VietnamCulture and HistoryWhat to Know about the Vietnamese Culture

What to Know about the Vietnamese Culture

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If Vietnamese hospitality has always been fascinating to you, you should make a trip to Vietnam and study the culture here because there is more to discover. Read our guide on what to know about Vietnamese culture and learn more about the beliefs, customs, and family values in this amazing country.

A Brief Look at the Vietnamese Culture

Vietnam is a country in the Southeast Asia cultural sphere and thus shares many similar traditions with other Asian countries, such as the traditional holidays (i.e., Lunar New Year and Mid-autumn). And because Vietnam was colonized for over a thousand years by China, Vietnamese values, norms, and moral compass have been affected by the Chinese culture and values like Confucianism teachings. Influences from French culture started during colonization in the 19th century and are reflected in the country’s architecture and foods. From the 20th century to the 1990s, Vietnam has been exposed to Western culture, particularly the US culture, through the media.

Even though there are still forms of hierarchy like that between boss and employees in the office, the distance is not as significant as it used to be. According to a study by Hofstede, Vietnamese welcome changes and “deviance from the norm”, and believe in investment for the future, but “are restrained by social norms” and value their group opinions. You will see the results are primarily right and reflected in the daily life of the Vietnamese. The locals are friendly, mild-mannered, quickly update and welcome new trends, especially the support for the LGBT Vietnam movement in 2015. However, the group decision and acceptance are fundamental, which is why the LGBT movement was carried out to raise awareness and acceptance of society.

Whether you’re assigned to write a Vietnamese culture essay or any other academic writing task, read our guide on what to know about Vietnamese culture and learn more about this fantastic country’s beliefs, customs, and family values. Students looking for professional help with topics about Vietnam can use writing services like Online experts will assist with any project and help you boost your knowledge of Vietnamese culture.

Vietnamese Beliefs

There are 11 recognized religions in Vietnam: Buddhism, Islam, the Bahai Faith, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, the Pure Land Buddhist Home Practice, the Four Debts of Gratitude, the Threefold Enlightened Truth Path, and the Threefold Southern Tradition. Buddhism is the mainstream, with more than half of the population being followers. Many do not strictly practice Buddhism but also believe in Buddha’s teachings. (Check out here to see Vietnam pagodas worth visiting)

Below are the statistics of religions in Vietnam:

  • Over 50% of the population are Mayahana Buddhism followers.
  • 1.2% of the population are Theravada Buddhists followers.
  • 7% of the population is practicing Catholicism.
  • 2.5-4% are practicing Cao Dai.
  • 1.5-3% are practicing Hoa Hao.
  • 1.2% population are Protestant followers.
  • Other religions only account for 0.1% of the population.

In Vietnam, Confucianism is a way of life rather than a religious belief. The teachings have encouraged fondness for learning, love for society, and love for family. Besides that, ancestor worship is another tradition of the Vietnamese; there are shrines and altars of a family ancestor in every home, even for people with Catholic beliefs as long as there are no superstitious practices. The death memorials are held every year with the appropriate offerings like food that the ancestors liked. The wedding ceremony can also take place in front of the altar to receive blessings and approval.

Read more on Religions in Vietnam

Vietnamese Family Values

It is not uncommon for children to stay with their parents even after high school graduation or getting married. Families of three or even four generations living together are not rare, even though this trend is starting to change, as young Vietnamese – the Millennials and their next generations – are joining in the global citizenship trend, moving around the world or in the country to study and work.

In Vietnam, children are taught to pay respect to anyone who is older than them by greeting them and their use of language. They are also expected to take care of their parents and grandparents when they get older, even though they have their own families; putting their parents in the nursing house is not common. On the other hand, parents always prioritize their kids’ studies and expect them to do well at school. The parents are supposed to take care of their children’s children so that their children can go out to work.

