The former Tonkin (north), Annam (center) and Cochin (south) are the current Vietnam. From 1887 to 1954 Vietnam with Cambodia and Laos belonged to the French colony of Indochina. French colonization had great influence on Vietnam.

World War I

During World War I (1914-1918) hundreds of thousands of so-called Indo-Chinese were sent to France. In this period approximately 100,000 Vietnamese were in France, one half to work and the other to fight in the war. The Vietnamese workers were temporarily contracted and worked in factories, agriculture and the war industry. The French made use of more than 600,000 foreign workers from different colonies. The superior attitude of the French workers and the cultural differences caused tension between the French and foreign workers. But also among members of different colonies fights regularly broke out. The colonial workers slowly got more aware, that it was possible to protest in France against injustice by looking upon the French workers who regularly organized protests against low wages and poor working conditions. This caused the colonial workers demanding better working conditions, and eventually they got it.

Anti-colonial attitude

When World War I ended, a majority of the Vietnamese returned to Indochina. They could reintegrate through organized programs to undergo training, undertake internships and work in agriculture, education or government. These are often well-educated and French-speaking Vietnamese, and they primarily work in French companies. They learned the local workers not only new skills and knowledge, but they also created awareness for the rights of workers. Collective action can lead to the end of exploitation, they stamped in the minds of the local people. The labor movement was the breeding ground for the Communist Party of Ho Chi Minh, who later became the leader of North Vietnam. The French thought the reintegration progamme was to strengthen the French colony, but instead the anti-colonial attitude of the Vietnamese became bigger and stronger.

However, a small group of Vietnamese decided to stay in France after the end of World War I. This was allowed on condition of good behavior and sufficient financial resources. The Vietnamese people had to prove they possessed work and had married a French woman or had had children with French women.

World War II

France was occupied by Nazi Germany in May 1940. Two-fifths of France and the French colonies fell under the control of the Vichy regime. The French colonial government in Vietnam had to partially hand down to Japan. Japan occupied Vietnam from September 1940 to strengthen their position against China but left the French colonial regime, although greatly diminished, continue their occupation.

Indochinese Wars

In August 1945 Japan capitulated. After World War II France would not relinquish Indochina as a colony. This led to the First Indochina War (1946-1954) with Ho Chi Minh as a nationalist leader of the Viet Minh guerrillas. On May 7, 1954 the Viet Minh defeated the French, known as the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, this marked the end of French Indochina. Two months later, the Geneva Accords were signed which meant that until the election, Vietnam was temporarily divided into a communist oriented North Vietnam and democratic oriented South Vietnam. The border between these two countries was at the level of the 17th parallel north. The promised elections in 1956 stayed out, and the Second Indochina War, known as the Vietnam War or American War broke out. This war ended in 1975 and a year later, Vietnam was reunited as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam with Hanoi as its capital. Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

Largest wave of immigration in France

The Vietnam War caused a large flow of refugees. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, many fled for fear of the new communist regime. Some fled to neighboring countries but many risked their lives by boat. The Vietnam War was the first war in history which could be followed by television and the intrusive photos and reports of the atrocities of the war reached millions of people in the living rooms. This brought the audience into action. Partly due to the illustrative reporting, worldwide empathy towards Vietnamese refugees was great. In France, many humanitarian agencies were set up to help the refugees. In 10 years some 125,000 refugees were offered asylum, including Cambodians and Laotians. This war caused the largest wave of immigration in France. The refugees got within a short time a work permit and the possibility of naturalization. Adaptation to the cold climate was more difficult.

Chinatown in Paris

Even after World War I, the first Chinese restaurant opened in Paris. Due to the high concrete towers in the 13th district, the Parisians did not want to live there. In a few years time, the arrival of the refugees transformed this district around the Place d’Italie in the first Chinatown in France. A credit system, choi hui or hue, provided the Vietnamese community a small capital. This financial system has several forms, it is based on trust and organized under family, relatives and friends. This gave them a possibility to start small eateries or other investments. So they could build a life in France without  the mastery of French language. Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians determine the street scene of this immigrant neighborhood until today .

Because of the long history with France, it is therefore not surprising that you can find, especially in Paris, authentic Vietnamese food there. Baguette, cream caramel, coffee and beef consumption are a few examples of influences that the French had on the cuisine of Vietnam. In France, especially Paris, you will find the fresh Vietnamese spring rolls and original fried spring rolls just in supermarkets, market stalls and Asian caterers. ‘Nem’ is in the vocabulary of young and old. Even the impressive food department in the beautiful Galeries Lafayette has the lesser-known Vietnamese specialties, such as Banh beo.