How to show respect in Vietnamese culture? Here’s what you need to know before travelling to Vietnam.
Different countries have different answers to “how to show respect”. This varies from culture to culture and beliefs.
Greeting each other
Greeting someone is perhaps the most common way of showing respect wherever you go, and in Vietnam, “Xin chào” (pronounced sin chow) is the appropriate formal greeting to foreigners.
Handshakes are also deemed a respectful gesture, some Vietnamese use a two-handed handshake, with the left hand resting on the right wrist.
The traditional greeting consists of pressing the hands in front of the body and bowing slightly, but this method is a bit old-fashioned and is only practiced in formal situations. In most cases, a bow is sufficient.
Note that you always take off your shoes when you enter someone’s home.
Respect for the elderly people
Vietnam, as well as other countries in Asia, has great respect for their elders. In whatever situation you find yourself in Vietnam, always make sure to honor and respect any elder.
Out of respect for the elderly or other esteemed people, such as the monks, you should take off your hat and politely bow your head when addressing them.
Meals are considered an important moment in Vietnamese culture and there are several things to note on how to show respect.
Note that it is customary to wait for the oldest person to start the meal first.
The chopsticks should generally be placed on top of the bowl. Do not place the chopsticks vertically straight up on a bowl of rice. It is considered disrespectful in Vietnam, as it looks like incense sticks on an altar, which is observed only for worshiping the ancestors and therefore, reserved for the dead people.
Also, never tap the chopsticks on the rim of the bowl. This means bringing bad luck and poverty to the family.
Do not point the chopsticks at anyone as it is very impolite.
During a meal, remember to pass a bowl with both hands. As much as possible don’t eat directly from the shared centre dish. Remember to put the food in your bowl first before eating it.
In Vietnam, when you take the food from shared dishes, it is also impolite to rummage through the dish for good portions, such as chicken legs and wings.
This act is considered selfish, which is not appreciated in a socialist culture like Vietnam.
Turning the fish dish over is considered an unfortunate sign, which resembles the image of the boat turning over. This rule is taken very seriously in the coastal regions of Vietnam.
And of course don’t forget to say “Cam on” (meaning “Thank you”) to the host after the meal.
In the temples
Whenever you are visiting a Buddhist temple or any religious places in Vietnam, make sure to dress appropriately. Avoid shorts, skirts, low neckline, sleeveless, or any revealing types of clothing.
This simple gesture applies to the State institutions. You will not necessarily be criticized verbally if you arrive in this kind of clothing, but it is not advisable.
You must speak in a low tone of voice and avoid touching the objects of worship. It is also important not to point your feet towards a sacred object, such as an image of Buddha or an altar.
Practice the art of saving face
The idea of “saving face” has long been an important part of life in Vietnam and perhaps in most Asian countries as well.
Most locals will avoid public displays that could compromise their reputation.
As a general rule, keep your cool and avoid loud arguments, making a scene, berating others for mistakes, or pointing out anything that may cause the locals to feel shamed.
Pro tip: Vietnamese dislike public displays of affection, and men and women often do not touch in front of others. Try to respect the local sentiment by keeping public displays of affection to a minimum.