Vietnamese Culture

Do's and Don'ts

  • Expect a Vietnamese person to politely protest or deflect compliments you give them in an effort to remain humble.
  • Make an effort to keep discussion harmonious and balanced.
  • When interacting with a Vietnamese, be sensitive to Vietnam’s history. It is possible the person you are interacting with may have experienced the struggles of the Vietnam War. Thirty years on from this traumatic event, many Vietnamese still have physical and mental health problems from the war. Approach any topic regarding this with sensitivity and sympathy. It can be seen as taboo to discuss anything related to the war or associated mental health issues.
  • Call Ho Chi Minh City “Saigon” in respect of southern Vietnamese and acknowledge that there are two flags – the communist flag (used on the global stage) and the flag of South Vietnam.
  • Try not to be offended if an older Vietnamese person makes frank comments or asks invasive questions about your personal life. Elders commonly enquire about people’s relationship statuses. This is generally accepted because of the age .

  • Avoid profusely complimenting people or using very colourful language to praise something. This can often be interpreted as insincere and may actually cause people to lose .
  • Don't assume that the Vietnamese have a natural alignment with China.
  • Avoid directly criticising someone or pointing out his or her mistakes. This can quickly cause a Vietnamese to lose .
  • Avoid publicly displaying signs of anger or passion, such as by raising your voice. This behaviour is generally disapproved of.
  • Try not to interrupt or ‘fill in’ the silence if a Vietnamese person quietens during a conversation. Pausing before speaking usually has a purposeful meaning behind it.
  • Do not break any promises that you have already committed to, verbally or written. This can lead to a big loss of and jeopardise a Vietnamese person’s trust and confidence in you.
  • Avoid asking personal questions that can seem invasive, such as “Are you married?”, “Why don’t you have children?” or “How much do you earn?”. Some Vietnamese can embarrass quickly if they don’t know how to deflect a question they’d rather not answer.
  • Do not assume that a Vietnamese person wants to talk about the American War. Broach the subject sensitively if genuinely interested. Moreover, avoid taking a position on the West’s involvement in the conflict and let them share their opinion.
  • Avoid referring to the North and South of the country as “two” Vietnams or asking your Vietnamese counterpart to explain how the divide arose. The subject is very touchy. It is best not to raise the politics surrounding the situation.
  • Some Australians have been known to ask where the biggest Vietnamese communities are in order to find the most ‘authentically Vietnamese’ restaurants and cuisine. Such enquiries into the migrant community can come across as orientalising if it is not accompanied with a genuine interest in the culture itself.

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