Guide to living in Vietnam, the etiquette and way of life |

Guide to living in Vietnam, the etiquette and way of life

Guide to the etiquette, meeting and greeting locals, your body language and gestures local customs and how to behvae...

Posted on

3 June 2014

Last updated on 29 June 2017
Guide to living in Vietnam, the etiquette and way of life

Vietnam, as most Asian countries, has specific codes of etiquette in both business and everyday life that you should try to adhere to. The Vietnamese are proud of their culture and heritage and this is displayed in their interactions on a daily basis. Disrespecting the traditions will not buy you extra points; however they are a friendly people and teach you their ways and customs and in turn learn yours.

Body Language and Gestures

  • Do not touch someone on the head as this is considered very inappropriate even with small children.

  • Do not point your finger or use your finger to summon someone. Always use your open hand to gesture with and an extended hand, palm down, to summon someone.

  • Do not use negative or domineering body language such as standing with your hands on your hips or with your arms crossed.

  • Men and women do not engage in any form of public affection, and it is considered discourteous to even engage in any form of physical contact with a member of the opposite sex. However, people of the same gender frequently hold hands when walking.

  • When passing any object use both hands, however do not pass anything over anybody’s head.

  • Don’t touch anyone on the shoulder.


  • Use both hands when shaking hands in greeting. It is common to shake hands upon arrival and departure.

  • Bow slightly when greeting anyone. The elderly and women usually don’t shake hands, so a slight bow will suffice when greeting them.

  • When greeting someone Vietnamese say ‘xin chao’ pronounced ‘seen chow’. It will delight the Vietnamese to hear a westerner making an effort to speak Vietnamese.

Dining Etiquette

  • Wait to be seated at the table.

  • The Vietnamese use chopsticks and rice bowls most frequently when dining and it is the norm to lift the bowl close to your mouth when eating. Try to finish all of your food and once you are done place the chop sticks on top of your bowl. If you are taking a break between bites rest your chopsticks next to your bowl. It is impolite to leave them in the bowl.

  • Most times food will be served family style, in the centre of the table and people are encouraged to help themselves. Always pass food bowls with both hands.

  • If your host offers you tea at the beginning of the evening accept it graciously, even if you’re not in the mood for tea. It’s only polite to accept.

Gift giving etiquette

  • If you are invited to a Vietnamese home don’t arrive empty handed. It is customary for guests to bring flowers, incense, fruit or sweets.

  • Wrap gifts in colourful paper.

  • Give useful gifts, not ornaments.

  • Don’t give anything black, handkerchiefs or yellow flowers. These gifts are considered to be bad omens and people will not like you very much if you give them.