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Culture Vietnam

Europeans behave differently from the Vietnamese in many ways. The following tips should help you avoid the biggest misunderstandings.

Etiquette: The Vietnamese are very friendly people. They are very open to contact with the outside world, especially in the South. In the North, people are generally more reserved. Do not criticise anyone in public. Being criticised in the presence of others is seen as a severe loss of face and is one of the worst things that can happen to a Vietnamese. Try to remain amiable, even if this doesn’t immediately seem to work. A grin can work wonders, but getting angry is counter-productive. If you enter a house or temple, you will be expected to remove your shoes. Like us, men shake hands as greeting, although women usually only nod their head. Nuns and monks often greet each other in the traditional way by folding their hands in front of them and bowing slightly. It is polite to return this sort of greeting. Caution: women are not allowed to touch Buddhist monks. Public displays of affection are frowned upon.

Meetings: We come from an extremely hurried culture where time is money and appointments and meetings must be kept punctually. The Vietnamese feel no such need. That is not to say that they will come late, they may come an hour early if they have nothing else to do that day. They live in the here and now. They worry far less about the future and have much more patience.

Curiosity: Questions about subjects that we would see as personal, such as age, salary, religion and other private matters are very normal in Vietnam. You may at some point acquire a crowd of interested Vietnamese asking you questions, especially in the areas where fewer tourists visit. They will wish to know everything about you and may even want to touch your hair to confirm that it is real. Other Vietnamese may approach you for a conversation simply to practise their English. If that is the case, do not talk openly about politics, as many natives will fear trouble with the police if they do so.

Haggling: This is a regular part of Vietnamese life. You will be expected to haggle in the markets, in souvenir shops and with cyclo drivers (bicycle rickshaws). If you need a cyclo for the whole day, it is better to agree on a price beforehand. Remain calm and good-natured – haggling is a social activity in Vietnam and not a matter of life and death!

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