People and Culture in Vietnam

Astonishingly exotic and utterly compelling, Vietnam is a country of breathtaking natural beauty with an incredible heritage that quickly becomes addictive.

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Remember how your parents used to tell you to keep your elbows off the table during meals? Or that it’s rude to slurp your soup? Well there’s good news guys, these American cultures and customs don’t always translate to other countries! While the local people you meet won’t expect you to be fluent in their language, culture and customs, it is important to familiarize yourself with them.

Do you know how kissing, snoring and other things sound in other languages? That’s right, even sound effects can be translated!

The most important thing to remember while you’re abroad is that things will be different. But, different doesn’t mean wrong. Be open, be curious, and read more about the culture you will be stepping into. Get excited about LIVING the life you’ve only dreamt and read about until now!

#CISabroadtip: Do some more research into the Vietnamese customs you’ll experience while abroad.

People and Culture in Vietnam

Official name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Population: 89.7 million

Capital City: Hanoi

Geography: Vietnam occupies the eastern and southern part of the Indochinese peninsula in Southeast Asia, with the South China Sea along its entire coast. China is to the north and Laos and Cambodia are to the west. Long and narrow on a north-south axis, Vietnam is about twice the size of Arizona. The Mekong River delta lies in the south.

Climate: tropical in south; monsoonal in north with hot, rainy season (mid-May to mid-September) and warm, dry season (mid-October to mid-March)

Religions: Buddhist, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, Christian (predominantly Roman Catholic, some Protestant), indigenous beliefs and Muslim

Culture in Vietnam:

  • Vietnamese life revolves around the family – it is not uncommon for three generations to be living together under one roof.
  • For foreigners it is important to be aware that you may unintentionally cause a loss of face so it is important to be aware of your words and actions. Understanding how face is lost, saved or given is critical.
  • The Vietnamese are punctual and expect others to be so to.
  • Always take your shoes off when entering a Vietnamese home.
  • Vietnamese society on the whole is still quite reserved when it comes to showing affection for the opposite sex. Amorous liaisons in public are generally frowned upon and whilst a kiss or a hug with your partner is considered acceptable in the main cities of Hanoi and Saigon it is a social taboo elsewhere. When meeting with Vietnamese of the opposite sex a handshake is considered the standard greeting. A kiss on the cheek is not recommended practice and may cause embarrassment.

Table Manners:

  • Chopsticks should be placed on the table or a chopstick rest after every few mouthfuls or when breaking to drink or speak.
  • Meals are typically served family-style.
  • When dining with a Vietnamese family, please wait for head or the eldest to start eating first before you do. Vietnamese often serve you food into your rice bowl. This is an act of hospitality. Try to finish everything on your plate.
  • When you are finished eating, rest your chopsticks on top of your rice bowl.

Other customs to be familiar with:

DO: Avoid public displays of affection with a member of the opposite sex.

DON’T: Touch someone’s head.

DO: Pass items with both hands.

DON’T: Point with your finger – use your hand!

Phrases to know before you go:

Hello! – Xin chao! (sin chow!)

Goodbye – Tam Biet

How are you? – Ban co khoe khong? (ban co kwe khome?) also, Ban the nao?

I’m fine, thank you! – Cam on ban toi khoe (gahm un ban thoy kwe)

5. And you? – Ban thi sao? (ban ty sao?)

What’s your name – Ban ten gi (ban thane zee)

My name is… – Toi la (thoy la…)

Thank you – Xin Cam on (sin gahm un)

You’re welcome – Khong co’ gi (khom go zee)

Yes – Vang (vung)

No – Khong (khome)

Excuse me/Sorry… – Xin loi (seen loy)

Can you help me? – Ban giup toi duoc khong? (ban zoop thoy duc khom?)

I’d like to eat – Toi muon an (thoy moowan un)

I’d like to drink – Toi muon uong (thoy moowan oowanh)

Good – Tot (thote)

Bad – Khong tot (khome thote)

What is this? – Cai nay la gi (guy nai la zee)

How much – Bao nhieu (bow nyew)

Too expensive – Mac qua (mahk qwa)

Where is the nearest internet shop – Cho internet o dau (choh internet uh doh)

Where is the nearest bank – Nha bang o dau (nya bung uh doh)

Hotel – Khach San (khack san)

Hot – Nong (nom)

Cold – Lanh (lang)

Coffee – Ca phe (cah feh)

Hot black coffee – Ca phe nong (cah feh nom)

Hot Coffee with milk – Ca phe sua nong (cah feh sua nom)

Tea – Tra (chah)

I like – Toi thich (thoy tick)

I am happy – Toi vui (thoy vuoy)

I am tired – Toi met (thoy mate)

Other Resources:

Useful Expressions

Vietnamese Phrases