Vietnam Insider’s Travel Guide
Vietnam is a magical country to visit or live in. The Vietnamese people are kind, generous, and inviting foreigners. But anyone planning a visit to Vietnam should understand some things about Vietnamese culture.
Vietnam has a wonderful and gracious culture. But as with many cultures around the world, are some cultural points that you should understand about Vietnam and the Vietnamese culture and people.
I have lived and worked in Hanoi, Vietnam for many years. All these 14 points I have experienced or learned while living and working here.
No One Wants To Lose Face
Losing face is the process of you causing someone else to lose their reputation, loss of respect, or humiliation. In Vietnam, people care deeply about their reputations, respect and public humiliation as do most Asians.
Losing face does not have to even people by an action, it can be by using words to cause someone to lose their respect, social standing, or reputation in part of others, especially their peers. This is all very important to the Vietnamese and if you have an issue with someone, best to talk to them face-to-face and by themselves.
Traffic Rules Are Suggestions
Any foreigner who visits Vietnam and rides a motorcycle or a bicycle on the streets here will understand that in Vietnam, traffic rules can just be a suggestion. It can be very common for the light to be red and the cars and motorcycle drivers will not stop on a red light, but instead, they go through the light.
For foreigners who have had the proper rules of the road drilled into them when they first learned to drive, this can be extremely frustrating. And some may even get upset as they had to suddenly severe out of the way to miss hitting someone who is going the wrong way. There is little point to getting upset by this as this is just the rules of the road in Vietnam and the way people drive.
There is also a lot of honking here. But if you drive on the roads in Vietnam you learn to appreciate the honking. People are not honking at you because they are mad or upset but more to warn you that they are coming towards you or behind you. When you hear honking on the road, be thankful the person is warning you and looking out for your safety.
They May Pinch or Touch You
I was once at a market and a woman came up to me and grabbed both of my breasts with her hands. In any other country, I would have cried sexual abuse. Though that was a bit of an extreme case, it is not uncommon for people to come up and touch you, touch your hand, or your arm.
I am not sure why this happens, but it can. It is just best to try to ignore this and not get too upset. I have found this to happen more in areas where they may not see a lot of foreigners.
I was told by a Vietnamese that when foreigners see each other many times they will hug. Vietnamese do not hug each other so instead, they may grab you. I am not sure if pinching someone fits right into that reasoning, but just be aware this may happen and they probably do not mean offense but are either curious or not sure how to greet you.
Vietnamese Can Be Blunt, Don’t Get Offended
Complete strangers in Vietnam may come up to you and tell you that you are fat or you have a big nose or you are too tall. Or as someone was once told when they walked into a shop to buy a dress the lady told her, “we don’t have your size, you are too big.” Talk about turning your customers away. But this can happen a lot in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese do not just limit these things to foreigners – though we may be the ones that get the most offended at times – they are even blunt to other Vietnamese. They do not see this as an offense as they see it more as they speaking what they see to be true.
Trust Takes Times
Trust in Vietnam can take time. The entire business process in Vietnam is based upon trust, but the Vietnamese are cautious so they take their time to see if you are trustworthy.
This will also extend to legal documents. They may not put much trust in the signing of a legal document as they are really not sure how much they can trust that document. Instead, the Vietnamese will take time to see if they can really trust you.
Education is Important
Education is very important in Vietnam. This is why Vietnam has a very high literacy and education rate. Parents in Vietnam will sacrifice everything to ensure their children get a good education.
Many after-hour English language schools are all around Vietnam. Children will take extra classes in the evening, Saturday or Sunday. Many of those same school want to hire foreign teachers.
Elders Are Respected
In the Vietnamese language, people will address you according to a title by your age. There are titles in the Vietnamese language if you are older, younger, or much older than the person you are speaking to. Age and knowing a person’s age is very important in Vietnam as it allows you to knowhow to properly address them in the Vietnamese language.
That is why after a Vietnamese person may ask your name and then they may then want to know your age. They are not trying to be rude but they want to know how to properly address you in Vietnamese.
This is very different than the westerners who may want to hide our age and almost feel insulted if someone wants to know our age or how old we are. But in Vietnam, this is considered a sign of respect.
Families are Very Important
The family is at the very core of Vietnamese society. Vietnamese know their families, extended families, and ancestors. It can be common to go into a home of the Vietnamese and to find an altar that has a photo of a relative that has passed on.
