Vietnam is a vibrant country boasting a lively and rich culture that charms avid hodophiles around the globe.
Before you travel to Vietnam for the first time, learning Vietnamese customs and etiquette is of paramount importance. Why? To save you from rookie behavioral mistakes, embarrassing situations, and sometimes, very serious trouble!
Our handy guide on Vietnamese social convention as well as language will go a long way in helping you immerse in the culture of Vietnam. Let’s dive into it.
General Vietnamese social customs and manners
How to become a savvy traveler? Show your politeness and courtesy anywhere you go.
Knowing what is polite and what is rude in Vietnamese behavioral customs, along with some Vietnam crucial travel tips, is incredibly essential before your trip.
What is perceived as being polite in Vietnam?
According to the Vietnamese, these are some acts of politeness you should remember:
- Always show the highest amount of respect to the elder. Small acts of kindness such as helping them pass the street, or give them a hand on luggage make a huge impact.
- Receive and give things with two hands to those who are older than you.
- Take your shoes off before entering a local’s home is required.
- Bring a small gift when a local invites you to come over is recommended. Fine wine, tea, fruits, or flowers are lovely.
What is considered rude in Vietnam?
It is incredibly vital to avoid being rude without knowing it to the Vietnamese. In order to do so, take note of these things:
- Pointing at a person with your index finger is frowned upon in Vietnam. You can only do that to things. To be polite, use your whole hand to refer to someone.
- Rubbing the head of a kid, even if you are just trying to be playful, is frowned upon. The head is a sacred body part according to Vietnamese culture, as well as other Asian cultures.
- Asking a woman’s age is the fastest way to leave a bad impression. This applies to many other nations.
- You should not cross your arms on your chest when talking to the Vietnamese. It is understood as being unfriendly.
- Patting on someone’s back, especially the senior people, is rude.
Manners when visiting religious sites
Vietnam is a religious country where people have strong faith in spirituality, especially Buddhism. Therefore, it is not hard to find beautiful, blessed temples and pagodas in every part of the country.
To properly visit religious sites, keep in mind the following protocols.
What you should do
- Remove your shoes when getting into holy places.
- Wear appropriate clothes that cover your shoulders and knees. Don’t ever think of wearing tank tops or skimpy skirts to a pagoda in Vietnam.
- Keep the silence. Making noise or talking loud shows your lack of respect for religious grounds.
What you should not do
- Never point your finger at a revered statue.
- Don’t wear hats or sunglasses when visiting temples or pagodas.
- If you think of making physical displays of affection to your partner in a sacred site, get rid of that idea. It’s extremely disrespectful to do so.
- Unlike temperate countries where people don’t take naps, the majority of Vietnamese love to rest their eyes for a while after lunch. This is partly due to the intense heat of Vietnam at noon that exhausts people. Therefore, try to avoid inviting the locals to hang out after lunchtime.
Taboos in Vietnam to keep in mind
It is important to learn these cultural taboos as well as to get a Vietnam visa on arrival before coming to the country:
- Physical display of affection in public places is generally not well received in Vietnam. This does not mean that you cannot hold your lover’s hands or give romantic kisses. Just be considerate of the surroundings.
- When it comes to meeting new people, Vietnamese women, in general, don’t shake hands. So when you first meet a woman in Vietnam, unless she offers to shake hands first, don’t attempt to do it.
- Bargaining at local shops and markets is nothing abnormal in Vietnam. The real problem comes when you lose your temper in public from not getting the better price. So pull yourself together and walk away if you’ve failed to bargain.
- Every Vietnamese home has a family altar to worship the older generation. If you are invited to a Vietnamese home, never sit with your feet pointing towards the altar. It is super offensive to do that.
- It is best to avoid discussing politics. Even if you are passionate about political matters, it is not an appropriate topic to bring to the table when touring Vietnam.
Vietnamese dining etiquette
Vietnamese enjoy sharing lovely meals with friends and family that bring joy and laughter after exhausting long hours of work. It is an indescribable part of Vietnamese tradition and culture.
