Story: Vietnamese

Page 2. Culture, language and work

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A thriving community

As Vietnamese immigrants moved to the main cities, a strong community evolved, particularly in Auckland. There are many restaurants and cafés, and various religious and social service organisations. Every year traditional festivals are celebrated.

Festivals far from home

Celebrated over three days in January or February, the most important Vietnamese festival is the Lunar New Year, known as Tet Nguyen Dan. It is believed that the events in the first day of the New Year will set the course for the next 12 months. It is a time to show respect and forgiveness, and to relax after a year of hard work.

Tet-Trung-Thu (the Mid-Autumn or Children’s Moon Festival) is held in the eighth month of the oriental calendar. Gathering to watch traditional dances and discuss education and art, the Vietnamese community enjoys traditional delicacies such as moon cake and lotus seed paste cake.

Blending cultures

By the 2000s the first Vietnamese arrivals had been in New Zealand for 25 years. Like many other immigrant groups, their levels of adaptation to the ‘Kiwi way of life’ varied. Integration is influenced by such factors as ability in English, the length of time in New Zealand, the extent of social networks and friends, and occupations.

Some cultural traditions are still strongly practised. For example, it is common for children to remain at home with their parents until marriage, and it is not unusual for newly-weds to move in with the groom’s family until they become financially stable. This custom fulfils a sense of duty in children to look after their parents in old age, and highlights the strong family values Vietnamese hold. Other traditions have been lost and replaced by new ones, especially among the younger generation. For example, many socialise with their non-Vietnamese friends and may choose to have a Kiwi boyfriend or girlfriend.

For many, daily life includes a mixture of Vietnamese culture and the New Zealand way. The vast majority will eat a traditional meal for dinner, but not for breakfast or lunch. Additionally, many Vietnamese have adopted various New Zealand leisure activities like shopping at the mall, having a barbecue with friends and family at the beach, or watching rugby on television.


Vietnamese is the predominant language spoken in most households. This helps to facilitate communication between older relatives or newer family migrants and second-generation family members.

Outside the home, many will speak Vietnamese or English depending on the situation and their proficiency in each language. Many of the elderly and the first generation speak predominantly Vietnamese and have a fairly basic command of English. In contrast, many second-generation Vietnamese choose to speak English. Although Vietnamese is spoken within the home, the language is slowly being lost by the younger generation.


During the 1980s Vietnam’s Communist government was opposed to religion. In New Zealand, Vietnamese immigrants enjoyed freedom of worship and set up Mahayana Buddhist centres. By 2003 the Thien Thai Vietnamese Monastery in Upper Hutt was serving the Wellington community while in Auckland the Vietnamese Buddhist Association operated out of Ōtāhuhu. In 2013 41% of Vietnamese were Buddhist, and 14% were Catholic.


Many first-generation Vietnamese were manual workers, as are more recent arrivals. A limited education and command of English, combined with fairly basic work skills, restrict this group to occupations such as factory work and semi-skilled trades. Many early refugees operated their own small businesses. Bakeries and fast-food bars are still typical enterprises, as they enable whole families to work together. This offers both economic advantages as well as maintaining family cohesion. Vietnamese cuisine also proved popular as restaurants and cafés opened.

Increasingly second-generation Vietnamese pursued the educational and employment opportunities their parents were seeking for them when they came to New Zealand. Many have qualified for higher skilled and professional occupations.


Vietnamese New Zealanders have not forgotten the political situation in their homeland. In 1999 Vietnamese in Wellington held a rally protesting against human rights abuses in Vietnam. They lit 45 candles, representing the 45 years of Communist rule.

How to cite this page:

Trung Tran, 'Vietnamese - Culture, language and work', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 July 2024)

Story by Trung Tran, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 25 Mar 2015