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A COMPARISON ON SOME TRADITIONAL BELIEFS AND VALUES BETWEEN VIETNAMESE AND AMERICAN CULTURE

PART A: INTRODUCTION
1. Rationale
In the context of globalization of the world, the area of cross-cultural
communication has become more and more popular. However, each culture has
its own features. We can not understand all cultures in the world.
Positioning in two opposite sides of the world, America and Vietnam are
different not only in geography but also in culture. Vietnam has a unique culture,
long history associated with the formation and development of the nation.
Vietnamese culture has been influenced by different cultures: first by the
Chinese culture during the one-thousand year Chinese Empire; then by French
Colony of one hundred years. Nevertheless, the typical values and
characteristics of Vietnamese culture have not only faded away but also have
been preserved and enriched in our societies of all periods.
United States is a multicultural nation, is home to many diverse ethnic
groups, traditions, and values. American is regarded as “a salad bowl” where the
various groups have remained somewhat distinct and different from another
making up a richly diverse American culture.
American culture and traditions have many differences with Vietnamese
culture and traditions. With the process of globalization, our country will have a
negative impact on all aspects of the world. The situation and the above trends
will create both opportunities and challenges intertwined with the development

of the country in the coming years. With the desire of finding some similarities
and differences between Vietnamese and American culture. So, researcher
chooses this study to research: “A comparison on some traditional beliefs and
values between Vietnamese and American culture.”
As stated above, the study aims to do analysis on some traditional
Vietnamese and American beliefs and values; and find out the similarities and
differences between Vietnamese culture and American culture.
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2. Previous research
Although there are some researches on Vietnamese and American
cultural values, they do not show the similarities and differences between two
cultures. For example, in the research on Vietnamese and American cultural
values by Vu Thi Thanh Huyen (2009) only showed that some traditional values
in American and Vietnamese culture and their reflection on television
advertisement in this research “A Vietnamese- American cross cultural study
on cultural refection of television advertisement”. In addition, Le Thi Van Nga
(2011) also showed that Vietnamese and American cultural values in general and
how they effect on business negotiation in the research of “Some reflections of
Vietnamese and American cultural values on Vietnamese- American business
negotiation.”
This is the first time the study: “A comparison on some traditional
beliefs and values between Vietnamese and American culture” is carried out in
Hung Vuong University. This study will focus on studying about American and
Vietnamese traditional cultural values as well as finding the similarities and
differences between two cultures.
3. Research Purpose
The purpose of this study is to give an overview about culture,
traditional beliefs and values, analyze some Vietnamese and American
traditional values, and finally find out the similarities and differences between
two cultures.
4. Research Questions
The study will find the answers for the following questions:
- What are traditional Vietnamese beliefs and values in general?
- What are traditional American beliefs and values in general?

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- What are the similarities and differences between Vietnamese and
American cultural values?
5. Methodology
5.1. Research procedure
- Studying the literature review about culture, traditional values and
some Vietnamese and American traditional cultural values.
- Making a study of Vietnamese and American traditional values.
- Finding out the similarities and differences between Vietnamese and
American culture.
5.2. Methods of Data Collection
Theoretical method
By using this method, the researcher can give the background about
traditional American values and Vietnamese values in general.
- Collecting materials: find out the related materials about traditional
Vietnamese and American beliefs and values.
- Analysis method: from data got from the field study analyzing to get
the final results.
- Comparison and contrast method: in order to find out the similarities
and differences between Vietnamese and American culture.
Systematized method
This method is used to systematize materials relating to the study.
6. The Significance of the research
- The study helps the researcher improve the knowledge about American
traditional values and Vietnamese traditional values in general.

