VIETNAMESE people’s friendliness is almost unparalleled by other Southeast Asian nations.
Instead of striking up conversations to sell you something, or coerce you into a tuk-tuk ride, the majority of Vietnamese people simply want to say hello and at most practice their English.
As a foreigner, your friendliness will be reciprocated with beaming smiles, children waving enthusiastically. and endearing older women patting your cheeks.
It’s surprising just how tolerant and welcoming the Vietnamese are of tourists, considering the nation’s history of colonization, famine and brutal wars with interfering Western nations.
Understanding the difficulties this Southeast Asian nation has been through to get where it is today should make you even more grateful that they’re a society who openly welcomes foreigners.
This hospitable nature stretches to forgiving foreigners for a few innocent cultural mishaps along the way. Such as dropping your chopsticks or mispronouncing a word and accidentally calling someone a rude name.
But there are a few cultural customs which foreigners should be aware of before visiting the land of the “Ascending Dragon” to prevent causing offense to locals.
Not abiding to superstitions
Vietnam remains a deeply superstitious place. From eating a fertilized duck egg to reverse bad luck, to burning ghost money out of respect for ancestors, every minor and major moment in someone’s life appears to be accompanied by a superstition.
Foreigners needn’t concern themselves with too many Vietnamese superstitions, but an important one dictates that you must buy something from a shop if you’re the first customer of the day.
If you leave without purchasing anything, you set the tone for a bad day’s business.
Or your body
On the same note, wearing revealing clothes in Vietnam is considered rude, especially in places of worship. In fact, you’ll probably be denied entry to pagodas and temples if your shorts, dress or skirt doesn’t fall below your knees.
However, in major cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, skimpier outfits aren’t frowned upon.
Just be sure to respect your surroundings wherever you are.
Don’t flaunt your wealth
No matter if it’s big or small notes, flashing any sort of cash is considered rude.
Settling a bill or passing money onto street entertainers is no biggie, but if you start counting the contents of your wallet in public, you’ll be met with scorned looks.
Keep your hands to yourself
Holding hands is fine, but make sure they stay clasped and don’t go wandering across each other’s bodies.
Public displays of affection are a rare sight in Vietnam so don’t go smooching on the street or canoodling in a restaurant, unless you want to attract stares and tuts from locals.
There’s a limit to haggling
Unlike in other haggling capitals such as Morocco where shopkeepers and patrons could haggle for hours about the price of a leather bag, in Vietnam, there is a limit.
A general haggling rule in Vietnam is that foreigners go in at half of the asking price. However, if the seller becomes frustrated, you’re likely to have offended them.
At this point, it’s best to say thank you, cảm ơn bạn, and leave.
Leave your anger at the airport, especially on the roads
Vietnamese people aren’t confrontational even on the chaotic roads where the rules of traffic lights don’t apply.
Instead, scooters, cars, lorries, and pedestrians use the roads simultaneously without paying much attention to traffic laws.
But they manage to do this without yelling at each other or shooting off rude gestures.
If you’re considering hiring a car or scooter while in Vietnam, remember everyone has a right of way and getting angry at another vehicle will only put you more at risk of having an accident.
So, drive safely with a zen attitude.