Etiquette in Vietnam

If Vietnam is a country rich in culture and traditions, it is also taboo and prohibited of all kinds. Here is a small Vade Mecum for the use of future travelers for the country with two Deltas.

Confucius has deeply marked Vietnamese culture, including its prohibitions and taboos - Photo : Pixabay

Taboos and bans in Vietnam, a short introduction

Taboos in Vietnam are deeply rooted in the country’s long and ancient history.
They reflect spiritual beliefs, family traditions and social norms that have evolved over the centuries. Even though, in fact, only a third of the current territory of Vietnam has lived hundreds of years at Chinese time (the Red River Delta and the coasts of the Gulf of Tonkin), the entire Dragon country remains, still today, strongly influenced by traditions from the Middle Kingdom.
Did you know that China gave Vietnam most of its toponyms? Thus, the Tonkin of the French is a derivative of the ancient Chinese name of Hanoi Dong Jing, «capital of the East» (as «Beijing» means «capital of the North»). Annam originated from the Chinese An Nam («Pacified South») which designated the boundaries of the territories controlled by the Tang dynasty. As for the term «Vietnam», it derives from the Chinese expression Nan Yue meaning «South Yue», which distinguished it from other Yue kingdoms installed in the Southeast China.
All this to say that codes, prohibitions and taboos were born in a highly sinicized soil, taking over the centuries more typically Vietnamese shades. To finally give a unique background, with an equally special etiquette, which embraces both the way to greet each other, hospitality, food habits and traditional folk customs.
And to conclude this short introduction, let us note that some taboos may vary from one region to another of Vietnam, reflecting, in their own way, the diversity of local cultures within the country.

Etiquette in Vietnam: What to do and not do


In Vietnam, as in most Asian countries, it is not recommended to show affection in public - Photo : Unsplash

Moral values

First of all, it is important to understand that humility, restraint and modesty are valued by the Vietnamese people. Avoid bragging or showing how rich you are.
In Vietnam, as in most Asian countries, it is not recommended to show affection in public. In general, the Vietnamese remain on the reserve when it comes to the affection of people of the opposite sex. If a kiss or hug with a foreign partner is considered acceptable, it remains a social taboo in public in Vietnam. You will have to settle for a nod or a handshake... On the other hand, there are only intimate friends who hold hands or place an arm on the shoulders of a person of the same sex. You will often see boys putting their arms on their best friend’s shoulder.
Vietnamese generally prefer a traditional handshake when meeting with guests. Western traditions such as kissing are poorly perceived. To express their respect, some ethnic minorities such as the Miao and the Yao make a slight bow with both hands bent in front of the body.
Speaking too loudly and making excessive gestures is considered rude in public places, especially as a woman. Many will not speak or look at others to avoid disrespect in public.
Vietnamese culture greatly respects the elderly and, in general, figures of authority. It is best to honor and turn to the oldest member of a group, regardless of the circumstances.

When visiting sacred sites, follow the etiquette rules - Photo : Internet

Visiting religious and sacred sites

Vietnam is home to sacred sites for Buddhist and Hindu religions. When visiting these places, it is important to show respect by following certain etiquette rules:
1. Please dress properly
The Vietnamese are generally modest in clothing and take a dim view of visitors who wear too little in public. When visiting temples and pagodas, it is even more important to keep your arms and legs covered and hide your skin as much as possible, for example with a sarong. Do not wear clothes that are too short or tight. Women should wear tops with sleeves and shorts that reach at least the knee.
2. Respect the silence
Turn off cell phones, remove headphones, lower your voice, avoid inappropriate conversations, remove hats and refrain from smoking or chewing gum.
3.Respect sacred sites
Do not walk on fragile and ancient remains or visit ceremonial sites. In temples, pagodas and shrines, stay on walkways or marked trails. Do not touch or remove anything from a sacred site.
Learn more about Religion in Vietnam

Vietnamese people attach great importance to greetings and the etiquette attached to them - Photo : Internet

The greetings in Vietnam

Generally, Vietnamese people attach great importance to greetings and the etiquette attached to them. In addition to showing politeness and good manners, it is a form of community expression. Greetings indicate national characteristics such as respect for elders, teachers or other social ties, characteristics of more than a thousand years of historical and cultural heritage. A Vietnamese greeting is more than just a sentence. Men gently shake hands and bow slightly when they greet each other. They bow slightly and nod when they greet women. Shake both hands when you greet someone of authority.
Did you know that? Vietnamese is a tonal language, which means that the meaning of a word can change depending on whether your voice goes up or down at the end. That’s why it’s important to listen carefully to the words as you try to learn them.
To say hello, say "Xin Chao" (sinn tchao). Although some people just say "Chao", it’s more for the people you know. It is best to show respect when talking to a stranger or someone older than you.
Then it gets a little complicated...:
Use "Chao anh", "Chao chi", "Chao co", "Chao chu", etc. for the elderly.  These expressions are only used by those who are older than you. If the audience is male, keep in mind to say "Chao anh" and "Chao chu". If it is female, say "Chao chi" or "Chao co". Chao em" is reserved for younger or waiters in restaurants.
You must also pronounce the appropriate form of “you” with Chao based on the age and gender of the person. Pronouns in Vietnam can be tricky because they depend on both the speaker and the listener. It is important to use the appropriate pronoun to avoid disrespect. For example:
For a woman:
em: Same age
chị:Slightly older than you
bà: Female 70 years or older
In addressing a man, one will say:
em: Young man
anh: Slightly older than you
ông: Male 70 years and older
How are you doing?
When asked, "How are you?" it is important to use the correct form of “you”, depending on the gender and age of the person you are talking to. "How are you?" said, "Khoe khong?". Based on what we have just seen, the correct formula for asking this question to a woman younger than you will be: “Em khoe khong?” – where Kh pronounces himself like the Spanish jota.
There are lots of tutorials on the Net to prepare you to say a few words in Vietnamese, make good use of it!