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- It helps students who learn about English gain knowledge about
traditional American values and American culture and also Americans who want
to discover about Vietnamese culture.
7. The Scope of the research
The focus of this study is to analyze some typical cultural values of the
two countries: Vietnam (freedom, patriotism, strong sense of community,
family-oriented lifestyle, harmony, adaptability, directness) and American
(freedom, patriotism, individualism, progress and Future- Oriented competition
and equality, self-reliance, indirectness) and to find out what the similarities and
differences between Vietnam and American culture.
8. Research outline
Part A: Introduction
It contains general information of the study: rationale, previous study,
research purpose, research question, methodology, the significance of the
research, scope of the research, and outline of the research.
Part B: Major content
Chapter 1 shows the literature reviews of the study. This is the
background of culture especially about definitions of culture, concepts of
culture, the characteristics of culture, the value of culture as well as traditional
values and listing some Vietnamese and American cultural values.
Chapter 2 analyzes some Vietnamese and American traditional beliefs
and values
Chapter 3 shows the similarities and differences between some
traditional beliefs and values in Vietnamese and American culture
Part C: Conclusion

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It gives a conclusion to summarize all the study above. In addition, at the
end of this study, a bibliography of materials and resources used in this research
will be presented.

PART B: MAJOR CONTENT
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CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW
In this chapter, the researcher will give some general information about
the background of culture especially about definitions of culture, concepts of
culture, the characteristics of culture, the value of culture as well as traditional
values and list some Vietnamese and American cultural values.
1.1. Culture
1.1.1. Definitions of culture
There have been so far various definitions of culture by different
researchers. According to Banks, J.A., Banks, & McGee, C.A (1989), “Most
social scientists today view culture as consisting primarily of the symbolic,
ideational, and intangible aspects of human societies. The essence of a culture
is not its artifacts, tools, or other tangible cultural elements but how the
members of the group interpret, use, and perceive them. It is the values,
symbols, interpretations, and perspectives that distinguish one people from
another in modernized societies; it is not material objects and other tangible
aspects of human societies. People within a culture usually interpret the
meaning of the symbols, artifacts, and behaviors in the same or in similar
ways.”
Meanwhile, Spencer-Oatey (2000) offered a simpler definition on the
concept of culture, that is “ a fuzzy set of attitudes, beliefs, behavioral norms
and basic assumption and values that are shared by a group of people, and that
influence each member’s behaviors and his/her interpretations of other people’s
behaviors”. (p.18)
A culture is a configuration of learned behaviors and results of behavior
whose component elements are shared and transmitted by the members of a
particular society. (Linton, 2003)
According to Encarta Dictionary (2004), culture is “the customary
beliefs, social forms and material traits of racial, religious or social group”.
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As Edward Burnett Tyler wrote from the perspective of social
anthropology in the UK in 1871, “culture or civilization, taken in its wide
sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law,
custom and any other compatibilities and habits acquired by man as a member
of society”.
In Vietnam, Nguyen Quang, PhD also mentioned this issue. The hidden
of nature of culture has been compared to an iceberg; most of the influence of
culture on an individual can not be seen. The part of culture that is exposed is
not always that creates cross-cultural difficulties; the hidden aspects of culture
have significant effect on behavior and on interactions with others. From his
point of view, “culture is something which was and has been created through
the history of human development. Culture is not static and is always changing.
The beliefs and values we hold now are not completely the same as those held in
the pre- historics of medieval times, or 100 year ago” (Nguyen Quang, 2001).
The definition that is the most suitable for this scope of this study is cited by Dr
Nguyen Quang (p.3) “culture is shared background (for example, national,
ethnic, religious) resulting from a common language and communication style,
customs, beliefs, attitudes, and values”.
Culture is a learned pattern of behavior, and is a way in which a person
lives his life. It is an integral part of every society, and creates a feeling of
belonging and togetherness among the people of that society. Culture
encompasses various aspects of communication, attitude, etiquette, beliefs,
values, customs, norms, food, art, jewelry, clothing styles, etc. Every society has
a different culture, which gives it an identity and uniqueness.
1.1.2. Concepts of culture
The concept of culture was rigorously defined by Taylor in 1860s.
According to him, culture is the sum total of ideas, beliefs, values, material
cultural equipments and non-material aspects which man makes as a member of
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society. Taylor's theme that culture is a result of human collectivity has been
accepted by most anthropologists. Tylarian idea can be discerned in a modern
definition of culture - culture is the man-made part of environment (M.J.
Herskovits).
The study of culture was first used by the pioneer English
Anthropologist Edward B. Tylor in his book, Primitive Culture, published in
1871. Tylor said that culture is the complex whole, which includes knowledge,
belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by
man as a member of society.
The study of culture has complex relationships that provide the societal
information in the given society. This is the reason why Tylor explained it as
complex whole as it provides the multi-dimension societal factors that is
affected by the inter and intra-relationships of man in the social environment.
Primarily, the concept of culture revolves in the human society on its
belief, art, morals, custom and other capabilities such as values, norms,
traditions, mores, folkways, language , race, ethnicity, technology, fads, and
laws. These social variables provide the unique definition of culture for the
understanding and adjustment of life in a given societal condition.
According to Robinson (1985), the concept of culture comprises three
elements:
 Cultural products: literature, art, music, folklore, artifacts
 Behaviors: customs, habits, clothes, foods, leisure
 Ideas: beliefs, values, institutions
(cited from Tomalin, B and Stempleski. S, 1993: 7)
The relationship between these three elements has been shown as follow:

