‘Tis the season of hosting, visiting and making merry — with the COVID caveat that we keep our social groupings small. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about customs and etiquette in Vietnam. So if your small holiday gathering includes someone who is from Vietnam, or if you are planning a trip to this beautiful nation (COVID willing) in the future, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Making a good impression
Family and community are of the utmost importance in Vietnamese culture. As in many Asian cultures, honoring family members of advanced age is a key tenant. Make sure to greet elderly individuals first with a bow, and if you’re waiting in line for something don’t be surprised, or make a scene, if an older person cuts in front of you. Some other things to keep in mind include:
- Try to learn one or two greetings in Vietnamese. We have many Vietnamese Language learning resources in our collection.
- Make sure to remove your shoes when entering a house or business owned by a Vietnamese person.
- Be sure to pick up the tab if you’ve invited a Vietnamese person out for food or drinks — they would if they invited you out.
- If you are the guest in a Vietnamese household, allow your host to show you where you are to be seated.
As Junelle mentioned in her delightful post on Vietnamese Coffee, there are a wealth of delights to tickle your taste buds in the Vietnamese culinary tradition. If you’re the guest of Vietnamese folks, they WILL feed you! Make sure to vocally mention that you’re full, or if you’re using chopsticks, lay them across your rice bowl. Here are a couple of other pointers:
- If you’re wanting to get the attention of the server in a Vietnamese restaurant call out “ban oi”, which roughly translates to “hey, friend, come here.”
- Are you the guest of honor? Prepare to be the first person asked to sample each dish. If something is not to your liking, swallow it politely to acknowledge this gesture of friendship.
- Do not eat food directly from a communal plate. Move it to your own plate and then enjoy.
- Don’t know how to use chopsticks or are having difficulty picking up a particularly slippery morsel? Don’t be afraid to ask for a fork.
- It is a major faux pas to take the last piece of food from a communal plate.
The art of gifting
- In Vietnam it is customary to bring a small gift for the host, to be presented as you part ways. Expense is not important when giving gifts, but try to give something that is unique and wouldn’t normally be something they would buy for themself.
- It’s customary to bring a small cash gift to weddings or funerals in Vietnam.
- Giving a gift to a newly married couple? Make sure to give the same item to both the bride and groom. It’s considered an ill omen for the marriage to give a single item to newlyweds.
These are just small lists of things to keep in mind in social interactions with people from Vietnam. There is so much more to learn about the customs and social practices of those who hail from this great land. I found the following books particularly helpful for this post.
This is the last blog post of 2021! We hope that everyone stays safe and has a restful holiday break. All University of Alberta Library locations and chat reference service will be closed from December 24 through January 3. You can find our Winter Term hours listed on our Hours & Locations page.
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