A meal with the local people is a great occasion to learn more about Vietnamese culture, and you might want to know some basic rules of traditional Vietnamese table manner beforehand. The majority of them are created to make sure you eat in an unhurried way, which is believed to be the behavior of the intellectual and economic elite.
Chopsticks are a type of utensil that cannot be missed out on in Vietnamese family meals. Children start learning how to use chopsticks at a very young age as well as many rules of traditional Vietnamese table manner. It is not only just about chopsticks etiquettes but also about how to act politely and respectfully with that pair of sticks in your hand.
When picking up food, instead of putting it straight into your mouth, put it in your bowl first. By doing it, your actions would appear to be more polite and courteous. Furthermore, there will be a rich variety of Vietnamese dipping sauces on the table, so following this rule can help you avoid splashing the unwanted condiment onto your clothes, the table of people next to you.
Don’t make noises with the chopsticks or put the chopsticks erect into your bowls. Hitting bowls or dishes with chopsticks is believed to be the behavior of beggars, while sticking the chopsticks straight down into your bowls may resemble the incense on the altar. These are the last thing you should do at a Vietnamese meal as they are thought to attract devils and bring bad fortunes.
You should never stick your chopsticks straight down into your bowl
Do not dig into the dish to find your favorite piece. For example, if you prefer meat over vegetables, don’t toss around the greens to look for what you like. It is deemed to be disrespectful as people feel they can only eat what they do not want to. Note that eating only one or two types of food during the whole meal can also be considered as being rude, so try eating other exotic ones, they might be better than you thought.
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Do not dip your chopsticks into the shared bowl. There is usually see a big bowl of soup in Vietnamese family meals. While picking food on shared plates is acceptable, do not do the same with the shared bowl. Instead, use a ladle or an unused pair of chopsticks to pick up some food.
This rule is also applied when eating hotpot: You should not dip your chopsticks into the cooking pot
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Making Noises While Eating
Although it is fine to share some small conversations while eating, making too much sound at the table is considered impolite. Therefore, be careful not to slurp or chew too loudly. Besides, remember not to stuff too much food in your mouth or talk while chewing.
The Right Eating Posture of Traditional Vietnamese Table Manner
According to the traditional Vietnamese table manner, you should keep your back straight in a meal, never put your hands under the table or lean your elbows on it even when you need to raise the bowl to your mouth. Shaking your legs is another inappropriate thing to do when eating with Vietnamese as it not only irritates people but also makes you appear to be inferior. It will greatly help if you can also Learn about Vietnamese Non-verbal Communication.
Shaking your legs may cause annoyance
Sitting neither too close nor too far from the table is not really a formal rule, but it can help you enjoy the meal more comfortably. A suitable distance would make picking up food more easily as well as not disturbing people around.
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When to Start Eating and Leave the Table
Daily meals play essential roles in Vietnamese family values. It is when everyone can gather and talk to each other, which enhances the bonds among all members. Because of this, the meals are expected to start only after every person has settled down in their seat.
However, you should not start to eat the moment everyone has just shown up. In traditional Vietnamese table manner, there is a conception that the oldest or most powerful person should be the one who eats first, only then can the others enjoy the food. In family meals, according to Vietnamese traditional gender roles, that person would usually be the father or the grandfather. At companies’ parties, it would be the one holding the highest positions. But in some cases, if you join the meal as their guest or partner, the host might invite you to use the food first to show their hospitality and goodwill.
The oldest man in the family is usually the one who can eat first
Knowing when to leave the table is also important. You might or might not be the person to eat first, but it would be better if you are not the one who leaves first. The meals are when many people are open to sharing their stories, so they are not just about eating but also about bonding with each other. If somebody finishes too soon, it might make the rest uncomfortable. Therefore, take your time to enjoy the food while getting to know more about Vietnamese culture and daily life.
Vietnamese family meal is a time for bonding so leaving too early is not highly encouraged
Some Other Notes When Joining A Meal Hosted by Vietnamese Family
Following these notes will help you avoid unintentionally causing inconvenience to the host but still have an enjoyable meal.
Feel free to tell the host in advance if you have any special diet. Vietnam is heaven for food lovers, which also means that we have tons of fascinating dishes made from the combination of countless ingredients, which may, unfortunately, cause an upset stomach. Informing the host about your diet would keep you safe and help the cook adjust the recipe appropriately.
Take a look at 20 Best Vietnamese Dishes to know the common ingredients of Vietnamese cuisine and prepare yourself.
Ask the host about where you are supposed to sit. In many families, there are fixed seats for each member. When there are guests, chairs would be added, but the order remains almost the same. Usually where you sit would depend on who directly invited you, so if you are not sure, just ask.
At important ceremonies such as weddings, death anniversaries, women and men usually do not sit together. Most of the time, people around the same age would sit together for more comfortable communication. Kids sometimes also have their separate tables so that they will not disturb the adults.
See here for more information about table settings and etiquettes
Summary of An Introduction to Traditional Vietnamese Table Manner
The aforementioned are some basic traditional Vietnamese table manners, but there’s no need to worry if you are not yet used to the local customs. On top of that, the rules vary in different Vietnamese regions and cultures, so don’t hesitate to take part in a family meal to learn more about the local traditions.
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