The Ultimate Guide to Customs and Etiquette in Vietnam

earning about a country’s religion and culture is critical to avoid embarrassing situations. Accidentally offending the locals is everyone’s worst nightmare. Here is a comprehensive etiquette guide to give you a quick overview of Vietnamese culture and customs. Having background knowledge of Vietnamese customs will ensure that you have the best possible experience on your trip to Vietnam.

Vietnamese Values

When discussing etiquette, it is important to have a general feel for the values and customs of a culture. It is almost impossible to remember an exhaustive list of etiquette rules. However, when you are aware of what the culture values, you can avoid doing things that are in opposition to those values.

The Vietnamese people value humility, restraint, and modesty. Avoid being boastful or showing off wealth. Public displays of affection are generally frowned upon so try to avoid touching people of the opposite sex. Dress conservatively and keep your body covered. The Vietnamese culture has a great respect for the elderly. In every situation, it is best to give honor and preference to the eldest member of the group. Keep reading for information about etiquette for specific activities such as visiting a religious site, greeting locals, dining, appropriate clothing, giving gifts, and avoiding social taboos.

Proper Etiquette for Visiting Religious Sites or Other Tourist Sites in Vietnam

Vietnam has sacred sites for both the Buddhist and Hindu religion. While visiting one of the beautiful religious sites like Mỹ Sơn (a popular sacred Hindu site,) the stunning Linh Phuoc Pagoda (a sacred Buddhist site) covered with mosaics in Da Lat, or the Ngoc Son Temple in Hanoi, it is important to show respect.

Since religious sites are popular attractions, it is important to be familiar with appropriate behavior and dress for sacred locations. When visiting a sacred spot, it is important to be respectful. While you are visiting there will be people who have come for religious worship and reflection. It is important that you don’t become a distraction to those who are seeking peace. Something as simple as what you are wearing can cause a major distraction at a sacred site.

Tips for Visiting Sacred Sites:

  • Make sure to avoid wearing tight-fitting, overly short attire. Women should ensure that they wear a shirt with sleeves and shorts should come at least to the knee.
  • Remove hats when visiting a sacred site.
  • Head and feet actions to avoid:
    • The head is considered the most sacred spot of the body and the foot is seen as the least sacred.
    • You never touch the head of someone else since this is the most sacred spot of their body.
    • Do not point the soles of your feet toward anyone or any sacred statues, such as Buddha. This is considered very disrespectful.

Respectful Ways to Meet and Greet Locals, Including Proper Titles

Vietnamese is a tonal language, so the meaning of a word can change based on if your voice goes up or down at the end. For that reason, it is important to listen carefully to the words when you are trying to learn them. You can check out YouTube videos of native Vietnamese speakers to learn correct pronunciation and how to do the appropriate tones.

Hello
Say hello by saying “Xin Chao” (sin jow). Some people just say, “Chao” but that is better for people you are familiar with. When talking to strangers or someone older than you, it is better to say “Xin Chao” to show respect.

You can also say the appropriate form of “you” with Chao based on the age and gender of the person. Pronouns in Vietnam can be tricky because they are based both on the person speaking and who is listening. It is important to use the appropriate pronoun to avoid being disrespectful. A basic guide to pronoun use is shown below:

Female:       Word
em (ehm)       Same age
chị (cha-he)   Slightly older than you female
bà (ba ha)       Female that is 70 years old or older

Male:
em (ehm)       Young male
anh (ahh-n)   Slightly older than you male
ông (ohm)     Male that is 70 years old and older

How Are You?
When asking, “How are you?” it is important to use the correct form of “you,” dependent on the gender and age of the person you are speaking to. “How are you?” is said “Khỏe không?”

To say, “how are you?” to a female that is younger than you, you would say “Em khỏe không?

