Information about Vietnam. The dos and the dont's, business etiquette, general information about the country. The document was created for the project Info4migrants. Project number UK/13/LLP-LdV/TOI-615
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Project number: UK/13/LLP-LdV/TOI-615
Country profile VIETNAMLearnmera Oy www.thelanguagemenu.com2
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Official name: the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Location: South-Eastern Asia, bordering the Gulf of Thailand,
Gulf of Tonkin, and South China Sea, alongside China, Laos, and
Climate: tropical in south; monsoonal in north with hot, rainy
season (mid-May to mid-September) and warm, dry season
(mid-October to mid-March), subtropical climate in northern
Vietnam with distinct 4 seasons.
Ethnic Make-up: 54 ethnic groups. Kinh (86.2%), Tay (1.9%), Thai
(1.7%), Khmer, Hoa (Chinese), Hmong, Cham, and other minor
Religions: Buddhist, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, Christian (predominantly
Roman Catholic, some Protestant), indigenous beliefs and Mus-
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Vietnamese is a tonal language that can be compared to
Cambodia’s official language, Khmer. With each syllable,
there are six different tones that can be used, which change
the meaning. This often makes it difficult for foreigners to
pick up the language.
There are other languages spoken as well, for example
Chinese, Khmer, Cham and tribal languages spoken by
tribes inhabiting the mountainous regions. There are some
similarities between Vietnamese and Southeast Asian lan-
guages, such as Chinese, but Vietnamese is thought to be a
separate language group, even though it is a member of the
Austro-Asiatic language family.
In written form, Vietnamese uses the Roman alphabet and
accent marks to show tones. This system of writing, called
quoc ngu, was created by Catholic missionaries in the 17th
century to translate the scriptures. Eventually this system,
particularly after World War I, replaced a system using Chi-
nese characters (chu nom), which had been the unofficial
written form used for centuries.
Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital and second largest city (af-
ter Ho Chi Minh City). Hanoi has been a major political
city in Vietnam since it was established in 1010, and
served as the capital of French Indochina and North
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Tết, or Vietnamese New Year, is the most important
celebration in Vietnamese culture. The word is a short-
ended form of Tết Nguyên Đán, which is Sino-Vietnam-
ese for “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day”. Tết
celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese
variation of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, where the
date usually falls between the months of January and
February. Vietnamese New Year, the first day of spring,
carries with it all the rebirth connotations that Easter
has in the West.
There are a lot of customs practiced during Tết, such as
visiting a person’s house on the first day of the New Year
(xông nhà), ancestral worshipping, wishing New Year’s
greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly
people, and opening a shop.
Tết is also an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions.
During Tết, Vietnamese visit their relatives and temples,
forgetting about the troubles of the past year and hop-
ing for a better upcoming year.
As of 2012, about 36 million people, constituting ap-
proximately 40% of all Vietnamese around the world,
share the same family name Nguyễn.
Nguyễn ranks 4th on the list of the world’s most com-
mon surnames, only after Li or Lee (with more than 120
million people), Zhang (100 million), and Wang (92.88
million). The Vietnamese surname is also becoming the
most popular one in Australia.
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The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochi-
na War, and also known in Vietnam as Resistance War
Against America, was a Cold War era proxy war that oc-
curred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 Novem-
ber 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.
Most Vietnamese consider themselves non-religious,
though many still attend religious services. Vietnam’s
government does not require an official religion, though
it only recognizes Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism,
Islam, Cao Dai, and Hoa Hao.
The main religion practiced in Vietnam is also the oldest
one, Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism, along with Confu-
cianism and Taoism, are considered the “Triple Religion”
that all work with one another. Vietnamese culture also
practices ancestor-worship, like much of Asia.
Hoa Hao (a form of Buddhism) and Cao Dai are two
religions of Vietnamese origin. Cao Dai is not generally
accepted as a form of Buddhism.
Vietnamese food is a blend of Chinese and Thai styles and
it is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world,
with its combination of fresh ingredients like fresh herbs,
seafood, fruits and vegetables along with fish sauce, shrimp
paste, soy sauce and rice.
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1 January: New Year’s Day
Vietnam takes part in the in-
ternational celebration of the
first day of the first month of
the Gregorian calendar.
