Has anyone visited Vietnam before?
Do’s & Don’ts in Vietnam
Table of Contents
Vietnam is one of the countries in Southeast Asia in which visitors have to face special challenges. In some cases, the gestures and behavior differ significantly from other countries in this region - and above all from the western world. Politeness as we know it in Germany is unknown to the locals. Nobody says “please” and very rarely a “thank you” is heard. Nobody in Vietnam uses these empty phrases. Although the Vietnamese place value on proper clothing and respectful interaction with other people, travelers can afford to slip up when it comes to public appearance, because whoever brings foreign currency into the country can afford a lot in Vietnam - the customer is known to be king. But that doesn't protect foreigners from one of the worst consequences in Asia, loss of face - and who would want that?
How can the biggest faux pas be successfully circumnavigated in order to be able to enjoy this beautiful country carefree and relaxed?
Clean clothes are a must
- for a traveler. The type of clothing is less important, but rather that it is clean and well-groomed. According to the Vietnamese, an unironed shirt or dirty shoes show the disregard of the other person. That is why western backpackers are repeatedly referred to as “tay balo!” - neglected. In addition, the Vietnamese do not take poorly dressed people seriously. In Vietnam, the phrase “clothes make the man” applies more than anywhere else in the world. There is little tolerance for those who present themselves too freely. Bare-chested sunbathing, nudism or nude bathing are not welcomed in the country.
What clothing is appropriate in Vietnam?
If you don't want to lose face, you should orient yourself to the clothing of the Vietnamese and observe a few rules: Swimwear on the street or in the restaurant is taboo. The Vietnamese see this clearly offending their sense of decency. Vietnamese have no objection to shorts up to their knees. Although there is only a small Muslim minority in Vietnam, women should be careful not to wear a cleavage that is too low, t-shirts instead of tops and skirts that come down to the knee. If so, mini skirts, hot pants and cycling shorts should only be worn in big cities. They are out of place in the country. Backless dresses or tops with spaghetti straps are a no-go, as are straps that slip out.
Bare lower legs were considered frivolous in Vietnam until a few years ago, but they are now accepted. Vietnamese women today also like to wear high heels, even those with toes that are visible. Rubber flip-flops are widely available, but Vietnamese only wear them at home. Appropriate footwear - also for the traveler - should be low shoes or leather sandals.
For a serious appearance in Vietnam, one also expects a correct haircut and no greasy forehead.
... and what about the pajamas?
Now one or the other who has already visited Vietnam may remember Vietnamese people in pajamas on the street. Right, there is that too. Here in the country it is perceived as a practical and comfortable item of clothing. That's why they wear it during the day to housework and in front of the house.
Just don't sweat
What Vietnamese do not like at all is sweaty clothes and beads of sweat on their foreheads - they are downright disgusting. This view is increasingly held by a growing middle class that is slowly coming to terms with money and prosperity. Sweat, a dark complexion and dirt under the fingernails are signs of hard and hard work and this middle class wants to distance itself clearly. Asians are naturally less prone to sweating than westerners. But from their point of view, it cannot be that those who do not do heavy physical work are perspiring and are out in public with sweaty clothes - that is considered gross.
Speaking of clothes. The range of textiles in Vietnam is huge and the goods are cheap. If you can't resist the temptation, you shouldn't leave offended when buying clothes when terms like King Kong size, big size or fat size are mentioned. Vietnamese are usually small and skinny - western visitors are significantly taller and heavier.
Temples in Vietnam © TK
Conduct in public
Always keep your composure
It is important for Asians not to lose face in public. For this reason, even when problems arise, they react with calm, serenity and a smile - which can certainly upset a traveler. If this results in a noisy scene at the hotel reception, it means the loss of face - primarily for the screaming foreigner, but also for the employee. The Vietnamese will feel deeply hurt and insulted - a solution to the conflict that is sensible for both sides is therefore as good as hopeless.
One of the top rules in Vietnam is therefore to present or clarify complaints or disagreements objectively and calmly and smile at the same time.
A smile always helps in Vietnam - even in a seemingly hopeless situation. The smile creates a peaceful starting point for further communication. As a rule, this relaxes a situation and prevents an escalation. For Vietnamese, this is a matter of attitude because they always strive for harmony. In addition, a few expressions in the local language such as “Cam On” (thank you) or “Xin Chao” (hello) can open hearts and thus also the doors for foreigners.
