Exploring Vietnam: Some Etiquette And Customs Should Be Known

From a country that widely known with war and rebellion, Vietnam has been becoming a favorite destination with tourists, expats and businessmen alike in recent years. By having a mixture of  beautiful scenery, friendly locals, exquisite cuisine and burgeoning business opportunities, Vietnam definitely a must-visit country in your next holidays. If you’re looking to learn more about this vibrant country, whether it be for recreational or professional purposes, this handy guide will give you a quick look at some etiquette and customs that you should know before packing your bags.

Etiquette and customs

Thanks to the millennium of Chinese rule, Confucianism is the dominant influence on Vietnamese customs and etiquette. This revolves largely around comporting oneself admirably in Vietnamese society, most notably with respect to age and status. All due respect and deference is paid to those of advanced years, with the oldest members of any group always being greeted and served first. Their wisdom is sought in important family or community matters, as well.

In addition to recognising the esteem attached to age, Confucianism also places heavy emphasis on duty, honour, loyalty and sincerity. Any form of deceitful or selfish behaviour is seen to damage a person’s dignity and reputation, thus harming their place in society.

In social situations, there are a large number of expectations placed upon your behaviour towards your peers in terms of public etiquette. As a foreigner, allowances will be made if you do not always comply with these codes of conduct, but in order to make the best impression possible, it is good to bear in mind the following:

Things You Should Do

  • Pass all items (gifts, plates, food, money) to others using both hands
  • Dress respectfully at all times (shorts below the knees, shoulders covered)
  • Take off your hats in reverence to all elderly or respected members of society, such as monks
  • Remove shoes when entering homes or temples
  • At a restaurant, wait until you are shown to your seat and only sit when the eldest member of the party has already done so
  • Rest chopsticks on the table or on a plate between mouthfuls
  • Hold your bowl close to your face when eating
  • Try to finish all of your meal – but if you do not like something, it’s better to leave it untouched than take a small bite and then disregard it
  • Rest your chopsticks on your rice bowl when finished with a meal
  • Bring gifts (wrapped in brightly coloured paper) when invited to a Vietnamese home
  • While tipping is not mandatory, the increase in tourism has made it more commonplace and it is always hugely appreciated
  • Bargain in markets, but once a price is agreed upon, you must buy

Things You Shouldn’t Do

  • Don’t commit public displays of affection, or even touch a person of the opposite sex in public
  • Don’t touch an adult’s head or shoulders (the head is the most symbolic body part in Asian culture)
  • Don’t point with fingers (use your whole hand)
  • Don’t point the soles of your feet towards a person or a sacred object, such as an image of Buddha
  • Don’t stand up chopsticks in your food between mouthfuls or when finished – it resembles incense sticks that are burned in memory of the dead and is seen as very disrespectful
  • Don’t pass any items over the head of someone else
  • Don’t cross your arms in public
  • Don’t stand with hands on hips in public
  • Don’t bargain in restaurants
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