Children will listen to their parents and you may find that a child may become a doctor not because they want to but because their parents told them to. Some will even marry or not marry a person because their parents agree or disagree.
The Vietnamese may say how they went to their hometown to see their family. This family does not necessarily mean that they saw their parents but it may mean that they saw 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or even 5th cousins that they sill consider being family.
If you are interested to discover more about Vietnamese genealogy and their families you can read our blog Vietnamese Genealogy, Searching for Your Family History in Vietnam by clicking here.
The War Was “The American War.”
In Vietnam, they call the war that American’s call the Vietnam War or Vietnam Conflict as the American War. This is because for the Vietnamese population this was the American War.
I know several Americans who have come to Vietnam and when they heard the Vietnamese call the war the American War they felt insulted. But for the Vietnamese, the war was about American’s invading Vietnam as they fought for their homeland and rights.
If you are a history or war buff, do not be surprised that if you try to talk about the war that the Vietnamese do not want to talk about it. The war divided a lot of families and so many in Vietnam will not talk about it as the memories and time were too painful.
If you have a strong opinion of the Vietnam- American War, do not speak ill of the Vietnamese war heroes. Ho Chi Minh and many other Vietnamese Generals as General Giap are rightfully revered in Vietnam as they sacrificed and did a lot for the Vietnamese people.
Outsiders Should Never Criticize Vietnam
You may hear Vietnamese criticize their government or country but it is best if you stay away from any criticism of the Vietnamese government past or present. Also, just common sense tells you not to criticize Vietnam in any way.
Vietnamese pride themselves in wanting to be kind, gracious, and generous hosts to visitors. If you start to tell them how much you hate or dislike Vietnam they may take offense or even take it extremely personal like they did not do enough to make you feel welcome. It is best just to leave these opinions to yourself while you are in Vietnam.
Negotiating Is Generally Expected
When you are shopping on the street or at a street market, most of the people there expect that you will negotiate. The time when I find they do not want to negotiate is if they have clearly listed “fixed price.” That should tell you the price is fixed and that they will not discount the price.
No Tipping Culture
Generally in Vietnam, you do not need to tip. At least not like in the United States where you will give 18 or 20% of the restaurant bill in a tip. Normally here when I got out to eat I may leave a small amount as a tip. But a tip is not expected like it is other parts of the world.
If someone was really good or you had a very large party where they gave exceptional service, you may want to give them a bit extra in a tip. But this really just depends upon you.
Vietnamese Believe in Ghosts and Spirits
Many of the Vietnamese traditions and their culture are based on worship and belief in their ancestors. The great fear in Vietnam is that the dead will not find peace in the afterlife and will be left to wander the earth as tortured spirits.
A lot of people in Vietnam believe in the supernatural. They may even believe the spirits or their deceased ancestors have come to speak to them. No matter what you may think about ghosts talking to people or signs from a previous life, do not ever make fun of these very important Vietnamese beliefs or this part of their culture.
Food and Socializing is Important
Vietnamese love to socialize and food, drinking, and being out with their friends is a very important part of their culture. That is why in Vietnam you will see that many coffee shops and even sidewalk cafes are filled with Vietnamese socializing with their family and friends.
If you are lucky enough that someone invites you into their home for a meal, it is rude not to eat what they have served you. They may also sit down next to you and start to put food on your plate. Eating the food is a way to show them how much you appreciate their hospitality.
Vietnam is a wonderful country that has a rich and wonderful culture. When you are in Vietnam you will find the Vietnamese to be kind and gracious and welcoming of foreigners.
Is Vietnam Really Safe To Travel Alone?
Vietnam is a very safe place to travel alone, but with any country, you are visiting there are a few things you should know about Vietnam and how to ensure you are safe during your travels.
To find out more you can read our blog on Is Vietnam really safe to travel alone? What you need to know, by clicking here.
Do I Need A Visa To Travel To Vietnam?
Any foreign visitor coming to Vietnam will need to organize and look at your Vietnam travel visa before you enter Vietnam. There are several types of ways to obtain a Vietnamese visa such as at the Vietnamese Embassy, online through an agent or a visa at the border. In some circumstances and to some nationalities Vietnam also offers visa-free exemptions.
You can find out more by reading our blog Vietnam Travel Visa, What You Need to Know Before You Go by clicking here.
Anita L Hummel from A Bus On A Dusty Road