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P
products

B

I

behavior

ideas

s

Figure 1.1: The relationship between three elements of culture
(cited from Tomalin. B and Stempleski. S. 1993: 7)
As can be seen from the diagram, culture is understood as a multi-aspect
category in which both the tangible and intangible values exist. Cultural
products such as literature, art, behaviors, clothes, or foods may be easily
identified among different cultures. They can be called the visible culture as
termed by Hinkel (2001), On the contrary, Hinkel also states that the term visible
culture applies to socio-cultural beliefs and vhe alues that are hidden in the rmaterial part of culture. This point of view is shared by many theorists namely
Spradley (1980), Lado (1997), under different names of elements.
Until 1996, when the National Standards in Foreign Languages
Education Project was published in the United States, three elements mentioned
above were already seen in generalized terminologies as products, practices, and
perspectives. Despite the differences in names, aspects of culture in all these
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viewpoints have an interrelated relationship and people can define the relative
boundary among them.
One of recent reports written by Moran, however, has added other two
dimensions to the above definition. In Teaching Culture Perspectives in practice
(2001), Moran asserts that:
“Culture is the evolving way of life of a group of persons, consisting of
a shared set of practices associated with a shared set of products, based upon a
shared set of perspectives on the world, and set within specific social contexts”.
From Moran’s definition, it can be pointed out that two new dimensions
of culture are community and persons. The reason why these new ones were
added is Moran’s recognition of the active role of people in their culture. It is
reasonable and understandable to make the relationship between people and
their culture clearer. It should be agreed that a specific culture can only exist and
develop in a specific group of persons and its social context.
In conclusion, the term “culture” has diverse and disparate definitions
that deal with both many aspects in the society. The image of an iceberg can
reflect the nature of culture in all theorists’ acknowledgement. The hidden part
of the culture iceberg which consists of values, beliefs, and attitudes.
1.1.3 The characteristics of culture
Culture refers to the pattern of human activity and the symbols that give
significance to these activities. Culture manifests itself in terms of the art,
literature, costumes, customs, language, religion and religious rituals. The
people and their pattern of life make up the culture of a region. Cultures vary in
the different parts of the world. They are different across the land boundaries
and the diversity in cultures results in the diversity in people around the world.
Culture also consists of the system of beliefs held by the people of the region,
their principles of life and their moral values. The patterns of behavior of the
people of a particular region also form a part of the region's culture. The word
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'culture' that hails from the Latin word, 'cultura' derived from 'colere', means, 'to
cultivate'. Hence the way in which the minds of the masses inhabiting a
particular region are cultivated, in some way determines the culture of a region.
Let us look at the basic characteristics of culture and its fundamental elements.
Culture is shared, by which we mean that every culture is shared by a
group of people. Depending on the region they live in, the climatic conditions
they thrive in and their historical heritage, they form a set of values and beliefs.
This set of their principles of life shapes their culture. No culture belongs to an
individual. It is rather shared among many people of a certain part of the world.
It belongs to a single community and not to any single human being. Culture is
learned. The members of a culture share certain ideals, which shape their lives.
Generations learn to follow these ideals and principles. Culture propagates
through generations, which adopt their old customs and traditions as a part of
their culture. The ideals they base their lives on is a part of their culture. Cultural
values are imparted from one generation to another, thus resulting in a continual
of traditions that are a part of culture. The language, the literature and the art
forms pass across generations. Culture is learned, understood and adopted by the
younger generations of society. No individual is born with a sense of his/her
culture. He/she has to learn it. Despite the efforts of the older generations to
transfer their cultural values to the forthcoming generations, many tend to
remain unaware of their culture. People are often found to have an incomplete
knowledge of their culture. People seldom know their culture completely.
A gradual change is characteristic to almost every culture. Cultures are
subject to change. Culture loses some of its traits and gains new ones. The
aspects of culture that change vary across societies. With the passage of time,
new technologies emerge, new modes of work come up, social thinking
undergoes transitions and so does culture. Every culture changes in time
although the rate of change of every culture varies. There is hardly any social
community that is completely isolated from the rest of the world. Every culture
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is mostly influenced by cultures of the surrounding regions. Cultural values are
prone to be affected by the values of communities in close vicinity. The cultures,
which emerged during the same periods of time often, show certain similarities.
Modern times have witnessed an intermix of cultures. Cultures are blended
together giving rise to shared cultures. There is a need to study our cultural
values and ideals, which have been shaping our society. It is necessary to have
respect and pride for our culture.
So as to have better understanding of culture, the author would like to
consider six characteristics of culture proposed by Porter and Samovar (1994):
 Culture is not innate, it is learned. Fact has shown that members of culture
learn their patterns of behavior and ways of thinking until they have
become internalized. The power and influence of these behaviors and
perceptions can be seen in the ways in which people acquire culture.
 Culture is transmissible. The symbols of a culture are what enable us to
pass on the content and patterns of culture. People can use spoken words,
written forms as well as nonverbal actions as symbols to spread culture.
 Culture is dynamic. As with communication, culture is on going and
subject to culture, they can produce changes through the mechanisms of
invention and diffusion.
 Culture is selective. Every culture represents a limited choice of behavior
patterns from the infinite patterns of human experience. This selection is
made according to the basic assumptions and values that are meaningful
to each culture. In other words, culture also defines the boundaries of
different groups. The notion of selectivity also suggests that cultures tend
to separate one group from another. If one culture selects work as an end
(Japan) while another emphasizes work as a mean to an end (Mexico), we
have cultural separation.

