Respecting Vietnamese Culture – Dos and Donts for Your Vietnam Vacation

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Vietnam is a safe and friendly country, but its unique culture can come as a shock to foreign travelers.

As with entering any country, it’s important to be sensitive of these customs and do your best to fit in. The advice you’ll find here will help you avoid making any embarrassing faux pas.

Friendliness is something the Vietnamese people pride themselves on, and you will never see one drop this happy façade in public. Travelers should do the same and avoid losing their temper, especially when bargaining in the markets or dealing with members of the hospitality industry. This kind of scene is interpreted as a loss of face for both parties.

Vietnamese people dress conservatively, particularly by Western standards. While in summer it’s especially tempting to wear singlet tops and shorts, the locals frown on foreigners who show too much skin. It’s particularly important to dress modestly when visiting pagodas and other religious sites, as the Vietnamese see the wearing of immodest clothes in these sacred places as offensive.

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This call for modesty extends to the wearing of jewelry or carrying of large sums of money. It is considered impolite to flaunt your wealth, and on a practical level it may make you a target for pick-pocketing.

It also extends to behavior. While public displays of affection are accepted in the Western world, they are frowned upon in Vietnam. A couple may hold hands, but they should only hug and kiss behind closed doors.

If you strike up a friendship with one of the locals there are some rules to remember when visiting their home. Shoes should be left at the front door before entering. Most Vietnamese homes have a family altar, a place where they can honor their ancestors and consult them on important family matters. Visitors should never sleep or sit with their feet pointing towards this family altar.

It is also considered impolite to snap a person’s photo before asking them. Many locals will be happy to star in your shot, but some will not. It’s important to respect the wishes of any unwilling models. You should not push the issue or offer them money in an attempt to change their mind. You should also never take a photograph of a military installation, officer, or anything else to do with Vietnam’s military. This may be seen as a security breach, and dealt with accordingly. While you may want to preserve your entire vacation, you should leave your video camera at home when visiting small villages. The locals consider these modern devices to be intrusive.

There is a lot to remember when visiting Vietnam, but don’t worry if you get it wrong. The Vietnamese people will appreciate your efforts and forgive any indiscretions.

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