A trip to Vietnam promises a great experience in an extremely interesting country. However, there are some cultural differences compared to your home country. After you have read this article you will know how to deal with those and how to get in touch with the people.
We can only congratulate you on your choice to go to Vietnam. The country is an exciting, diverse and beautiful country – and also our production location, by the way. You can find out more about the Tatonka Open Factory here.
Travelers in Vietnam are often swept off their feet with the fascinating and complex culture. Many Vietnamese have still traditional values, but above all the younger generation is modern, future-oriented and educated. Nevertheless, there are important areas in which Vietnamese culture differs for example from European or American culture. Here you will find five tips for Vietnam to avoid pitfalls when dealing with locals.
1. Always be friendly
The most important rule you should always have in mind is probably this one: With a friendly smile and polite behavior, you will achieve more than with anger and screaming. Anyone who gets upset loses face and thus the respect of their counterpart.
Give it a try and smile just a little bit the whole time. You will be amazed at the effect and how many opportunities will arise. If you are not interested in an offer, it works wonders when you say “no, thank you” with a friendly smile. Most vendors leave you alone immediately, while grim-looking tourists are pestered with even more attention.
2. Discover the fun at bargaining
Yes, we know, at the beginning you feel incredibly stupid if you want to beat down the price of a souvenir. However, there are two good reasons for negotiating anyway: First, negotiation is an important part of Vietnamese culture and is expected. Second, this helps to keep the general prices at a reasonable level. Only in restaurants and supermarkets everyone pays fixed prices.
Besides, it’s a lot of fun if you don’t take it too seriously. The more creative your arguments are, the more respect you will gain from the seller. And don’t forget to smile!
Another tip: Always hand over and take money with both hands. This is a custom and a gesture of respect throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Giving money with one hand is considered condescending.
3. Clothes make the man
Vietnamese people pay a lot of attention to their appearance and to that of their counterparts. The country’s textile industry is prospering, so the choice for locals and tourists is huge. There is often a lack of understanding among locals why all the rich European backpackers dress so carelessly.
A worn out tank top and short beach dresses should really only be worn at the beach. If, on the other hand, you deal with the Vietnamese in a decent shirt and long trousers, you will be rewarded with openness and courtesy. It doesn’t have to be jeans: loose linen pants are breathable and very comfortable.
Besides, you shouldn’t be soaked with sweat when interacting with the locals. Sweating, just like dirty fingernails or tanned skin, are signs of hard work and are associated with a low social status. Make sure that you take care of your body as well as your clothes.
4. Eating and drinking the Vietnamese way
The local restaurant or the street kitchen might be slightly different from home. Soups are often hot and are therefore drunken with a lot of slurping to cool it down. You don’t do anything wrong if you eat your soup quietly – but give it a try – it’s fun to slurp loudly…
It’s important that you place your chopsticks across the plate or bowl after eating and don’t put them inside like a soup spoon. Also, you must never leave your chopsticks sticking out of the rice – this is seen as a bad luck charm!
Tipping is unusual in Vietnamese restaurants and street kitchens. Especially in upscale restaurants, however, the service staff is certainly happy about it – they are employed there (in contrast to the self-owned small street kitchens) and therefore grateful about an increase of their meagre salary.
5. Further useful gestures
In Vietnam, you shake hands to greet each other. First the elderly are greeted, then the others. You have to hold a drink with both hands while toasting and, you look into the eyes of your drinking partner.
In Vietnam, women and men are equal before the law and in society. You don’t have to be afraid to put your foot in it. A woman can talk to man and vice versa without any pitfalls.
Finally, a general advice: Please ask before taking pictures of people, private houses, motorcycles or cars. You would also find it rude if a tourist took a shot of you without your permission.