When you are invited for a meal with a Vietnamese family or group of friends, showing your appreciation through appropriate table manners is vital. These tips on Vietnamese dining etiquette will be useful.
Things to do
- Wait for everyone to be seated.
- Eat all the food in your bowl before you take more food into the bowl.
- Pass dishes with both of your hands.
- When using a toothpick, cover your mouth.
- Finish the meal with everyone. You don’t want to be the one who is still grabbing food while everybody has done eating and prepared to clean up.
- Vietnamese main means of eating is chopsticks. So practicing your chopstick skills will come in handy. Check out the tutorial video below to master this skill.
Things not to do
- Unlike the Japanese who love making the funky slurping noise when eating ramen, don’t slurp or chew food loudly in Vietnam. To the locals, that eating noise is annoying.
- Don’t blow your nose while eating. If you have to, just get to the toilet.
- You should not use your chopsticks or spoon to stir up the plate to find your desired piece of food. It is impolite to only find good parts on the plate, so just pick the food randomly.
- Speaking while chewing represents a lack of dining manners.
- Pointing chopsticks at other people on the table is very rude. It’s like pointing your finger at someone, so be mindful.
- Remember not to stick your chopstick vertically on the bowl of rice. You may have heard this from your Korean friends, which also applies in Vietnam. It is considered a sign of misfortune, or worse, death.
Vietnamese gestures to remember
Why do I need to learn some gestures in Vietnam?
The body language, like culture, varies depending on the nation. Some signs are well received in a country but are perceived as insulting in Vietnam. Therefore, understanding the meaning of these Vietnamese gestures is helpful to avoid unwanted misunderstandings.
Let’s get deep into the body language of Vietnamese:
Bowing: to respectfully greet an elder;
Thumbs up: expressing compliment or an affirmative answer;
Nodding head: showing agreement;
Waving hands: saying “hello” or “goodbye”;
The OK sign (using the thumb and the index fingertip to form): agree to or ready to do something;
The V shape: mostly known as a sign of victory, the V shape also means number 2 in Vietnamese culture. Furthermore, it is used to say “hi” and express joy when taking photos;
Twisting hands in the air: it means they either don’t know or can’t help you with something.
Guide to the Vietnamese language
The last element, but not least, for your perfect Vietnam vacation is to prepare some Vietnamese phrases in mind.
People around the world say that when the Vietnamese speak, it sounds like joyous melodies are coming out of their mouths. Isn’t it awesome to learn such a beautiful music-like language?
It’s time to dive into these most useful Vietnamese words and sentences to impress a local fellow.
Basic phrases when meeting a Vietnamese
Let’s begin with some of the most useful basic words and phrases to help you get along with a new Vietnamese friend.
Xin chào: hello;
Bạn tên gì: what’s your name;
Bạn khỏe không: how are you;
Tạm biệt: goodbye;
Hẹn gặp lại: see you again.
Common Vietnamese phrases when exploring the country
These words and questions will come in handy when you are on the street wandering around.
Cảm ơn: thank you;
Xin lỗi: sorry or excuse me;
Tôi không hiểu: I don’t understand;
Chỗ này ở đâu?: where is this place?;
Đường này ở đâu?: where is this street?;
Nhà vệ sinh ở đâu?: where is the toilet?.
Useful Vietnamese phrases when eating out and shopping
Last but not least, learn by heart these phrases to bargain when shopping and make the best out of your dining and drinking experience in Vietnam.
Bao nhiêu tiền: how much is it;
Mắc quá: it’s too expensive;
Bớt đi: can you reduce the price;
Em ơi: to call the waitress or waiter;
Tính tiền: check (bill) please;
Xin mời: to invite people to start eating;
Một, hai, ba, vô!: one, two, three, drink! Say this phrase loudly with the locals before clinking glasses. This is how to drink in Vietnam.
Note them down and make the best of your Vietnam trip
Nothing is cooler than being a knowledgeable traveler who understands the local’s customs. Hopefully, our crash course on Vietnamese customs and culture will be a great help for your Vietnam trip. Get familiar with the culture, social etiquette, and master the language, you will leave a long-lasting positive impression on the locals.