and dying alone on the road. I took him to the vet, and he received all necessary care. Today, he is in excellent condition and is my companion during confinement, helping me maintain my mental and emotional stability. In conclusion, my brief trip to Vietnam was enough to make me fall in love with the country. Studying for my Masters here is an opportunity to continue exploring this stunning country with its sublime culture and unbelievably kind and welcoming people. I am excited to continue my journey and learn more about Vietnam.


Alexandre GERMOUTY

President of the AJAI from 2021 to 2022

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