Young Vietnamese equally at home in Hanoi and Prague

Prague’s sizeable Vietnamese community recently held its first ever day of Vietnamese culture, an open event in the centre of town which drew a mixed crowd of Vietnamese and Czechs. What has been a rather closed society appears to be slowly opening up to outsiders, as Czech-born Vietnamese become increasingly confident about their identity and Czechs learn there is more to Vietnamese people than an army of convenience store proprietors.

Photo: Petr Kyslinger for
A pair of Vietnamese dragons brave the drizzle in Prague’s Náměstí Míru square, the four dancers gyrating in their bright red and yellow costumes to the beat of a drum. This was Prague’s first Vietnamese Day of Culture, offering a rare glimpse into this secretive community.

At a food stall, market trader and university student Nguyen Mai Huong is showing me the cornucopia of rare Vietnamese goodies laid out for the delectation of passers-by. Huong, who moved here in 1993 at the age of five, says she still feels Vietnamese, but the Czech Republic is now home.

“We still think as Vietnamese, but we are integrated into Czech society. We are more integrated than previous generations.”

So the Vietnamese community is becoming more and more integrated.

Photo: Petr Kyslinger for

And is it a good thing?

“I think so. You know, our parents can’t integrate because they don’t know the language, but we do, so that’s an easy thing for us to make friends with Czech people.”

At a nearby tent Nguyen Viet Phuong is showing DVDs about the life and culture of his native Hanoi. Phuong moved here just five years ago, and, like Huong, is also studying at university. Each summer he goes home to Hanoi for the holidays, something that clearly elicits mixed feelings.

“Well, come back to Vietnam from the very modern and much better country, you know what I mean? Young people have to respect the older.”

Here it’s quite different, right?

“Yes! Because here in Czech I see some old man or old woman alone in the supermarket, or in the metro, or the tram, they don’t have anyone to help. In my country, it’s very bad for their grandparents or great-grand parents to go out alone.”

Officially there are 61,000 Vietnamese living in the Czech Republic, the largest immigrant population after Slovaks and Ukrainians, although the real number is most likely much higher. They first came as refugees in the 1950s, with successive waves following as part of communist exchange programmes. Their communities are generally quiet, law-abiding and hard-working, but recent generations of young Vietnamese seem less constrained by the rigid social and ethnic confines of their parents. Trang Quynh Giang – who goes by the Czech name Markéta – is a high school student. I asked her whether she felt more Vietnamese or more Czech.

“That’s a very interesting question, because sometimes, until now, I still ask myself if I feel more Vietnamese or Czech, because when I’m in Czech, I feel more Vietnamese, but when I’m in Vietnam, I feel more Czech. So it’s quite confusing. I think I’m like a banana – outside it’s yellow, but inside it’s white.”

Despite that growing confidence, so far there’s been little movement into the Czech mainstream – there are no Vietnamese MPs or senators, no Vietnamese football stars, no actors, musicians or TV personalities. But one senses that with a new generation of fluent Czech speakers, ambitious, international, multicultural young people of great talent and ingenuity, that’s only a matter of time.