Moveable date in January -
February: Lunar New Year
The “Feast of the First Morn-
ing”, or simply “Tet”, is the
most important occasion of
all Vietnam public holidays.
The week leading to Tet is
very busy as families clean
their homes, settle their
debts, buy new clothes,
personal effects and other
needs for the coming year,
cook food to last through the
festivities, and reconcile with
themselves and others to
leave behind any ill will.
Moveable date in April:
Hung King Festival
On this day, people pay trib-
ute to the Hung kings who
were instrumental in found-
ing Vietnam. Ceremonial
incense burning in temples
is performed in their mem-
ory and honor. The holiday
features bronze drum per-
formances, parades on stilts,
folk song contests, and drag-
30 April: Independence Day
On this day in 1975, Saigon
was captured by the Commu-
nist-backed Viet Cong, ending
the Vietnam War with the
United States on the losing
side. The “Fall of Saigon” led
to the reunification of North
and South, which for years
have been divided ideologi-
On this day, there are military
parades, cultural performanc-
es that highlight the triumph
of Vietnamese revolution-
aries, and fireworks that sig-
nal the hour when the South
1 May: International Labour
True to its working class
ideology, Vietnam honors the
laborers on this day and their
economic and social contri-
butions to the country.
2 September: National Day
Commemorates the day
when President Ho Chi Minh
declared Vietnam’s indepen-
dence from colonial forces.
On this day in 1945, Ho Chi
Minh read a declaration of
independence from France.
However, sovereignty would
only come after the Vietnam
War, when Northern Viet-
nam, backed by communist
China, finally won. To mark
this turning point in the coun-
try’s history, the yellow-star-
flags are flown everywhere,
and the streets and billboards
are flooded with pictures of
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• Vietnam is the largest exporter of cashews in the world,
and the second largest exporter of rice.
• Although Vietnam is a devel-
oping country, it has a literacy
rate of 94%.
• Among all developing countries, Viet-
nam has one of the lowest unemploy-
• An estimated ten million motor bikes travel
on the roads of Vietnam every day.
• Ruou ran (snake wine), a Vietnamese specialty
of rice wine with a pickled snake inside, allegedly
can cure any sickness.
• The Vietnamese language has six different tones.
A change in tone changes the meaning of the
• Vietnam is world-famous for its animal wildlife.
This wildlife – which includes elephants, buffa-
loes, tigers, monkeys, rhinoceroses, snakes and
turtles – attracts thousands of tourists to Viet-
nam each year.
• Local people prefer Saigon to Ho Chi Minh
City, which was imposed by the government in
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Respect for parents and ancestors is an
important virtue in Vietnam. The oldest
male in the family is the head of the family
and the most important family member. His
oldest son is the second leader of the fami-
ly. Sometimes, related families live together
in a big house and help each other.
Vietnam Culture vs Western Values
The French introduced Western values of
individual freedom and sexual equality,
which undermined the traditional Vietnam-
ese social system.
In urban areas, Western patterns of social
behaviour became increasingly common,
especially among educated and wealthy
Vietnamese who attended French schools,
read French books, replaced traditional at-
tire with Western-style clothing, and drank
French wines instead of the traditional wine
distilled from rice. Adolescents began to
resist the tradition of arranged marriages,
and women chafed under social mores that
demanded obedience to their fathers and
husbands. In the countryside, however, tra-
ditional Vietnamese family values remained
The trend toward adopting Western values
continues in South Vietnam after the divi-
sion of the country in 1954. Many young
people embraced sexual freedom and the
movies, clothing styles, and rock music
from Western cultures became popular. But
in the North, social ethnics were defined by
Vietnam Communist Party’s principles.
The government officially recognized equal-
ity of the sexes, and women began to ob-
tain employment in professions previously
dominated by men.
At the same time, the government began
enforcing a more puritanical lifestyle as a
means to counter the so-called decadent
practices of Western society. Traditional
values continued to hold sway in rural areas
and countryside, where the concept of
male superiority remained common.
