A Frenchman’s Lunar New Year in Vietnam

Although he holds French citizenship, Luc Mandret considers himself as a Vietnamese. He experiences a sense of exhilaration towards the festive season and the vibrant ambiance of the closing days of the year.

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In the apartment of Luc Mandret, located in Binh Thanh District (Ho Chi Minh City), peach branches have started to bloom with vibrant flowers. Prior to this, Luc had also ordered a small pot of kumquats from Hanoi to be delivered to Ho Chi Minh City. Now, if a stranger walks into his house, they would never guess that the owner is a foreigner. The Tet atmosphere is ever-present with the sight of peaches, kumquats, and snow apricot branches.

“I bought these peach blossoms for VND 140.000, aren’t they beautiful?”, Luc exclaimed with excitement when talking about the Lunar New Year.

Having come to Vietnam since November 2018, living and working here for over 5 years, Luc Mandret has had unforgettable experiences.

Luc Mandret enjoying the Tet and spring atmosphere in Vietnam.

In France, the New Year’s holiday only lasts for 1 day. The French often meet friends, gather with family, or go out to the Champs-Élysées Avenue (Paris) to soak in the New Year’s atmosphere. In Vietnam, the Lunar New Year holiday lasts for approximately 10 days, before and after Tet. At this time, work suddenly becomes less important as people prioritize rest and spending quality time with family.

The first year Luc came to Vietnam was also towards the end of the year. He assumed that the Lunar New Year holiday would only be around 2-3 days, after which work would resume as usual. However, Luc began to notice something out of the ordinary when he noticed the extended vacation schedule of his colleagues at the company. It was then that his Vietnamese boss explained to him that the Lunar New Year break is an important traditional holiday. During this extended holiday, most businesses are closed, except for a few specific industries.

“No one told me about this before. In France, long vacations usually happen during summer, around July and August. So every Lunar New Year, I take the opportunity to travel and immerse myself in Vietnamese culture,” Luc shared.

Last Tet, he was in Nha Trang, and the year before that in Da Nang. For a few years now, Luc has spent all his time in Ho Chi Minh City, fully enjoying the Tet atmosphere. He is particularly interested in the flower market at Binh Dong Wharf (District 8), where flower boats from across the provinces gather to sell flowers and decorative plants for Tet celebrations.

A vase of peach blossoms in Luc’s house.

Being in the field of marketing and communications has allowed Luc to gain a unique perspective on the essence of Vietnamese Tet. He has observed people prioritizing the care and cleaning of their homes, as well as purchasing decorations for the New Year. Alongside this, Tet cuisine has left a lasting impression on him. Luc particularly enjoys fried spring rolls and the flavorful combination of beans and meat within the traditional Banh Chung. “It’s delicious,” he remarked.

When it comes to Tet shopping, Luc considers himself a local. If he had a better command of Vietnamese, the market would be his favorite place. He explains that he is not one to haggle over prices. He believes that making purchases at slightly higher prices is a way of supporting the sellers to have some extra income during Tet.

For example, if certain shops and restaurants are open during Tet to serve customers, it is only reasonable for consumers to accept paying slightly higher service fees. After all, while others are resting, these businesses are still operating.

In addition, the secret to avoiding “rip-offs” for this foreigner is to become a loyal customer. Luc always shops at the same places, so the shopkeepers recognize his face and feel at ease doing business with him.

Luc has traveled to approximately 20 provinces and cities throughout all regions of Vietnam.

In his journey to explore Vietnamese culture and cuisine, Luc has indulged in dishes like crushed vermicelli noodle soup (Hai Phong) and bun bo Hue (Thua Thien Hue). He has also tried specialty wines like corn wine (Ha Giang) and Mai Chau wine (Hoa Binh). Sitting in a stilt house, enjoying wine with local residents, has been a deeply meaningful experience that has made Luc feel connected to this S-shaped land.

Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, Luc chose to stay in Vietnam. According to him, this period has revealed many positive aspects of humanity. Sympathy, sharing, and community solidarity are among the most prominent qualities evident in Vietnamese society.

“For the past 5 years, I have cherished every single day in your country. There is so much for me to do and discover. I love the food here, and I already feel like a Vietnamese person. The beautiful peach blossoms signal the arrival of another Tet. I can’t predict the future, but I will stay in Vietnam for as long as Vietnam will have me,” Luc smiled.

Hai Dang