Vietnam used to be a part of the French Indochina from I887 until 1954, along with its neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos. It is for this reason why you’ll find lots of French influences all over the country when you come for a visit. The many years of French invasion have brought massive changes all over the country and have left a mark even until today. Everywhere in the country, it’s clear that the French influence is still deeply ingrained, as evident on the architecture, food, and culture.
You must be familiar with some of Vietnam’s most popular cuisines. Most of these foods have a French influence in them although others have been modified to suit the local taste. Some of the Vietnamese foods that are clearly French are croissants, baguettes, omelets, and all those foods cooked in butter. These foods were introduced to the country during the colonial years.
Some of these dishes were brought to the country upon the request of the French authorities, while others were a result of the ingenuity of the Vietnamese cooks, which they incorporate with their own local ingredients. As you start exploring local Vietnamese cuisines during your visit to the country, you’ll realize that most of these cuisines clearly have French influences in them.
Vietnam has a vibrant coffee culture and everywhere you go, you’ll find different coffee shops and cafes serving the most delectable cup of Vietnamese coffee. You might notice that most of these cafes are actually French-inspired, from the sidewalk cafes to those opulent terraces with elegant coffee tables and chairs.
In the south, you’ll find coffee shops in almost every street. The locals tend to wake up very early and would grab a cup of coffee to fuel their day. Indeed, the coffee culture has already been an integral part of Vietnamese life. Before the French came, most locals would prefer to enjoy a cup of tea, which they have inherited from the early Chinese traders. Nowadays, the country is one of the world’s largest exporters of coffee next to Brazil. Clearly, coffee is not only a part of their culture but that of their economy as well.
Although the Chinese have more influence over the Vietnamese local language, some of the Vietnamese words are actually inspired by the French language. In fact, the Vietnamese words for butter, cheese, bread, necktie, beer, father, and several others have phonetic copies of the French language.
During the time of the French Indochina, French has become the governing language, which is why a lot of the Vietnamese locals have started learning the language. French is also evident in the languages and the local dialect of Vietnam’s neighboring countries, Cambodia and Laos, which was also a part of the Indochina.
Unknown to many, there are actually a good number of Vietnamese who are Christians and a big percentage of them are Catholics. The French colonists brought Catholicism to the country and they also built several Catholic churches, including the famous Saigon Cathedral. In fact, the cathedral was patterned from the design of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter are still celebrated by some locals although not as widely as the West. Also, you will find plenty of locals wearing a cross on their neck and some have rosaries on their cars. You will also find some locals that have an altar at their home, with statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and some Catholic saints. While the country is officially atheistic, the government will not interfere with the religion that the people have chosen to follow.
French architecture is still evident all over the country, although there are certain cities that they are most notable. For instance, in Ho Chi Minh, Da Lat, and Hanoi, some of the cities’ most popular landmarks are French-inspired. The streets are lined with colonial buildings with high arches, columns, and balconies that are typically French.
Some of the most popular buildings in Vietnam that are clearly French-inspired are the Saigon Cathedral, Hanoi Opera House, Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, and several colonial mansions and villas, especially in the city of Da Lat. Nowadays, you’ll still find lots of modern houses and buildings that were patterned from French architecture. In fact, there’s a French-inspired theme park that was built in the Bana Hills of Danang.
During the early days before the French came to Vietnam, education in the country is only for the elites. These usually consist of the mandarins who have served as scholars to the Nguyen Dynasty. When the French came, the country’s educational system has been westernized, which is still the case today. The locals can specialize in a specific field instead of studying broadly for the sole purpose of ruling the country.