In the 1980s, the Vietnamese government
adopted an economic reform program that
encouraged foreign investment and tourism
As a result, the Vietnamese people have
become increasingly acquainted with and
influenced by the lifestyles in developed
countries of Southeast South East Asia and
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Allegiance to the family
The most important factor in the value
system of the Vietnamese is, no doubt, the
family. The family is the center of the Viet-
namese common man’s preoccupation and
the backbone of Vietnamese society. By vir-
tue of the principle of collective and mutual
responsibility, each individual strives to be
the pride of his family.
Misconduct of an individual is blamed not
only on himself, but also on his parents,
siblings, relatives, and ancestors. Likewise,
any success or fame achieved by an individ-
ual brings honor and pride to all members
of his family. The Vietnamese child is taught
from early childhood to readily forget him-
self for the sake of his family’s welfare and
harmony. Central to the concept of family
is the obligation of filial piety which is con-
sidered the most essential of all virtues in
The profound love for and attachment
to the family is extended to the physical
set- ting in which the family is located: the
native village. The native village is not only
the place where he the child was born and
brought up and where his parents and
family live, but also a place where his their
ancestors are buried. Many Vietnamese,
especially people in the rural areas, never
move out of their native villages or prov-
inces. This deep attachment to the native
village explains the lack of horizontal mobil-
ity in Vietnamese society.
The concept of “good name”
The value that the Vietnamese place on the
concept of “good name” cannot be under-
estimated. To the Vietnamese, a
good name is better than any
material possession in this
world. By securing a
good name for him-
self, a man can com-
mand respect and
his fellow country-
A rich and pow-
erful person with
a bad reputation is
looked down upon,
while a poor man
with a good name is
There are three ways to ac-
quire a good name: either by he-
roic deeds, by intellectual achievements,
or by moral virtues. Leading a virtuous life
is the easiest and surest path to a good
name for there are few opportunities in our
everyday life to be heroic and few people
are endowed with exceptional intellectual
The virtues most cultivated are the sense
The Vietnamese value system is based on
four basic tenets: allegiance to the family,
yearning for a good name, love of learn-
ing, and respect for other people. These
tenets are closely interrelated.
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of honor, honesty, righteousness, modesty,
generosity, and disdain for material gains,
virtues most extolled by the Confucian
doctrine. In view of the strong solidarity of
the Vietnamese family, it is not surprising to
know that the Vietnamese strives for a good
name not only for himself, but also for his
parents and children.
Love of learning
The Vietnamese people in general seem to
have a great love for knowledge and learn-
ing. They seem He seems to have particular
respect and admiration for learned people.
Like the virtuous man, the learned man
enjoys great prestige in Vietnamese society.
Often, they are the one and the same man.
The Vietnamese conceives that knowledge
and virtues are but the two complementary
aspects of the ideal man.
People associated with knowledge and
learning (scholars, writers and teachers)
have always been highly respected, not only
by the students but also by parents and
people from all walks of life.
Learning is considered more valuable than
wealth and material success. Rich people
who are not educated are often looked
down upon by other people, and they
them- selves feel inferior to learned peo-
ple who are poor. In the traditional social
system the scholar ranked first, before the
farmer, artisan, and tradesman.
Even nowadays, the learned man is held
in high esteem and respect. The love of
learning does not spring from purely disin-
terested motives. The lure of prestige and
the prospect of improved social status are
among the strongest incentives to the pur-
suit of knowledge. Education represents the
essential stepping stones to the social lad-
der and to good job opportunities. It is the
prime force of vertical mobility in Vietnam-
Concept of respect
The Vietnamese common man is expected
to show respect to people who are senior to
him in age, status, or position. At home, a
person should show respect to his parents,
older siblings, and older relatives. This is
expressed by obedience in words and ac-
tion. Respect is a part of the concept of filial
Outside the family, respect should be paid
to elderly people, teachers, clergymen,
supervisors and employers, and people in
high positions. Learned and virtuous people
enjoy special respect and admiration. But
respect is not a one-way behavior. The Viet-
namese also expect other people to show
respect, by virtue of theirthe age, status, or
position. Special respect is gained by lead-
ing a virtuous life, by accomplishing certain
heroic deeds or by achieving a high degree
Respect is expressed by specific behaviors
and linguistic devices inherent in the Viet-
namese language. It is one of the essential
factors in the value system of the Vietnam-
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• Wait to be shown where to sit.