Posture speaks volumes when it comes to the Vietnamese. For example, they perceive standing legs apart with their hands on their hips or standing with crossed arms as unsightly and interpret it as disregard for other people.
Likewise, one should never point the palm of one's hand at a person. Foreigners in particular wave their arms wildly in the air to wave a taxi over to them. Vietnamese do this by extending their arm with a stiff elbow and moving only the wrist. As in other Asian countries, make sure that the palm is facing down.
Stand in line
The Vietnamese do not know queuing; they are not used to it from the past. They used to have to fight for meal vouchers, and that is still anchored in people's minds today. Often one person is only accompanied by several. Even if you are first in line, a Vietnamese can still appear from the side and push ahead. While this is not exactly polite, it is quite normal in the land of the sons of dragons and fairy daughters.
Feelings such as anger, anger or impatience are rarely seen in public and visitors should also avoid them. Otherwise, for the Vietnamese, this shows a bad character, little self-control and you are quickly classified as insane, because you don't do that in public - let alone swear.
This is where the Confucian roots can still be felt most clearly. The higher the level of education, the cooler the behavior in public and the more often feelings are hidden behind a smile. They rarely show negative emotions. Even feelings of sadness are only lived out within the family or with best friends. Visitors are therefore well advised not to rush to judge a Vietnamese's reaction.
Exchange of tenderness
Couples should present themselves appropriately in public. Vietnamese couples only exchange little caresses in public, although the younger generation is much more open about them. Affectionate touches are tolerated by society, but the kisses should not be too deep.
On the streets of Vietnam the visitor experiences new surprises again and again. Locals, for example, often spit on the street. This is also permitted for travelers. It is a tradition to use this method to clear the airways. Older people even do this in buildings, but then use a spittoon. In the cities and among the younger generation, this is rarely seen, they use handkerchiefs. But be careful: the loud trumpeting in a handkerchief is not welcomed.
A smoking ban has existed in Vietnam since 2010, including in rooms used for medical purposes and in many public facilities, such as train stations and airports. There are smoking areas everywhere. Breaches of the smoking ban are punished with heavy fines of up to 500,000 dong, around 20 euros.
Behavior in temples and pagodas
Footwear is allowed around the temple, but you can only enter the Holy of Holies without it - just like the home of a Vietnamese family.
If you want to sit down, make sure that the lowest part of the body, the soles of the feet, does not point to a person or to religious artifacts - this is considered impolite and an insult; therefore, when sitting on the floor, you bend your legs to the side so that they disappear under your buttocks.
Incidentally, the high doorsteps are not intended as seating, but rather serve to keep evil spirits away. If you also don't want to attract misfortune, you shouldn't step on the doorsteps.
As for clothing, you shouldn't wear shorts or short skirts here - your knees and shoulders must be covered. T-shirts and tops with half sleeves are fine. In some temples you can get scarves at the entrance to tie as a skirt or cape.
Please smile ... click!
Photographing locals requires their consent. Admittedly, this can be a real challenge because of the different languages.
Western visitors generally interpret a smile as a declaration of consent and snap wildly at it. Most of the time, they don't notice that the person is smiling, but at the same time waving their hand - and in Vietnam that simply means “No, I don't want to be photographed”. The supply of money does not change that.
But even when the communication works, a Vietnamese seldom brings a direct “no” over his lips. Rather, it would convey the no through the flower - visitors should be aware of this and therefore pay attention to the non-verbal reactions.
Traffic in Vietnam
Normally the school leaving examination is at the end of an apprenticeship phase, but a trip to Vietnam has a very special "survival training for foreigners" ready for visitors right from the start - crossing a street.
It's actually very simple: start running and don't stop. Look forward and do not hesitate or hurry. Walk steadily, do not slow down or make unpredictable movements.
So far it sounds easy, but in practice the first attempt usually fails due to one's own courage and mistrust of motorcyclists.