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 Facets of culture are interrelated. As Hall clearly states:”You touch a
culture in one place and everything else is affected” (Porter and Samovar,
1994, p.13). This characteristic serves to inform us that culture is like a
complex system.
 Culture is ethnocentric. Keesing notes that ethnocentrism is a “universal
tendency for any people to put its own culture and society in a central
position of priority and worth” (Porter and Samovar, 1994, p.13).
Ethnocentrism becomes the perceptual window through which a culture
interprets and judges all other cultures.
1.1.4. The value of culture
Culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by
everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. Today,
in the United States as in other countries populated largely by immigrants, the
culture is influenced by the many groups of people that now make up the
country.
Culture implies the overall way of life for a group of individuals. It is the
glue that binds people together, and enables them to adapt, survive, and live
together in harmony.
There are different types of cultures across the world and each culture
has its unique essence. While defining the term 'culture', there are several
elements that together constitute as the culture of a particular region or the
culture of particular people. The social values of a particular civilization are also
considered as an element of the culture. The values of a culture often refer to the
things to be achieved or the things, which are considered of great worth or value
in a particular culture.
1.2. Traditional values
1.2.1 Definition of traditional values
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According to website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_values.
Traditional values refer to those beliefs, moral codes that are passed down from
generation to generation within a culture, subculture or community. Important
and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is
good or bad and desirable or undesirable. Values have major influence on
a person's behavior and attitude, and serve as broad guidelines in all situations.
Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child
ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. These societies have
high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.
1.2.2 Some Vietnamese traditional values
Vietnam is an agricultural country. The wet rice culture made people
cooperate and work together to bring a good harvest. Consequently, the
collectivism prioritizes the community rather than individual.
According to Ellis (1995), strong sense of community is felt by all
Vietnamese”. Vietnamese live closely to community and have the grouporiented spirit, which leads the fact that we live in tightly tied relationship with
family, neighbors and society. Therefore, strong sense of community is a
traditional value of Vietnamese people.
Total harmony is achieved by creating harmony within oneself and one's
family, as well as in the outer world of humanity and nature. Due to the
agricultural activities, harmony is also another traditional value for Vietnamese.
The family is the center of the Vietnamese common man's preoccupation and
the backbone of Vietnamese society. By virtue of the principle of
collective and mutual responsibility, each individual strives to be the
pride of his family. So, allegiance to family is also a traditional value of
Vietnamese people.
The most important thing to understand about values in Vietnam is the
importance of their sense of national independence and peace. During 4000
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years of Vietnam, Vietnamese patriotism took shape and has developed until
present. Thorough the war from the beginning era of Vietnam to present,
patriotism became a character of Vietnamese and the nation’s quintessence. So,
freedom and patriotism are traditional cultural values to Vietnamese people.
In conclusion, it is hardly possible to give a thorough description of
Vietnam’s four-thousand-year-old culture. In this section, I have just mentioned
only the most outstanding features of Vietnamese culture. In the main part of the
study, I will analyze more traditional cultural values of Vietnamese culture.
1.2.3 Some American traditional values
According to (H. Hoang, M. Cao, M. Nguyen, T. Phung, T. Nguyen,
2005), there are some traditional beliefs and values in American culture. Here
are details:
At the center of all that American value is freedom. Americans
commonly regard their society as the freest and best in the world.
Directly associated with the value of freedom is the idea of progress. It is
also a traditional value to Americans. The desire to progress by making use of
opportunities is important to Americans, who tend to look forward to the future
but not to the past.
Another traditional value of American culture is patriotism. American
patriotism has also focused on the principles and values of the Constitution of
the United States. It means that all men are created equal", people have
"inalienable rights", and that people have the right to "life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness".
In addition, Americans mean the desire and the ability of all individuals
to control their own destiny without outside interference from the government, a
ruling class, the church, or any organized authority. In America, each individual
is separated, and they have their own responsible for their life and destiny. So,
individualism is also a traditional value of Americans.
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Being the home to a variety of immigrants from different races all over
the world, America is well-known for its diverse culture. American values are
considered “what among all of its cultural diversity gives America its national
character”. However, I have given brief information about American cultural
values. In the next part of this study, I will analyze more American cultural
values.
Summary
In this chapter, researcher presented the overview about the
background of culture especially about definitions of culture, concepts of
culture, the characteristics of culture, the value of culture as well as traditional
values and listing some Vietnamese and American cultural values. In the next
chapter, the main findings and discussion of some traditional beliefs and values
in two countries will be presented.