• The oldest person should sit first.
• Pass dishes with both hands.
• The most common utensils are chopsticks and a flat spoon.
• Chopsticks should be placed on the table or a chopstick rest after every few mouthfuls
or when pausing to drink or speak.
• People hold bowls close to their faces.
• Hold the spoon in your left hand while eating soup.
• Meals are typically served family-style.
• Try to finish everything on your plate.
• When you are finished eating, rest your chopsticks on top of your rice bowl.
• Different dishes are served at the same time or one after another. Dishes are not nor-
mally served in separate plates as in Western style.
Dining and Entertainment
• The Vietnamese style of dining is chopsticks
and rice bowls. Hold your rice bowl in your
hand; it is considered lazy to eat from a rice
bowl that is on the table.
• The host may serve guests, but will usually
just invite everyone to begin helping them-
selves. Food is placed on dishes at the center
of the table from which each person helps
• An offer of tea at a reception or meeting is
a ritual form of hospitality and should not be
• Alcohol drinks are often offered to the
guests, the choice depends on their age and
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Flowers are normally given only by men to
Always wrap a gift in colorful paper.
When visiting a Vietnamese home, bring a
gift for the hostess. A gift for children or an
elderly parent is also appreciated.
Give items useful for daily activity, like de-
signer soaps, cosmetics, lamps or framed
pictures for the home.
Don’t give handkerchiefs (symbols of a sad
farewell). Most Asians consider the Western
habit of using a cloth handkerchief and then
returning it to your pocket to be barbaric.
In business, give whiskey. Business gifts are
quite common nowadays and have become
a must especially during special occasions
like Lunar New Year. Only gifting people with
money might be interpreted as a bride. Try
to save your business gift giving until you
are invited to your colleague’s home.
If invited to a Vietnamese home:
• Bring fruit, sweets, flowers, or incense.
• Gifts should be wrapped in colourful pa-
Especially for Women
In the major cities, little sexual discrimina-
tion exists, and Vietnamese women receive
equal pay for equal work. In the country-
side, men are still bossthe leaders. Western
women should dress conservatively in Viet-
nam. When dining with a Vietnamese man,
a western businesswoman should arrange
to eat in a public place and should insist
Vietnam is a collectivist society in which the
needs of the group are often placed over
the individual. Family and community con-
cerns will almost always come before busi-
ness or individual needs. Family in particular
plays an important role in Vietnamese soci-
Nursing homes are only for elderly who
have no children to care for them. It is al-
ways the responsibility and honor of the son
to move his parents in with his family when
they can no longer care for themselves.
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A long struggle for independence has given the Vietnamese a deep sense of na-
tional pride. Vietnamese value their independence and get offended by people who
ignore or violate it. Families are very strong and help each other in all needs.
PEOPLE IN VIETNAM
Summoning someone with a curled index
finger, as is done in the West, is only done
by the boss. To beckon someone, extend
your arm, palm down, and move your fin-
gers in a scratching motion. Only beckon
someone who has a “lower” status than
Men and women do not show affection in
Always use both hands when passing an
object to another person.
Touching children on the head is only done
by parents, grandparents, etc.
Meeting and Greeting
The Vietnamese generally shake both hands
when greeting and when saying good-bye.
Bow your head slightly to show respect.
Bow to the elderly who do not extend
their hand. Vietnamese women are more
inclined to bow their head slightly than to
When greeting someone, say “xin chao”
(seen chow) + given name + title. The Viet-
namese are delighted if a Westerner can
properly say “xin chao” (because Vietnam-
ese is a tonal language, “xin chao” can have
six different meanings, only one of which is
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DOS AND DON’TS
• Avoid public displays of affection with a
member of the opposite sex.
• Do not touch someone’s head.
• Pass items with both hands.
• Do not point with your finger – use your
• Do not stand with your hands on your
• Do not cross your arms on your chest.
• Do not pass anything over someone’s
• Do not touch anyone on the shoulder.
• Do not touch a member of the opposite
• Shorts should only be worn at the beach.
• The foot is considered unclean; do not
show the soles of your feet and don’t touch
anything else with your feet but the ground.
