Boss of Leicester nail bar reveals difficulties of retaining family Vietnamese culture after move to UK

By Christy Lau

On the crowded Silver Street, opposite the biggest shopping mall in Leicester city centre, there is a small nail bar packed with female customers. 

Seats for customers

Miss Nails is a nail bar run by Vietnamese Thuy Nguyen, who came to Britain 30 years ago in her twenties, after her brother and sister successfully fled their country by boat and travelled here, then applied for the whole family to come over with the help of charity. 

Delving into old memories, she said the first major culture difference she noticed between the UK and Vietnam was the strictness of parenting. As with most Asian families, children needed to listen to their parents all the time and their parents were always right.

“I come from a family that is very strict, every child is forced to obey,” Thuy recalled.

In contrast, she found children in the UK were allowed to do what they wanted and voice their opinions, seemingly in an equal relationship with their parents.

“The children here can grow up and say everything they want,” she added, confirming the stereotype of Asian parenting. Apart from family education, she also recalled how school education and learning styles were different.

Miss Nails

“When I was in Vietnam, I learnt and remembered but didn’t understand. The children here, they don’t have to work very hard but they need to understand,” she said.

When it came to pros and cons, she attributed the high dependence level of Vietnamese children on their families to a lack of help from the government. Children would ask parents for money even in after reaching working ages. Yet, the children in the UK were seen to be much more independent, with the support from the authorities. Independence is always a positive term for almost everyone, but the meaning changes for a mother with children who can adapt to the culture in the UK well and become ‘too independent’. 

Accepting the way children grow up in the UK was also a lesson to the foreign mother. Thuy felt it difficult to preserve the Vietnamese culture away from home, not only because her children started to spend less time with the family after growing up but also because of the small size of the Vietnamese community in the UK.

The Vietnamese community nearest Leicester is in Birmingham. Although most of the Vietnamese are Buddhist, she is in a group that is based in a Catholic church. Members who belong to the community meet up regularly, especially during new year time or in the summer festival. Instead of letting their culture fade, she tried hard to create more family time with her children, also teaching them traditional Vietnamese recipes and hoping that they could pass all these to the next generation. 

Food is always the easiest thing to conserve.

“I think a very famous food in Vietnam is Phở, and Gỏi cuốn, a spring roll which is different from the Chinese one,” she explained. “Hong Kong people get spring rolls, but we have a small one, mixed with minced meat and vegetables, and we eat them with fish sauce.

“Also, Bánh mì, a sandwich that we eat with roasted pork and ham, with vegetables that are pickled for one to two days,” Thuy said passionately. Her excited voice while talking about the food and the passionate explanation of the ingredients, were definitely the strongest evidence showing that Vietnamese dishes were the pride of Vietnamese people. 

Aside from something to eat, festivals are also one of the important intangibles of culture. Vietnam shares similar festivals with China, the first mentioned by Thuy being the Mid-Autumn Festival. People eat mooncakes and play with lanterns on full moon night, all celebrations which are the same as the Chinese. Thuy felt sad that she could not celebrate it in the UK, as the festivals normally involved a lot of people. She added that New Year in Vietnam is another festivity inspired by Chinese New Year. 

Celebrations in Vietnam may be familiar to the Chinese but that is not the case with having male nail artists. Thuy said: “There are many nail bars in the city centre, and there are not enough women to hire as nail artists, so hiring Vietnamese men is a good choice for both parties.”

Employing men as nail artists not only helps the shop to solve the problem of a shortage of staff but also helps Vietnamese who also live in Leicester to get a job and provides a Vietnamese-speaking workplace for them. The strategy is a win-win situation.

Colourful nail polish

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