Vietnamese culture places great importance on the values of harmony, politeness, and loyalty. It’s not unusual for locals to welcome travelers into their homes and treat them as part of their own family. Vietnamese culture is steeped in traditions and customs, and understanding them prior to visiting will enrich your experience in the country. Study our Vietnamese culture guide so that you can relax and truly feel at home while in Vietnam!
In Vietnamese culture, each family has a leader or patriarch. It’s not unusual to see several generations living under one roof, and often towns and villages are named after the largest families which live in them. Traditionally, children reside with their parents until they marry. Until recently, weddings were arranged with the bride and groom having minimal contact prior to the ceremony. These days, most young adults are free to select their partner and choose when to get married.
If you’re invited to a family home for a meal, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with a local culture guide beforehand! You’re in for a treat – Vietnamese culture is warm and generous, with hosts serving guests the largest portions and offering a variety of delicious dishes. In Vietnamese culture, the best way to show appreciation is by finishing it all! It’s also a nice gesture to bring a gift – fruit, chocolate, or alcohol is always appreciated by host families. If you decide to return the favor and invite Vietnamese friends out for dinner, expect to pay the bill if you offered the invitation.
Vietnamese people enjoy the occasional tipple and having a few drinks in a social setting is perfectly acceptable. However, in Vietnamese culture, drinking in excess is taboo and alcoholism can bring disgrace to an entire family. It’s also worth noting that many Vietnamese women refrain from alcohol entirely and will decline offers of alcoholic beverages.
If you’re meeting someone for the first time in Vietnam, be sure to address them using Mr or Ms, followed by their name. High-ranking family members should always be greeted first in social situations – this is done by bowing slightly to each other while clasping both hands together. It’s not acceptable etiquette to kiss on the cheek or hug. It’s rare that a Vietnamese man will shake hands with a foreign woman, so don’t be offended if your offer of greeting is not reciprocated – it’s a matter of custom. Should you encounter children in a social situation, don’t touch or pat them on the head – only the head of the household is permitted to do so – from anyone else the gesture is viewed as disrespectful.
The dress code varies greatly across Vietnam. If you’re staying in a mountain village, you’ll observe a very different dress code than if you’re sightseeing in a larger city or beach resort. Most Vietnamese men dress casually in jeans and shirts unless they are in a work uniform. Removing shirts in public, even if it’s scorching hot, is not done – this is viewed as disrespectful to others. Women tend to avoid any clothing which is too revealing – on or below the knee dresses, skirts, tops covering the shoulders and trousers are appropriate choices if you want to respect the local customs. Take care when visiting a place of worship or a Vietnamese household – you must always remove footwear before you enter!
Gesturing with an upright hand and fingers can be interpreted as a sign of provocation in Vietnam. If you wish to attract anyone’s attention, use the entire palm and point your fingers downwards. While sitting at a table with guests, pointing the sole of your feet towards the person is considered rude, as it infers that they are beneath you in social standing. Vietnamese people are less concerned with wealth and material goods than with social status gained from age, education, and experience. However, bragging about their achievements is not socially acceptable, as modesty and humility are core values of society.
If you wish to photograph a person while traveling, it’s always polite to ask permission first! If they do not wish to participate, respect their wishes. Use caution when taking photographs relating to military installations, military personnel, and airports in Vietnam – it can be seen as a breach of national security and you could find yourself in hot water!