CHAPTER 2: ANALYING SOME TRADITIONAL BELIEFS
AND VALUES IN VIETNAMESE AND AMERICAN CULTURE
In this chapter, the researcher tends to analyze some traditional beliefs
and values in two countries. So, the results will be presented in this section.
2.1. Vietnamese cultural values
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Being deeply rooted in Confucianism, the Vietnamese culture is solidly
founded on the structure of family where the Filial Piety is respected and
followed by members of the family over generations.
Historically, the culture of Vietnam has been influenced by different
cultures: first by the Chinese culture during the one-thousand year Chinese
Empire; then by French Colony of one hundred years. Nevertheless, the typical
values and characteristics of Vietnamese culture have not faded away but have
been preserved and enriched in our societies of all periods.
It is hardly possible to give a thorough description of Vietnam’s fourthousand-year-old culture; correspondingly, only the most outstanding features
which have been acknowledged in earlier studies will be briefly examined in this
study.
2.1.1. Freedom
It is the term of human right. People have the freedom of speech, press
and religion. Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our
nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion,
language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights
without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and
indivisible. Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law,
in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other
sources of international law. International human rights law lays down
obligations of Governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts,
in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of
individuals or groups.
2.1.2. Patriotism
Patriotism means the love and devotion for our country. Patriotism can
be expressed in many ways and many periods of time. Vietnamese expressed in
different ways to show our patriotism in wartime and peacetime.
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Vietnamese patriotism was expressed strongly in the past, especially in
the wartime. During 4000 years of Vietnam, Vietnamese patriotism took shape
and has developed until present. Thorough the war from the beginning era of
Vietnam to present, patriotism became a traditional character of Vietnamese and
the nation’s quintessence. Patriotism is a definition which is hard to explain but
in every Vietnamese thought, it is a precious tradition and our mission is
preserving and developing it. Each individual Vietnamese should make
concerted efforts and take resolute action in national construction and defense. It
will be a new step in the development of Vietnamese patriotism resting on the
spiritual and cultural strength of the nation.
The most important thing to understand about values in Vietnam is the
sense of national independence and peace. Because the Vietnamese are obsessed
with maintaining independent nationhood, the Vietnamese have resisted more
than 1000 years of Chinese cultural domination, French economic domination
and American military domination. Under Chinese invaders, people suffered
many hardships and were exploited emotionally and physically. The French and
American also burdened the Vietnamese with an extensive taxation system.
They strengthened to plunder and exploit the natural resources and oppressed
Vietnamese farmers making their life extremely miserable. Because of
experiencing a long time of war under miserable life, Vietnamese strongly
struggled to gain the national independence and peace. On September 2, 1945,
President Ho Chi Minh read the Dependent Proclamation during a public
meeting in front of thousands of people, at Ba Dinh Square, Ha Noi announcing
the birth of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In the heart of all Vietnamese
citizens “nothing is more precious than independence and freedom” (Ho Chi
Minh, Dependent Proclamation, 1945).
2.1.3. Strong sense of community
Sense of community is a concept in social psychology. For Sarason
(1974, p.157), Psychology sense of community is “the perception of similarity to
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others, an acknowledged interdependence with others, a willingness to maintain
this interdependence by giving to or doing for others what one expects from
them, and the feeling that one is part of a larger dependable and stable structure”
McMilan & Chavis (1986) defined Sense of Community as “a feeling
that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another
and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met get through
their commitment to be together”.
Vietnamese live closely to community and have the group-oriented
spirit, which leads the fact that we live in tightly tied relationship with family,
neighbors and society.
“Strong sense of community is felt by all Vietnamese”(Ellis, 1995, p.85).
In practice, there are always homogeneous residential areas offering support to
newly arrived immigrants as well as any member when they need help and then
close connection is established among them as a result.
It is the agricultural activities that attributed this attachment to
Vietnamese. The wet rice culture made people cooperate and work together to
bring a good harvest. Consequently, the collectivism prioritizes the community
rather than individual.
2.1.4. Family-oriented lifestyle
Family is the cornerstone of the Vietnamese society. As opposed to the
American nuclear family, the Vietnamese family follows the extended multi–
generational pattern. It is not uncommon for a Vietnamese household to include
the parents, the sons and their wives (in some instances, daughters and their
husbands), grandchildren, and unmarried siblings. Everyone in the immediate
family has a distinctive role.The concept of family extends to close relatives and
beyond. In fact, the Vietnamese perceive society as a whole as one big extended
family. This is demonstrated by the way Vietnamese greet one another. Even