If you remember the Asian motto “everything has to flow” and transfer this to road traffic, the visitor will quickly understand the behavior of the Vietnamese. As a rule, the driver does not brake, they drive around the obstacle. As a result, the traffic does not come to a standstill - everything stays in motion. For this, the drivers need a certain amount of lead time, i.e. reaction time. That is why walking slowly and steadily is extremely important. Eye contact should be avoided as this can lead to misunderstandings.
A New York Times journalist put the instruction to cross the street as follows: "Be relaxed and self-confident and consciously walk slowly." If you still have doubts, simply hang on to the slipstream of a local.
The Vietnamese are inventive and that's why there are specially printed T-shirts for visitors with road rules that show the rules in compact and simple pictures: no eye contact, no stopping, no panic, no holding hands, no questioning and above all no turning back!
Headlights, red traffic lights and zebra crossings
Anyone who thinks that a headlight flasher would ensure safe passage across the street will see themselves wrong by the sound of the horn at the latest. Because here the fade-in means: “I don't brake!” Even a red traffic light does not mean a free pass to safely cross the street. Not every vehicle driver stops, and certainly not the right turn. Even a zebra crossing does not represent a safe place to cross the street, but seems to be just an ornament of the street in Vietnam.
Use of sidewalks
It's the same with sidewalks - they mostly serve other purposes in Vietnam. Anyone who has ever been to Hanoi's Old Quarter has not only been amazed at the heavy traffic on the narrow streets, but also at the fact that the pedestrian path is used for everything, just not for its actual purpose: cooking, selling, feeding babies, as a construction site, for eating, for drinking tea, for burning gifts for the deceased as part of the ancestral cult and for parking scooters. If there is still space on the sidewalk and the traffic on the street comes to a standstill, the motorcyclists will use the sidewalk at the latest. In return, it is common to use the street as a sidewalk.
In Vietnam, driving a taxi is safe and the drivers are usually serious. But there are also a few black sheep here, so every taxi has a number on the windshield. This number can be used to find lost items and to complain about the driver over the phone to the company. The companies take the criticism of the competition to heart. In a regular taxi there is a price list with the basic price and the price per kilometer next to the taximeter. If the meter runs too fast, the taximeter has been tampered with. Exciting and discussing is useless. The only thing that helps here is: stop, pay, get out and then complain by phone.
The motorcycle taxi does not have a taximeter. Here it is necessary to negotiate the price in advance and have the appropriate change ready. The literally translated “hugging vehicle” is well suited for short journeys and in traffic jams. With them you can get to your desired destination faster, especially in heavy traffic - the drivers always find a way. But don't forget: Helmets are compulsory on the Xe om - even for the front passenger. You get a helmet.
Professional drivers - the kings of the road
Buses are a popular form of transport in Vietnam. As a Western visitor, one can prematurely come to the conclusion that Vietnamese bus drivers have their own driving style. You should keep this opinion to yourself! You have a completely different status in Vietnam than in the West. They are considered to be respected because they achieved incredible things during the wars; they used old vehicles to transport people over destroyed streets to the most distant corners of the country. Anyone who contradicts a driver will not reach the desired destination. A road may suddenly be flooded or impassable because of a mine.
The bus drivers often overtake even in blind spots - the oncoming vehicle will swerve out of the way. But there is one thing they do not overtake either: A funeral procession must never be overtaken, because who would want to overtake a deceased on their way to the realm of the dead?
If you are involved in an accident in Vietnam, you are usually considered guilty - even if you have correctly followed the road traffic regulations, because rules are not everything. As a foreigner, you have disrupted Vietnamese road traffic and thereby unbalanced yin and yang.
Shopping: prices, bargaining, rip-offs, language skills
First customer in the morning
As the first customer in many shops, you have an obligation to buy something. As is so often the case, a popular belief dominates the everyday life of the Vietnamese, because if the first customer does not buy anything, it brings bad luck for the entire day. A tourist who just wants to have a look around or is looking for something very special is out of place in shops at this time. If you appear to the seller undecided, you may be politely asked to leave the shop and come back later.
Trading is an integral part of Vietnamese culture. A smile, serenity and, above all, a calm, polite and by no means loud approach is advisable when negotiating for a reasonable price.But what is the right price and how does trading work in Vietnam?