Other Greetings
Good morning:   Chào buổi sang (Chow Bo Sang)
Good evening:    Chào buổi tối (Chow Bo)

If you want to learn more Vietnamese phrases, check out Essential Words and Phrases for Travelers to Vietnam.

Proper Eating and Drinking Etiquette

  • Before eating, say “Chúc mọi người ăn ngon miệng” (choo-k ma new-ey ang nong min). This means the same thing as “Enjoy,” but also shows your excitement for the meal.
  • Oldest Eats First: Don’t eat until the oldest person at the table begins eating.
  • Clean Plate: Make sure to eat all the food you are given, this is seen as a compliment. It is offensive to leave food on a plate.
  • No Picking Teeth: If you need to pick your teeth, cover your mouth with your hand.

Chopsticks are the most commonly-used eating utensil in Vietnam.

  • Don’t hold your chopstick vertically straight up. The chopstick resembles an incense stick and could be seen as a reference to burning incense at a funeral. This is highly offensive.
  • No need to keep your bowl on the table. You can hold your bowl as close to your mouth as you like. This makes it easier to avoid spilling noodles.
  • Don’t play with your chopsticks. Avoid clicking the bowl or hitting the table with your chopsticks.

Vietnam offers a variety of unique regional dishes and foods. Do your research before, so you make sure to experience the unique flavors for the regions you are visiting.

What to Wear in Vietnam

Overall, modest dress is considered the norm in Vietnam. However, you will find that in resort areas with a high concentration of tourists this may not be the case. When traveling throughout Vietnam, it is generally a good idea to wear long shorts and avoid revealing shirts. Covered shoulders and shorts to the knees provide an appropriate amount of coverage.

Make sure you pack items that will work well for warm, humid weather.

  • Breathable fabrics are best because they wick away moisture.
  • Avoid wearing thick, winter type clothes (like jeans or sweaters).
  • Bring a couple of long sleeve items for cooler temperatures so that you can layer.
  • Make sure to pack a lightweight raincoat.

Don’t forget to make a packing list to ensure that you don’t forget anything.

Respecting Others in Vietnam

Avoid looking over confident. Humility is admired.

  • It may be a habit to stand with your arms crossed, but avoid this posture when visiting Vietnam.
  • Don’t stand with your hands on your hips.
  • Don’t flaunt your money.
  • Don’t criticize people. It is considered highly disrespectful.
  • Always give the highest amount of respect to those older than you. If wearing a hat, remove it when speaking to someone older.

Gift Giving in Vietnam

Giving a gift is a sign of respect and it is offensive to refuse a gift. If you are presented a gift, graciously accept it. If you are the recipient of a gift, do not open it in front of everyone. It is expected that you will open the gift later when you are alone.
When visiting someone’s home, it is appropriate to provide a gift wrapped in bright wrapping paper.

Common taboos in Vietnam

Control Your Temper: Losing your temper or having an angry outburst is looked down upon.

  • Avoid Public Touching: Public displays of affection are not seen as appropriate. Avoid hugging, holding hands, and especially kissing in public. Even touching a member of the opposite sex is looked down upon.
  • Modesty: It is important to keep your body covered. Avoid overly short shorts and revealing shirts. It is best to wear shorts that go to the knee and shirts that cover the shoulders, especially away from touristy areas.
  • Head is Sacred: The head is considered the most sacred part of the body, so do not touch anyone on the head.
  • Both Hands: When you need to hand something to someone, make sure to use both hands. This is seen as respectful.
  • No Pointing: If you need to draw attention to something, use your whole hand. Do not point using one finger, that is considered disrespectful.
  • Shoes Off: When entering a home, it is customary to remove your shoes as a sign of respect.

Now that you know what to expect and how to show respect to the locals, it is time to start planning that trip. Don’t forget, you will need to secure a travel visa before coming to Vietnam. We can help you save time at the airport by helping you complete the necessary paperwork online. It’s fast, easy, and can help you start enjoying your vacation from the moment your plane touches the ground.

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