Vietnamese Customs

Even though the Vietnamese are friendly and mild-mannered, there are things you should and should not do in Vietnam to avoid being an unaware visitor.

vietnamese culture donts

Vietnamese Culture Dos:

  • Dress appropriately. The top sleeves must be long enough to cover your shoulder. When going to religious places like temples, pagodas, and churches, you should wear pants at least knee-length.
  • Greet the elders when visiting one’s house to acknowledge them that you are coming to visit and say goodbye to notice upon leaving.
  • Ask if you need to remove your shoes before entering a house. There are houses where people walk barefoot or with their home slippers. In some religious places, they will ask you to take off your shoes and use your slippers. You may want to put your shoes in a bag and bring them inside; otherwise, they may get stolen, especially those expensive sneakers.
  • Use both hands when receiving from the elder. It is to show respect and gratitude to the elderly.
  • When invited to houses and parties, bring gifts. Common gifts in Vietnam are fruits, confectionery, flowers, beers, wine, and other beverages. Avoid using Marigold (Chrysanthemum) because it is offered to the dead, or give sharp objects like a knife and scissors as they indicate separation.
  • Offer to let the elder sit first and sit at the place you are shown to. The colors of the presents also have meanings. Black and white should only be used on funeral occasions, while red is used to wish someone good luck.
  • Ask before taking a picture, especially at sacred places.
  • Beware of your surroundings. The local house has small shrines and altars, so you may not want to accidentally point your feet or bottom towards them.
  • Cover your mouth when using a toothpick
  • Hold your bowl while eating
  • Try to finish your food. For a developing country, it is a custom since there are other places with severe starvation and not enough to eat, so leaving food behind is considered a waste and disrespectful to people who have grown the produce and prepared the meals.

Vietnamese Culture Don’ts:

  • Show affection in public. Handshakes, holding hands, and hugs (depending on how close you are to the person) are acceptable physical contact in public places. Restrictions include cuddling and kissing. In general, showing too much affection will get you stares. Make sure to ask if you want to give a hug or shake hands with other people, especially the opposite sex.
  • Pointing your finger at someone is rude and disrespectful. If you need to address someone, use your hand.
  • Talk with food in your mouth. If you need to speak while eating, cover your mouth so that people cannot see the food.
  • Stick your chopsticks vertically in the bowl. If you need to put them down, put them on the table or horizontally on the bowl. Sticking chopsticks in the bowl is only for the dead, representing an incense offering.
vietnamese culture chopsticks
  • Wearing too much jewelry can make you appear a showoff and expose you to more danger, such as being robbed. Put valuable things in a safe in hotel rooms or hide them where they cannot be found easily.
  • Lose your temper in a public place. Vietnamese have high face value so making a scene in public areas only makes both sides lose their faces.

Vietnamese Cultural Symbols

vietnamese culture lotus

Important symbols representing Vietnamese culture include the dragon – the symbol of royalty, strength, and prosperity; the turtle – the myth in Ho Guom Lake, a wise and mysterious power. The lotus flower is a simple and pure beauty once featured in a poem by Ho Chi Minh. Besides those symbols, the buffalo was chosen as the mascot of the 2003 SEA Games because it represents Vietnamese agriculture and strength. Other icons of Vietnam you may find familiar in tourism are the bronze drum, non la, ao dai, and pho.

Vietnamese Communications

When communicating with Vietnamese, many things are not said verbally but implied between the lines or through non-verbal gestures. To save face, people usually do not turn down an invitation but later find an excuse not to attend. A smile could have many meanings, like greeting, approval, apology, and acceptance. There is not as much eye contact as when speaking to Westerners, but lack of eye contact also means dishonesty. In Vietnamese body language, a nod means yes, shaking your head from side to side means “no”, a two-finger pose of a V-sign means “hi”, “thumbs up” means good – “number one”, agree, and the middle finger doesn’t have any meaning to the elderly. Read more on Useful Phrases in Vietnamese.

Other Vietnamese Culture

  • Clothing: ao dai, ao ba ba, and ao tu than. Each has its unique design but still shares similarities with the costumes of other cultures in Asia.
  • Pho and banh mi. They both came into existence after the French colonization, reflecting the poor living conditions. Their ingredients are simple and native to Vietnam, but the combinations create complex textures and flavors.
  • Martial arts: Vovinam, the proud martial art of Vietnam martial arts with the neck lock, is the most iconic feature.

Conclusion on the Vietnamese Culture

Vietnam is a country with beautiful beaches and delicious foods and a place to discover a rich and diversified culture. Vietnamese culture is a fusion of traditional and contemporary values; the harmony of many religions in one country and the closeness of one member to the other family members are what you may find interesting. Read the tips on Vietnamese customs and communication to blend in with the locals and have a memorable trip exploring a new culture.

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