Non gao or “rice hat” - Photo : Internet

The dress code in Vietnam

There are many different dress codes in Vietnam, depending on where you go. For example, northern Vietnam is usually a little more traditional and conservative than the south.
There is no official dress code in Vietnam and locals are used to seeing tourists dressed in a way they would not normally wear in public. However, dressing a little more modestly and in a similar way to the locals is a sign of respect and you can get better service in return. In order not to make odd, it is usually advisable to wear bermusdas and keep the shoulders covered. In temples and other sacred buildings, wear long sleeves and cover your legs. Please also remove your hat and shoes.
Good to know:
It is important to research the local weather before visiting a site as the weather in Vietnam varies considerably depending on the season. The season will also determine what you will wear to the S-shaped country. Because it can get very wet during the rainy season, it is best to bring clothes that can dry quickly.
On the other hand, winter is usually dry. In southern Vietnam, summer clothes are still needed, but in the north it will be cool. You will need a light jacket and appropriate underwear. In the highlands, it can be very cold, so dress warmly.
Learn more : When to travel to Vietnam?

Offer and receive

If giving up a gift is offensive, to offer one is a sign of respect. Graciously accept a gift if presented. If you receive a gift, don’t show it to everyone. You’ll open it later, when you’re alone. When you visit someone, you need to offer them a gift wrapped in bright wrapping paper or bright colors. About gifts, know that do not offer or accept gifts with the left hand, considered unclean. Always use both hands or the right hand to give or receive something.
Still in terms of gifts, there is still a little thing to know: Vietnamese are very sensitive to the symbolism of colors, numbers and objects. Be careful not to offer gifts that may have a negative or unlucky connotation. For example, avoid white or yellow flowers, which are associated with mourning, refrain from offering knives or scissors, which symbolize rupture, or conical hats, which are considered a cliché. We must also avoid offering gifts in even numbers, which are reserved for funerals, so we will favor odd numbers, which bring luck.

The body language - Photo : Unsplash

Body language, taboos and other bans

Let’s finish our Vietnam etiquette tour with a list that will likely surprise more than one traveller… But it is these habits and customs that it is important to know if one does not want to offend those who will welcome you with a wide and generous smile!
The very first thing to know is that it is essential to control your mood: getting angry is very badly seen, even despised.
In addition to what has already been stated, remember that:
• When giving something to someone, make sure to use both hands, which is considered respectful.
• If you need to draw attention to something, use your whole hand. Don’t point, it is considered disrespectful.
• When entering a house, it is customary to remove shoes as a sign of respect.
• We’ve seen it, we don’t touch anyone’s head, including children. In the same way, one does not show one’s feet, considered the dirtiest part of the body. So showing your feet can be interpreted as disrespect or insult. You should therefore avoid crossing your legs, placing your feet on a table or chair, or directing the soles of your feet towards a person, a religious image or an altar. This is considered extremely disrespectful.

• Do not touch anyone on the shoulder
• Do not stand with your hands on your hips, especially during a discussion. Similarly, we will refrain from talking to someone with our hands in our pockets.
• Frowning marks frustration, anxiety, even anger
• Do not touch anyone of the opposite sex without permission
• Do not pass anything over someone’s head and pass objects with both hands
• Vietnamese people, especially women, hide their mouths when they laugh loudly.

But also…
• Insulting elders or ancestors is a serious offence that can destroy a social relationship;
• The white band is reserved for funerals;
• Pointing your finger at someone’s face is rude
• Blinking is also considered indecent, especially when faced with the opposite sex;
• Turning your back on someone, especially an elderly person, is disrespectful;
• In Vietnam, we love taking pictures. However, the Vietnamese avoid taking pictures of three people together as this is supposed to lead to misfortunes.
• Do not whistle at night or in dark places. Evil spirits and ghosts may be attracted by the sound of whistling. The Vietnamese think that whistling at night can cause misfortune or disease.
• Do not offer or wear white or yellow flowers, colors reserved for funerals and cemeteries. As they are symbols of mourning and death, we prefer red, pink or purple flowers, which express love, joy or prosperity.
• Do not criticize or joke about government, communist party, president or national symbols. Same for religion. These topics are taboo and particularly sensitive in Vietnam, which has had a turbulent and painful history. The Vietnamese are extremely proud of their country and their identity. They should not be offended. It is best to stay on neutral topics, such as culture, gastronomy or tourism.

Taboos and bans in Vietnam, a few closing words

Although these taboos may seem unusual to people who do not know Vietnam, they play a crucial role in Vietnamese culture. Respecting these customs will help you assimilate and enjoy your stay in Vietnam. And remember, respect and understanding are the keys to fully appreciate any new Vietnam culture!
Learn more about Facts about Vietnam

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