Body language plays a critical part in communication. In some circumstances, body gestures can speak louder than verbal expressions. Besides, non-verbal communication is also different among countries, which can cause misunderstandings and troubles if people do not understand the meaning of each gesture in one culture. Being a typical Asian country, Vietnam also has several standard rules in non-verbal communication as other countries in the same region. However, a range of unique gestures in Vietnamese non-verbal communication convey different messages from those of other countries.
Body Language in Vietnamese Non-verbal Communication
Showing respect to the seniors in Vietnamese Non-verbal Communication
In Vietnamese society, people at higher ages or high positions in the workplace usually receive respect from younger people and subordinates. This is quite different from Western countries. To show respect for seniors, people often avoid direct eye contact with the opposite person. Eye contact with a person of higher status means rude or deep passion (if the person is of the opposite sex). When subordinates and juniors receive or give something to the seniors, they should do so with both hands.
Greetings in Vietnamese Non-verbal Communication
Formally, the Vietnamese greet each other by saying “Xin Chao” accompanied by a handshake. This gesture is used between two men, acceptable between a man and a woman, or between elders and their posterity. A handshake between two women is rarely used, though it is getting more normalized nowadays. But most often, Vietnamese say hello to another person by waving hands to show excitement or by nodding slightly and smiling. Unlike some other cultures where people kiss others’ cheeks as a substitute for greetings, this action in Vietnam is considered quite intimate and inappropriate.
Find out more about Vietnamese greetings
Children may cross their arms and slightly bow to show great respect to their seniors and elders. Younger people would often bow slightly when greeting an older person.
Children often cross their arms to show respect to elders
Read more about Vietnamese Traditional Family Values
Differences between Some Western and Vietnamese Non-verbal Communication Gestures
In Vietnamese non-verbal communication, several actions are like the ones in Western countries but have different meanings. One of those is the crossed-finger gesture. This hand gesture is seen as an action to wish for luck or means “Good luck!” in Western culture. However, in Vietnam, this is called vulgar action and means you are angry and wish to offend others.
Another gesture that may cause some misunderstandings is winking. For foreigners from Western, sometimes you give a wink just for fun. But if you give a Vietnamese a wink (with the opposite sex), it is certain he or she will interpret it as a flirting signal. If you are impressed by a Vietnamese, this can be used as a signal to him or her. However, some Vietnamese might deem this facial expression improper, and sometimes, people can get annoyed.
When entering a restaurant, how do you attract attention from the waiter or waitress? Probably, you will beckon him or her. However, this action is used only for calling animals or a child. If you express this to your friends, colleagues, or seniors, they will immediately get angry and offended.
Sitting with your legs crossed is a prevalent posture in some Western countries. In Vietnamese settings, this posture can express comfort while one is among close friends, but in other cases, it expresses superiority, even showing a sign of aggressiveness. Therefore, mind the way you sit. And one last thing, do not cross your legs while showing the sole of your shoe (picture below) because this posture is overall flippant.
People know that a smile is an expression of happiness or satisfaction. Foreign nationals coming to Vietnam usually wonder why Vietnamese smile so often. Smiling in Vietnamese culture embodies many meanings depending on different situations. Sometimes, a smile substitutes for an apology or thanks, especially for small mistakes, minor misunderstandings, or favors.
When people meet their friends or close relatives, they can give a smile instead of saying “Hi/Hello.” If you see any strangers on the street smiling at you, they just want to say hello to you in a friendly Vietnamese way, or they might want to ask you something, like trying to practice their English. In these cases, another smile from you is an appropriate reply to them.
Things You Should Avoid in Vietnamese Non-verbal Communication
1. The top of the head is the most crucial part to the Vietnamese, so people feel offended when someone pats or touches their heads. It also applies to the back of the body. However, these gestures are allowed toward kids.
2. When entering a Vietnamese home, you should not wear your shoes in their house. It is a norm to take off your shoes before entering every house in Vietnam. This is just because Vietnamese homemakers mop and sweep the floor daily, so they want to keep it clean.
3. Public expression of affection is not common in Vietnam. People often feel embarrassed and weird seeing someone kissing or hugging in public. Holding hands or linking arms is acceptable.
4. Do not point your finger at other people. This action is considered rude.
5. Vietnamese people tend to be polite by offering someone to have a meal (or even a snack) with them, even when they don’t mean it. So, don’t be surprised when you are around a Vietnamese who is about to eat something and he offers you to join. This is a polite invitation, and declining is often the expected response, although you are welcome to join.
6. Using chopsticks is a habit of every Vietnamese. When using chopsticks, never pitch your chopsticks over the rice bowl. This is referred to as bad luck and can be seen as the symbol of death because this image can be associated with the burning incense pitched into the censer. So remember to avoid this when having meals with Vietnamese.
7. Do not buy and give yellow chrysanthemums to other people in Vietnam because this flower is only used to set up altars and funerals.
Check out other interesting things about Vietnamese culture on our blogs for further readings.
Summary of Vietnamese Non-verbal Communication
In Vietnam, locals prefer to use non-verbal language rather than verbal language. People tend to hide their feelings as they are quite reserved, so don’t consider this an unfriendly attitude. After reading this article, hopefully, you will be more clear about the Vietnamese non-verbal language. And take it easy. Vietnamese are easy-going, and nobody is likely to take it personally if you do not know about these norms.