First of all, it is important to know the approximate market value. You can find out more on the Internet, from friends or locals. You should also set a limit for yourself.
You should only trade in one currency, preferably the local dong. They are available from ATMs across the country. It is not advisable to change money at illegal dealers. It's too easy to get old, invalid or broken banknotes in packs of ten.
Customers with a foreign currency are considered rich from the outset and the price is set higher. In addition, conversion errors are avoided when negotiating in only one currency.
As a rule, they offer around half of the stated price. Then both parties should constantly approach a price in the middle. A little stamina is required; tacting and arguing why you insist on your price is entirely appropriate - even a little whining can be useful and never show how important the item is to you.
Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish between an everyday object such as fruit on the market and a souvenir. The market woman will ask less astronomical prices than, for example, the souvenir dealer. In the case of souvenirs, it is quite appropriate to go on a “confrontation”. This is particularly useful in Hanoi's Old Quarter, where usually only one product category can be found in each street - so the neighboring shop is the biggest competitor. Just leaving the shop can be worthwhile. Every now and then the seller calls for a better price at the last minute.
Bargain for pennies
But no matter where you trade, you always have to weigh up money and time savings. How good is it to haggle over pennies on a coconut when the trader only makes pennies from it? Haggling just for the sake of bargaining does not have to be an option and, especially in the market, there is little understanding among the locals.
If you move with the stream of tourists, you will always come across rip-offs that can even go as far as fraud. Western visitors may well be put off by this. But one must not forget the hardships the population has gone through. A devastating famine followed the colonial rulers. Vietnam was almost completely destroyed during the two wars and the population has to live with the health consequences of the use of chemical weapons to this day. After reunification, the south of the country in particular suffered from socialism with all its negative excesses, from expropriation to spying. Corruption was and is the order of the day. Everyone in the population tries to make ends meet as well as possible. However, sometimes this is done in a clumsy way. As a visitor, you shouldn't blame the locals for this. Off the beaten track, however, bargaining for a reasonable price is quite possible.
Linguistic proficiency …
... can have a positive effect on the price. Every local is happy when visitors show an interest in the country's culture. Foreigners are rewarded with a lower price:
Too expensive! - Datt quaaa! (phonetic pronunciation)
I have no more money! - Hät tien ssoooooi!
However, one should not be surprised at the first attempts at Vietnamese language when one hears “Sorry, no English!”. Often it is because the intonation is too correct and the pronunciation is too clear that attempts to communicate are not recognized as such. First of all, it's easier to start with the numbers 1 to 10.
0 - cê-rô (very raw)
1 - một (mo’oht)
2 - shark ("shark")
3 - ba (bah)
4 - bốn ("bon")
5 - năm ("nam")
6 - sáu (sau?)
7 - bảy (bayy?)
8 - tám (thahm?)
9 - chín ("jean?")
10 - mười (muoi)
If you are looking for a specific product, it helps to photograph the product in advance with your smartphone or to have the name written down in Vietnamese.
Antiques are not allowed to be exported from Vietnam. Most of the souvenirs are plagiarism anyway. Nevertheless, it is advisable to carry a clearance certificate and a receipt with you when you leave the country.
Dos and don’ts while eating in a restaurant in Vietnamese company
The art of eating
In Vietnam, people often eat with chopsticks. They should not be pointed at people and when they are not in use they are placed horizontally on the plate.
Again and again you see tourists who put them in a bowl of rice. This is tantamount to disregarding the ancestors, because it symbolizes the burning of incense sticks and this is known to happen in honor of the deceased - so it is part of the ancestral cult in Vietnam. You should also refrain from waving your chopsticks around wildly or even pointing to a person.
Food stalls - yes or no?
Vietnam's national dish is pho, a noodle soup with various side dishes. You can find them in the food stalls on almost every corner of the city. The food tastes delicious; however, the question of a possible health risk can be heard over and over again. If you pay attention to a few things, you should be able to enjoy the national dish carefree.
The ingredients are usually stored unrefrigerated in the mobile cookshops. It is therefore all the more important that these are fresh. Many food stalls close as soon as their supplies are used up. You are guaranteed to have fresh ingredients the next morning. The following also applies: the more guests the cookshop has, the more is sold and consequently the turnover of ingredients increases.
