- Accept the fact that you are a guest in Vietnam and always will be.
- The Vietnamese will highly appreciate your efforts to understand them, their culture, and their language.
- Don’t be offended if newly made friends poke into every detail of your personal life.
- Respect is the key word here
- You may sometimes find people in Vietnam to be quite rude by your own standards.
- Don’t be offended by personal questions and remarks
- Humour can be valuable tool in Vietnam.
- People will often tell you what they think you want to hear
As such, you’ll enjoy special status but also have special responsibilities. Do try to learn as much as you can about the culture before you depart, and be considerate of the cultural differences you will experience.
The Vietnamese will highly appreciate your efforts to understand them, their culture, and their language. If you are up for a culture shock then Vietnam is the place to be.
Do realize that the Vietnamese have a very different perspective on social, political and business organizations, most of which are modelled on the extended family concept. It would be difficult in fact to overestimate the importance of family and the extent to which the family model is present at all levels and in all social and professional structures. Don’t be offended if newly made friends poke into every detail of your personal life. They are in fact helping you become part of a Vietnamese group. Understand that family matters are paramount and unexpected family responsibilities will take precedence over appointments and activities scheduled previously. In general, don’t judge what you cannot understand. As always, respect is the key word here.
You should show respect in general, as it will usually be shown by most Vietnamese in most situations. Don’t lose your temper; it is first seen as a lack of respect for yourself and a strong sign of disrespect for your counterparts. Nevertheless, although in many ways a very polite and courteous lot, you may sometimes find people in Vietnam to be quite rude by your own standards. For example, in Vietnam queuing is pointless, queues and orderly lines simply don’t happen. Also, don’t be offended by personal questions and remarks, people will often ask nosy questions like: how old are you? Where are you going? Why are you late?
Humour can be valuable tool in Vietnam. The Vietnamese truly love to have a laugh about almost anything, and someone who can crack a joke will be appreciated and even be taken more seriously by any locals. Do joke about things as a polite way of dodging the many questions you may not want to answer. Realize that Vietnamese people also laugh when they are sad, angry, embarrassed, puzzled, uneasy, shy and grieving. Overall, it’s a Vietnamese trait, and people will smile at you wherever you go. The Vietnamese are very tolerant of bad driving, noise, interruptions, invasion (or absence of personal space, discomfort (primitive living and working conditions, being squeezed into a crowded bus for hours) and the sharing of everything.
They are not very tolerant of insubordination, criticism of Vietnamese culture and homosexuality for example, though obviously present. Lying is not really seen as a sin in Vietnam. This does not mean that the country is crawling with malicious fibbers, but rather that truth may be yet another relative concept from that prevalent in your own culture. The most important thing in a Vietnamese context is to say the right thing. People will often tell you what they think you want to hear.
DOs & DON’Ts
- Handshaking and a vocal greeting are normal.
- Clothing should be kept simple, informal and discreet.
- Avoid shorts if possible when outside of the major cities, as they are usually only worn by children.
- Don’t go naked or topless on the beaches or in the water: culturally, this is a big no-no and would be asking for trouble.
- Footwear should be removed when entering Buddhist pagodas or people’s houses.
- Vietnamese people should not be touched on the head or shown the soles of your feet.