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among strangers, kinship pronouns are often used as a way to show respect and
to reinforce the importance of kinship in Vietnamese culture.
In a typical Vietnamese family household, the father is the central figure
and is responsible for the well being of every member of his family. He is
usually the ultimate decision maker and provider. However, grandparents and
elder relatives within the immediate household often share the authority with the
father. Hierarchy of authority also exists among siblings. The oldest son of the
family has the most authority and it is his duty to look after all the siblings if the
parents are deceased. Familial duties and obligations extend beyond the
immediate family to the extended family and, in some cases, beyond the living.
Ancestor worship is a form of filial piety. Children are responsible for the
maintenance of the ancestral tombs and pay homage to ancestors' spirits at
home. Beyond the extended family, familial obligations also involve the
physical setting in which the family resides, the native village. The attachment
and obligation to the native village stem from the concept of harmony.
The most important factor in the value system of the Vietnamese is, no
doubt, the family. The family is the center of the Vietnamese common man's
preoccupation and the backbone of Vietnamese society. By virtue of the
principle of collective and mutual responsibility, each individual strives to be the
pride of his family. Misconduct of an individual is blamed not only on himself,
but also on his parents, siblings, relatives, and ancestors. Likewise, any success
or fame achieved by an individual brings honor and pride to all members of his
family. The Vietnamese child is taught from early childhood to readily forget
himself for the sake of his family's welfare and harmony. Central to the concept
of family is the obligation of filial piety which is considered the most essential
of all virtues in Vietnamese society. The child is expected to be grateful to his
parents for the debt of birth, rearing and education. He is taught to to think of his
parents and ancestors first, even at his own expense, to make sacrifices for his
parents' sake, to love and care for them in their old age. The Vietnamese man
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who lacks filial piety is looked down upon and ostracized not only by his own
family but also by the community.
The profound love for and attachment to the family is extended to the
physical setting in which the family is located: the native village. The dearest
wish of the Vietnamese common man is, as a proverb puts it, to die in his own
native village and amidst his own folk "as a leaf which leaves the branch to fall
down on the ground at the foot of the tree" (lá rụng về cội). The native village is
not only the place where he was born and brought up and where his parents and
family live but also a place where his ancestors are buried. Many Vietnamese,
especially people in the rural areas, never move out of their native villages or
provinces. This deep attachment to the native village explains the lack of
horizontal mobility in Vietnamese society,
The Vietnamese household traditionally followed the extended multigenerational pattern. The parents, their sons and their wives, their children, and
unmarried siblings usually constituted a Vietnamese household. In this structure,
frequent contacts were maintained, and this constant closeness to family was
emphasized from childhood and continued to be important to Vietnamese
throughout their lifetime. Most Vietnamese placed more emphasis on their roles,
privileges and obligations within this group than on their own individual desires.