Of course, the overall impression of the cookery, including the cook, should also be right. Some cooks already wear plastic gloves for reasons of hygiene.
How do you eat the national dish?
Once you have decided on one of the street kitchens, the question arises of how the noodles can be fished out of the soup as elegantly as possible with chopsticks. Some use a spoon to help, others place the pasta completely on the spoon. If you are in a hurry, you can sip the noodles in your mouth. What is not possible, however, is biting off the pasta. This is considered a bad omen for a short life.
Exotic on the plate
Vietnam's menus also include exotic dishes for the western palate. Snake and dog are also included. Both species are typically bred specifically for consumption. By the way, you don't need to be afraid that you will find dog instead of chicken in your food. Dog meat is considered a delicacy in Vietnam and is accordingly expensive. There are also special restaurants for this. If you would like to try it: Dog is only eaten in the second half of the month, otherwise it brings bad luck.
Order and behavior at the table
With “Em oi!” You call for the waitress. This means something like "Hey, younger brother / younger sister". So that the waitress is not unsettled, one person orders the food for the entire table, unless someone has an allergy etc .; Everyone orders their own drinks. As a rule, a large selection of dishes is ordered, which is placed in the middle of the table. Restaurant owners tend to take their time serving rice so diners don't get fed up with rice and order another dish or two instead. It is often necessary to point out the rice that is still missing several times. Once the food is served, you have to grab it. Everyone takes what they like - but never from the plate directly into their mouth, always over their own plate without filling it up. That would be rude to others. Picking up the bowl to shorten the way to your mouth is fine.
Why you should repeat an order in the restaurant
Communicating with locals can be a bit tricky at times, especially outside of the cities. The English skills of employees are not always very good. Therefore, experienced travelers recommend repeating the order in a restaurant to be on the safe side.
If you have chosen and want to order, it can happen that the waitress only says "No". When a Vietnamese utters a "no", he is absolutely certain that he is right. Apparently something has been ordered that is not available at this time, such as an afternoon breakfast.
But what if instead of a sandwich with tuna you get a sandwich with ham and the waitress only replies “finished” when asked? In this case it can be assumed that the person does not speak English very well and did not want to be naked when ordering.
The person who accepted the order also requests the invoice and checks it. Every now and then it happens that dishes are billed twice, some were not served at all and still others do not appear on the bill. This is not a case of fraudulent intent on the part of the restaurant, but rather poorly trained or hectic staff - the profession is known for its high fluctuation.
Once any problems have been resolved, payment is made - only one person takes care of this at a time. Foreigners or wealthier diners are welcome to take over the bill. If no one is found who would like to invite the others, the bill is then divided by the number of guests, and everyone pays the same share.
In Vietnam, tips are usually not given, as the restaurant owner often keeps it and does not distribute it among his employees. If you still want to tip, you can plan between 5 and 10% and should give this to the waitress.
Drink in Vietnamese company
Those who do not take part in the drinking bouts can quickly be excluded. Only those who have an alcohol disorder or who pretend to be fired will get around drinking if the boss finds out about it.
If it is an official occasion, you definitely have to toast with the elder or the highest-ranking person at the table. Anyone who is in this position would do well not to clink glasses with everyone individually, but with the whole table. Wine and schnapps are drunk on ex. Women can say stop earlier. So that you don't come home completely drunk, you can also order a beer and inconspicuously spit in the schnapps, pretend stomach problems or be drunk after just a few glasses. But be careful: Drunkenness is not welcomed in public. It is also a form of loss of face.
Yes or no?
A “yes” can mean a lot in Vietnam. Even to a negative question, the Vietnamese will always answer with “Yes, that's right ...”. There are Vietnamese who say no, but a good upbringing prevents them from saying “no” directly. The four possible meanings of what a "yes" can mean in Vietnam:
- Yes, I hear your words.
- Yes I agree with you.
- Yeah maybe, I'm not sure yet.
- No, but I can't say that directly.
If you look at her facial expression at the same time, fine nuances can be seen; The speed of the spoken word is also an indication.
The thing about respect
Vietnamese never contradict a person of respect - at least not directly. Even a clear “no” is always answered with “yes, no ...”.
