If you are invited to a Vietnamese wedding reception at a Chinese restaurant, here are a few tips to enhance your experience.
Arrival time: The 10-course banquet (and it’s always 10 courses, fewer and you risk seeming cheap, more and you’re pompous) starts two hours after the time announced on the invitation. This is the prime manifestation of the Vietnamese "rubber clock." All Vietnamese know this. If the invitation says 6 pm, they show up at 7:45. It's the pale-faced American guests, who are always punctual, that will arrive at 5:59 to an empty restaurant, and will sit there wondering if those Vietnamese are holding out on them and having a pre-reception party somewhere.
The audio experience: In all the dozens of Vietnamese wedding receptions I have been to in the past decade, only two had used classical musicians. The rest used pop/dance bands—and bad ones. The rule of thumb is: the worse they are, the louder they play—to mask their mistakes, no doubt. Coming home with your ears ringing is a ritual. So bring your ear plugs. As a matter of fact, bring a whole box of disposable ones. You’ll make a tidy profit at your table.
The gifts: Vietnamese only give cash gifts (in the form of checks). It’s the one good thing about the Vietnamese wedding. It saves the guests the trouble of having to shop for presents, and the bride and groom the trouble of returning 9 of the 10 electric fans they will get. Now how those presents are presented is another matter. During a break in the ear-piercing music, the bride and groom, their parents, and entourage will visit each table. The parents or their representative will introduce the bride and groom, and one elected person at the table will stand up and give a little speech, bestowing best wishes on the couple. This person is usually the oldest person at the table, so unless you’re eager to give speeches, act young. This is also the perfect time to lie about your age. After this speech, guests at the table will hand over the wedding cards (with the checks inside) to one of the attendants in the entourage. The current rule of thumb for the gift amount is at least $50 per person in the guest party, more if you’re related or really close to the couple. This is one reason the Vietnamese wedding is almost always a positive cash-flow investment for the happy couple.