In this extended family, the most important expectation was respect for the
elders. The family decisions were made by the parents and grandparents. The
traditional Vietnamese worshipped ancestors as a source of their lives, fortunes,
and civilization. The spirits were honored on various holidays and the
anniversary of their death.
It is clear that one of the most important factors in the value system of
the Vietnamese is the family. Each family is regarded as one cell-body of the
whole society as well as the center of the Vietnamese’s lives. According to Ellis
(1995, p.85) “As in many parts of Asia, Vietnamese life revolves around the
families”. Under the effects of the principles of collective and mutual
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responsibilities, every individual is expected to make all of their efforts to be the
pride of his/her family.
The Vietnamese child is taught from early childhood to do things not
only for his own sake but for his family‘s honor, harmony, and welfare as well.
The child is supposed to be grateful to his parents for the debt of birth, rearing
and education. For this reason, he is supposed to think of his ancestors and
parents in order to make sacrifices for their sake and to love and care for them,
especially in their old age. Any Vietnamese man who lacks such filial piety is
looked down upon not only by his own family but also by the community.
Vietnamese also live according to tradition and obey customs and habits
strictly. In addition, Vietnamese often look back to their ancestors’ achievement
and consider them as the motivation and example to follow. Vietnamese are
taught as children to forsake the ego and make individual sacrifices to ensure the
family's welfare and harmony. Allegiance to one's family is absolute, and
includes fulfilling one's responsibilities, obligations, familial role, duties and
proper conduct. "Improper conduct" brings shame and dishonor to self and
family. The most feared criticism is the allegation of "ill–breeding," which can
do significant damage to the ego and disgrace the family's honor. Moderation,
modesty, moral probity and self–control demonstrate allegiance to the family.
It is important to emphasize that in the past few decades the traditional
Vietnamese family has been deteriorating as an institution as a result of
communist ideology, an impoverished economy, migration and assimilation of
western culture. The communist regime mandated that the state replace parents
as the ultimate authority in every household. Loyalty and allegiance to the
communist party was expected to take precedence over family loyalties. In fact,
children were trained to spy on their parents and report any "subversive
behaviors" to the party. Decades of war annihilated homes and villages in the
countryside. After the war, many abandoned their native villages and moved to
big cities in search of jobs. This often caused the break up of the immediate as
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well as the extended family unit. The mass exodus of refugees since the late
1970s sent Vietnamese to countries all over the world. As children of these
families assimilate western culture and embrace the ideology of individualism,
the cohesiveness of the traditional Vietnamese family institution is further
jeopardized.
2.1.5. Wishing to live in harmony with nature and people
The concept of harmony is based largely on the teachings of
Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. Total harmony is achieved by creating
harmony within oneself and one's family, as well as in the outer world of
humanity and nature. To produce harmony, an individual must observe
moderation