Interpersonal communication in Vietnam is all about respect. Once someone is a person of respect for another, they remain so for their entire life; even if, for example, a student has long since acquired an academic degree, the social status of the student and teacher remains the same.
Older people generally enjoy a higher reputation in society than in the West. This is clearly visible on the streets when hat wearers show them and other officials as well as monks the necessary respect by removing their hat.
Travelers should take this into account when dealing with locals, but also with each other if Vietnamese are present.
How are you?
The obligatory question in the western world does not exist in this way in Vietnam. The counterpart here is “Are you healthy, brother?”. You answer with “Yes, thank you”. The Vietnamese do not want to hear a “no”, whining or complaining about any ailments - whining is frowned upon. Their pride and Confucian roots lead to the fact that they rarely reveal their ailments even to the doctor.
Greetings and touches
The clasping of hands in front of the chest as a greeting ritual, which is common in many Asian countries, has not existed in Vietnam since the colonial days of the French. Hugs or kisses on the cheek like in the West are not common either - with the exception of the Russians. Shaking hands has established itself primarily in business life, but is also accepted by foreigners. However, you should be careful and not squeeze the other person's hand.
Usually the greeting consists of a friendly and respectful nod of the head and a "Xin Chao" (good day, pronounced "Sin bye").
In a group of people, the elderly should be politely greeted first. The Vietnamese often use both hands to greet them. One person wraps both hands around the other's right hand - this is a sign of deep respect. This is usually someone who is higher in the social hierarchy or is older.
Contact between men and women in Vietnam should only take place when the woman extends her hand first. There is no further contact during the greeting ritual.
Touching the head is an absolute no-go. The head as the highest point of the human being has a symbolic meaning for the Vietnamese. There is the spiritual center - the seat of the mind and soul. This also applies to children, especially among the mountain peoples in the north. The loving, western gesture of patting the head should therefore also be avoided in children.
If Vietnamese of the same age are out and about, same-sex contact is part of everyday life. Women hug each other while strolling through the city and men put their hands on the thigh of the person sitting next to them while they are drinking beer. Foreigners are also quickly integrated into the community. Same-sex touch means friendship, sympathy, and care. Possible defensive reactions quickly cause irritation in Vietnamese people, which can lead to offense.
If you don't know the other person personally, for example at a party, you should refrain from physical contact. Otherwise, this is understood as a clumsy pick-up.
A no-go is the contact between men and women who are not a couple - a woman does not have to put up with this.
It is the same with contact between women and Buddhist monks. Women are not allowed to touch the monks because the female sex is considered impure. Offerings are always given through intermediaries.
Vietnamese names usually consist of three parts of the name. Written names always begin with the family name. As a rule, the children receive the father's surname. It is followed by the intermediate name, which defines the family affiliation or only supports the name with sound. At the end there is the most important part of the name in everyday life, the proper name. It is also the nickname in Vietnam. The nickname always has a certain meaning. Sometimes this describes a hoped-for path in life or the character of a child. However, the given names are often male and female names at the same time.
The pronunciation of Vietnamese words is not always easy. Often the stress determines the meaning of the word. Then inadvertently something inappropriate or offensive can come out of it. For this reason, you should have the name of the person you are talking to auditioned.
Salutation with the family name is unusual and also not very useful, because more than a third of the families have the same family name Nguyen. Addressing a person by their nickname is considered impolite. In Vietnamese the first name is preceded by the family or social rank between the two interlocutors, for example “Chi” for the older sister or “Anh” for the older brother. However, this type of address is extremely complicated and requires extensive knowledge of the other person in order to be able to assign him the correct social rank. Since this is often not clear to outsiders, especially foreigners, the salutation should better consist of "Mr." or "Ms." and the first name.If the person has a title, this can be put in between: “Dr. Hung ".
Dos and don‘ts during a conversation
Vietnamese talk about everything. Positive topics such as family are advantageous, but Vietnam as a travel destination and healthy Vietnamese food are also good key points.
