- Indirect Communication: The Vietnamese are generally observed as being indirect verbal communicators, often understating themselves to reach their point. However, while there is less reliance on explicitly descriptive vocabulary, they give strong clues about their message through their surrounding posture, expression and tone of voice. In Vietnam, the context of conversations can also provide further meaning to their words, as there are well-established hierarchies between speakers in the Vietnamese language. For example, Vietnamese pronouns address the other person in a way that affectionately respects their relationship and status comparative to one’s self while delivering the message. However, this form of communication translates differently when spoken in English and can come across as quite a blunt approach to communication. Vietnamese people also usually express how they feel quite genuinely and honestly, which can similarly give the perception that they are speaking very frankly.
- Language Style: In an effort to speak modestly, the Vietnamese have a tendency not to use very colourful expressions. For example, they may say they “like” something instead of “love” it, that they feel “bad” instead of “awful”, or that something is “good” instead of “amazing”. This kind of speech is considered more emotionally balanced. Furthermore, using very artful words can come across as being too exaggerated and insincere.
- Refusals: A Vietnamese person’s preoccupation with saving face and politeness may see them avoid giving a flat ‘no’ or negative response, even when they disagree with you. Therefore, focus on hints of hesitation in terms of what is said, how it is said and with what body language. One can usually find the underlying meaning by asking open-ended questions.
- Agreement: Consider that a ‘yes’ may be spoken to indicate “I hear you” or “I understand” rather than “I agree with what is said”.
- Loud Voices: Speaking in a raised voice or shouting is generally seen as improper or uncivilised behaviour, particularly when women do so. However, this is generally common behaviour.
- Physical Contact: In Vietnam, it is not appropriate to touch people that are strangers to you unless it is unavoidable. Avoid backslapping and putting your arm around someone's shoulder. People generally don’t hug one another or show any physical affection to the opposite gender in public. However, people of the same gender may walk hand in hand and be tactile if they are good friends.
- Pointing: Avoid pointing at people and things with your index finger; this is considered disrespectful. Use your open hand instead.
- Beckoning: To beckon, use your open hand rather than your index finger. To use a single forefinger with the palm facing up has offensive and threatening connotations to adults and children.
- Arms: It can be considered rude to stand with your hands on your hips or cross your arms when having a regular conversation with someone.
- The Head: The head is considered the most sacred part of a person’s body. It is offensive to touch another person’s head or pass something over it. Forcing someone’s head to touch the ground would be an extremely disrespectful (and possibly unforgivable) act.
- Feet: Feet are considered the lowliest or ‘dirtiest’ part of the body. Displaying the soles of one’s feet, resting them on tables, or exposing them to others is considered rude.
- Expressions: The Vietnamese commonly show less emotion in their face as they communicate and often adopt a sombre expression unless something clearly joyful is happening. Avoid interpreting this as unfriendly.
- Eye Contact: It is respectful to defer eye contact away from those who are of the opposite gender, a higher status or older than you. However, direct eye contact is held and expected with one’s peers.
- Smiling: Smiling can have many connotations in Vietnamese culture. It’s often done as a way to modestly acknowledge what another person is saying without seeming too over-enthusiastic. The Vietnamese may also smile or laugh quietly when talking about painful or awkward experiences. This is a way of non-verbally apologising for the listener’s possible discomfort and diffusing it. Similarly, people may smile when embarrassed, apologetic, frustrated or nervous, so consider that a person smiling in a serious situation may not always be doing so out of happiness or pleasure.
- Gestures: The symbol for ‘okay’ in Western culture (with the forefinger and the top of the thumb meeting to form a circle, with the other fingers stretched out) means ‘poor quality’ in Vietnam.
- Silence: Silence is an important and purposeful tool used in the communication style of most Asian countries. Pausing before giving a response indicates that someone has applied appropriate thought and consideration to the question. It reflects politeness and respect.