and avoid

extremes.

Moderation

is

practiced

in verbal

communication, daily life activities, consumption of food and drink and in social
interaction. These measures are undertaken to ensure physical safety and to
adhere to the moral imperative to keep one's dignity unimpaired.
Harmony is designed with the idea that people and nature can coexist.
The desire to achieve harmony between the self and the non-self remains an
essential preoccupation of the Vietnamese in interpersonal relations outside the
family group. The basic principle underlying family relationships is extended to
the relationships between members of wider social groups.
The concept of society as an extension of the family is evident in the
transposition into social usage of a language originally intended for domestic
life. Vietnamese uses more than a score of kinship terms as personal pronouns.
The choice of the appropriate word depends on the relative age, social status,
gender, degree of acquaintance, respect, and affection between speakers and
hearers who are not related to each other by blood or marriage.
In Vietnamese society, the predominant sentiment in the relation
between members of a social group is respect. This is particularly evident in the
attitude towards older people. Respect and consideration for old age no doubt
23


derive from the obligation of filial piety that requires young people to respect
and love their parents and parent-like members of the family. Vietnamese also
recognize that a long life is a sign of kindness and regard on the part of the deity
for virtuous people, and that the elders are the carriers of tradition and the
embodiment of knowledge and wisdom. Old people enjoy high respect in
Vietnamese society, irrespective of wealth, education, or social position. This
respect is expressed in both attitude and behavior, particularly in the use of
special terms of address and stylistic devices. Unlike Western societies that put a
premium on youth, Vietnamese society is proud of its old members. Age is an
asset, not a liability
With the origin as an agricultural country whose production method used
to be underdeveloped, Vietnamese used to depend much on the nature to
survive, hence, their wish to live in harmony with the nature is easy to
understand.
As recommended by Ellis (1995, p.59), “social harmony is always
preferred”. In other words, one must avoid extremes in communication, daily
life activities and social interaction to ensure physical safety and adhere to the
moral imperative of keeping one’s dignity unimpaired. It is also a fact that
Vietnamese always try to get on well with each other and put great importance
on face-saving and on what others may think of them.
2.1.6. Adaptability
Adaptability enables Vietnamese to turn their action into the reality like
the saying “Honor when honor is due” (đi với bụt mặc áo cà sa, đi với ma mặc
áo giấy), “when in the Rome, do as the Romans do” (Nhập gia tùy tục). This
characteristic is considered as one of the strong points of Vietnamese as they can
accept the current situation and try to adapt themselves to it rather than daydreaming.
2.1.7. Indirectness
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Rooted in the high context culture where people have close connections
over a long period of time, many aspects of Vietnamese culture behavior are not
made explicit. Therefore, Vietnamese people seem to talk around a subject and
never get to the point (Tran Ngoc Them, 1997, p.158).
In addition, Vietnamese believes that people should consider one
another’s feelings when deciding what to say. In other words, how to convey
information is more important than the information itself.
2.2 American cultural values
Being the home to a variety of immigrants from different races all over
the world, America is well-known for its diverse culture. Immigrants from each
country have brought along with them the peculiarity of their own culture,
diversifying American native one. America, on one hand, is said to be “a
melting-pot” where a various racial and ethnic groups have been combined
together. “American is God’s crucible, the great melting-pot where all races of
Europe are melting and reforming Germans and French, Irishmen and
Englishmen, Jew and Russian into Crucible with you all! God is making the
American”. (Crandall, Datesman, Kearny, 1997).
On the other hand, American is regarded as “a salad bowl” where the
various groups have remained somewhat distinct and different from one another,
making up a richly diverse American culture.
American values are considered “what among all of its cultural diversity
gives America its national character” (H. Hoang, M. Cao, M. Nguyen, T.
Phung, T. Nguyen, 2005, An Introduction to American Studies, p.64).
2.2.1. Freedom
At the center of all that American value is freedom. Americans
commonly regard their society as the freest and best in the world. They like to
think of their country as a welcoming heaven for those longing for freedom and
opportunity. They are proud to point out that even today American’s
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