It is a no-go to call Vietnam a third world country, because this is taken as a great insult and the statement is also wrong. Just because many Vietnamese wear clean but simple clothes and the living conditions are often interpreted as “poor” from a western point of view, some travelers prematurely come to the judgment that Vietnam is a third world country. Vietnam is not one of them. Rather, Vietnam has long been an emerging country and is one of the world's largest exporters of rice, coffee and pepper. Although almost 50% of the population works in agriculture, more than 20% work in industry and over 30% in the service sector. The export goods range from textiles and shoes to cell phones and crude oil to fish and seafood.
Your own opinion is allowed and you can also make it known. As a western visitor, you shouldn't necessarily want to impose this on your conversation partner. Because Vietnamese express criticism only indirectly and respectfully. This is also expected of visitors - nobody should lose face.
Avoid intensive eye contact
In contrast to the West, intensive eye contact should be avoided during a conversation.
If looking away in the West is interpreted as dishonest or even disinterested, the Vietnamese perceive intensive eye contact as unpleasant or even threatening, especially the looks among men. Between men and women, looks are understood as a turn-on.
How much do you earn?
As already mentioned, in order to assess a person's social hierarchy, extensive knowledge of his or her life is necessary. This is one of the reasons why the Vietnamese ask foreigners very direct - for some even indiscreet - questions at their first meeting. But in the end, questions about age, earnings, marriage status, children, etc. only serve to define the social connection between the interlocutors.
Especially in business life, these questions should be answered, because these things serve to strengthen a business relationship in Vietnam. If the questions are too personal, you can answer with an evasive answer or a white lie - the Vietnamese act similarly and nobody will be angry with you for it. An absolute no-go would be to offend the questioner. That would snub the Vietnamese and have far-reaching consequences for the future. A polite answer wins the sympathy of the locals. Incidentally, questions from the guest are also welcome.
Appearances are also popular in this country. These should always be viewed as positive advice. A weight indicator is nothing more than well-intentioned advice on losing weight.
Personal contacts are worth their weight in gold in Vietnam. Unannounced visits are not welcome. If it does happen anyway, then you should at least pretend that you just come by to make an appointment. Incidentally, not every invitation is to be understood as such - it is often just a polite phrase, especially in the north. If the invitation is repeated, then it is a real invitation. In the south, an invitation is to be understood as such the first time.
For Vietnamese, visiting a foreigner, or even getting to know one, is an honor that consolidates or even increases their hierarchy in society; therefore, a spontaneous celebration can certainly occur during a visit.
Take off street shoes
Street shoes are to be taken off in the apartment. Even if the host replies in the negative, they are to move out. This is how the landlord recognizes the respect for other people's property and the extent to which the visitor adapts to local customs.
Bring a gift
Those who are invited should bring a present. Somewhat more expensive exotic fruits or sweet pastries are suitable for this. Flowers are only suitable for private invitations, but then you have to pay attention to the color: They should not be white, purple or black flowers and also no chrysanthemums. They are used in funeral ceremonies. The color black represents misfortune and sadness, while the color white represents death.
The ancestral altar in the house is a sacred place. Guests are not allowed to touch it or point to the photos displayed there. Anyone who is asked to light incense sticks in honor of a deceased person and to bow down in front of the altar can consider themselves lucky - they are given a special honor. Do this with a serious expression on your face and then take a few steps back, never turning your back on the altar.
Eating with family or friends
Eating is a happy affair for the Vietnamese. First, the older family members take a seat at the table. Before the meal begins, the head of the family will say a few sentences.
As a guest, you can be sure to find the best pieces in your bowl - usually presented by the head of the family. This can also include one or the other “specialty”. To reject them would be absolutely impolite. It is better to say thank you politely and give it a try. If it is out of the question, leave the pieces in the bowl and cover them with rice or vegetables. Rice is obtained from the person closest to the rice cooker. The soup is the end of a menu in Vietnam. It comes over the leftovers in the bowl.
Since the host is usually generous with distributing the food, you should announce in good time that you are full. Otherwise you can still get all sorts of delicacies that you absolutely have to try.
Praise for good food is very popular. Smacking, on the other hand, is no longer up to date.
Gifts, business cards and their delivery
Whether as a present for the host or just like that - if you want to give something in Vietnam, you should discreetly announce this to the other side. Because gifts in Vietnam serve to maintain social relationships and these should of course be harmonious. For this reason there is a gift in return for every gift. Nothing is more embarrassing for a Vietnamese than to be surprised by a gift and to be left without a gift.
