Proverb – Vietnam

“Cá không ?n mu?i, cá ??n con c?i cha m? tr?m ???ng con h?.”

“Fish without salt, fish rots, children who don’t listen to their parents, one thousand ways the children are bad.”

“Fish without salt easily rots, just as children who are disobedient are bad in a thousand ways.”

My mother told me she first heard this proverb from her own mother when the whole family was living in Vietnam and my mother was just a small child.  Spoken as a kind of admonishment, the proverb was always used to remind my mother and her siblings that obedience and filial respect were of utmost importance and that any other kind of behavior would not be tolerated.  This ties directly into the Vietnamese culture and Vietnamese values as well.  As argued by Dundes, America is very much future-oriented and focused on the new and young: “The favoring of future over past also has correlates in the penchant for new rather than old, and for child rather than parent.  On the other hand, most other cultures, like the Vietnamese, channel their attentions to tradition and what has already been established.  However, although it may seem that more emphasis is put on the child in American society, it is not true that in other cultures all attentions are directed away from the child and showered on the elders.  Rather, in those cultures and particularly the Vietnamese culture, children are favored through their behavior towards the older generations.  Certainly, there is much attention put on children in order to help them grow into upstanding and respectful individuals.

Though my mother never actually said this proverb to me during my childhood, it nonetheless had an impact on me the first time I heard it.  Just as the same values were instilled in my mother from her parents, she has passed on those same values and familial expectations to me my entire life.  Just as a fresh fish can spoil without the right care and seasoning, an impressionable child can lose all sense of manners and respect and become a terrible person without obedience or lessons of love for their parents.

Annotation: Brown, Raymond Lamont.  A Book of Proverbs.  New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1970, pg. 56.