The topic of gifts is by far the most foolish issue in Vietnam. A faux pas with a private gift is embarrassing, but much less dramatic than with a gift to a business partner. Nevertheless, there is a lot to consider when choosing the gift.
What you should consider with a gift
First of all, the packaging plays an immensely important role. Unwrapped and negligently wrapped gifts or in an unsuitable color such as white, black or pink, quickly achieve the opposite of what you wanted to achieve.
In addition, products from Europe or Japan are preferred. A perfume, deodorant or soap can also be easily misunderstood.
Knives are not suitable as gifts for superstitious people because they cut up friendship and handkerchiefs are symbolic of problems. Cheap promotional gifts are an absolute no-go.
In addition, it must be ensured that the value of the gift corresponds to the social status of the recipient and that a person of higher rank does not receive anything less valuable than a person of lower social status.
Business cards are widely used in Vietnam. Name cards are exchanged at every shop, no matter how small. They represent something special for the Vietnamese. They also help to better assess the social rank of the other person and help to understand the difficult Western names.
The ritual of handing over gifts and business cards
The receipt should be done carefully. Doing this with both hands is considered particularly polite. The handover ritual is an act of appreciation and underscores the appreciation of one's counterpart. Handing over with one hand is perceived as half-hearted.
In the case of a gift, typically Vietnamese, the value of the present should also be devalued with words. The recipient will put the gift aside and unpack it later.
You shouldn't put a business card straight into your pocket, but just look at it for a moment. Also, you shouldn't take notes on it.
The Vietnamese New Year is usually celebrated at home, with the family. Employees take a few days off for this. During the most important festival in Vietnam, there are other dos and don'ts that must be observed.
Dos of Tet:
- House cleaning: Before the Tet festival, the whole house is cleaned and cleaned of the bad luck that may have accumulated over the year.
- Wear new clothes on New Year's Day: Children in particular are dressed in new clothes, often in red. The attitude towards the New Year has an impact on the course of the year.
- Open bills and debts should be settled before the Tet Festival: For those who start the new year with debts, the year also ends with debts. Those who pay their debts early also give other debtors the opportunity to pay their debts on time.
- Distribute money to Tet: All employees and children, including the auxiliary staff, are given special red envelopes at Tet, which are supposed to bring good luck and drive away evil spirits. It is important that the banknotes are new. For children, it is more of a gift with a symbolic character, for example in the amount of 100 dong.
- Send greeting cards to friends and business partners with the slogan “Tien vo nhu nuoc” - so that money flows like water.
- Wishing you a happy new year: “Chuc Mung Nam Moi” is the most frequently used greeting by the Vietnamese. Some use "suc khoe thinh vuong" - a lot of health - or "an khang thinh vuong" - safety, health and wealth.
Don’t go to Tet:
- Wear black or white clothing: You should avoid these colors on Tet, because they represent misfortune, grief and death.
- Sweeping on New Years Day: Anyone who returns in the house on the first day of the New Year sweeps their happiness out.
- Surprise visits are not welcome in Vietnam anyway, but they are definitely not to be missed at Tet. Tet is a festival that is celebrated with the family, and just as the first customer in a shop in the morning decides on the further successful daily routine, so is the first visitor in the new year. An ideal visitor should be male, wealthy, married with multiple children. Foreigners should only drop in on an explicit invitation that day.
- Scold and swear: Swear words and curses drive away luck and open the doors to bad luck.
- Crying: Those who forget tears on New Year's Day will cry even more tears in the New Year; in a good mood.
The Vietnamese cannot stand flippancy. Respectful behavior towards officials, uniformed people and the elderly is the basic requirement for a stress-free stay in Vietnam.
Photography is prohibited and results in heavy fines.
... is commonplace in Vietnam, but you should never take part in it. On the one hand, it is a criminal offense, and on the other hand, Vietnamese prisons are not a pleasant substitute for hotels. After all, you don't play poker straight away if you don't know the rules.
Even possession of drugs leads to heavy penalties. Therefore, drug use is strongly discouraged.
In Vietnam, there is still the death penalty with lethal injection. The focus is particularly on drug trafficking, terrorism and high treason.
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