Don’t cause Vietnamese to “lose face”
The concept of “saving face” is extremely
important in East Asian social relationships.
Avoid behavior that causes embarrassment
to another party, and hold back behavior
that can be misconstrued as overly aggres-
sive. Don’t wheedle or insist. Most impor-
tantly, don’t lose your temper in public; try
to be cool and collected whenever possible.
Dos and Don’ts in Business
• Seniority is highly respected; the oldest
person should be greeted first
• Vietnamese negotiate always and about
everything; manage the game and don’t
give in too soon
•Make sure you are being personally in-
troduced to new business contacts on the
• Invest adequate time in developing new
business relations and getting to get to
know each other
• Try to listen to what your business partner
is really telling you; Vietnamese don’t say
‘no’ in a direct waydirectly
• Never loose your patience or temper;
don’t show any negative emotions
• Take the superstitious beliefs of your
business partner seriously; don’t make any
jokes about it
• Address your business partner with his
third or last name and add professional or
government titles if possible (e.g. Ngyen
Van Tran would be Mr. Ngyen or Professor
You should greet people in their na-
tive language which is “Xin Chao!”
for “Hello!” and always use “Thank
you” which is “Cam on!” with bent
head when you get something from
them. It shows how much you re-
spect them and how grateful you
When it comes to greetings, there
are no differences to the way West-
ern people greet each other.
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Business cards are usually exchanged when
meeting for the first time. Give and receive
a business card with both hands.
The Vietnamese are generally quite punctu-
al and expect foreigners to be the same.
Individual connections are not as important
as in many other Asian countries, because
no one holds absolute power to make a
decision. You cannot rely on one person in
a particular organization to safeguard your
The Vietnamese willingness to avoid un-
pleasantness can sometimes lead to great
misunderstandings. “Yes” may not mean
“yes.” When the Vietnamese say “No prob-
lem,” you can take it to mean “Yes, there is
Double and even triple-check all commit-
ments, and then monitor them closely.
For business, men should wear conservative
but casual suits and ties. Women should
wear a conservative dress or a business-like
blouse and pants.
Business Etiquette and Protocol
Always wait for a woman to extend her
hand. If she does not, bow your head slight-
Appointments are required and should be
made several weeks in advance.
Silence is also common in meetings where
someone disagrees with another but re-
mains quiet so as to not cause a loss of
The spoken word is very important. Never
make promises that you cannot keep, to as
this will lead to losinga loss of face.
The Vietnamese can be very
flexible and accommodating
when situations occur that
are beyond the control of one
of the parties involved.
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With an estimated 90.5 million inhabitants as of 2011, Vietnam is the world’s
13th-most-populous country, and the eighth-most-populous Asian country. In 1986, the
government instituted economic and political reforms and began a path towards inter-
national reintegration. By 2000, it had established diplomatic relations with most nations.
Its economic growth has been among the highest in the world since 2000, with such high
growth set to continue. Vietnam has the highest Global Growth Generators Index among
11 major economies, and its successful economic reforms resulted in it joining the World
Trade Organization in 2007.
The Vietnamese economy is a developing planned economy and market economy.
Manufacturing, information technology and high-tech industries now form a large and
fast-growing part of the national economy. Though Vietnam is a relative newcomer to the
oil industry, it is currently the third-largest oil producer in Southeast Asia, with an output
of 400,000 barrels per day. Deep poverty, defined as the percentage of the population liv-
ing on less than $1 per day, has declined significantly in Vietnam, and the relative poverty
rate is now less than that of China, India, and the Philippines, giving rise to a middle class,
according to the CIA World Factbook.
Global Trade in Vietnam
Since the early 2000s, Vietnam has applied sequenced trade liberalisation, and in July
2006, Vietnam updated its intellectual property legislation to comply with TRIPS, and it
became a member of the WTO on 11 January 2007. Vietnam is now one of Asia’s most
open economies: two-way trade was valued at around 160% of GDP in 2006. As a result
of several land reform measures, Vietnam has become a major exporter of agricultural
products. It is now the world’s largest producer of cashew nuts, with a one-third glob-
al share; the largest producer of black pepper, accounting for one-third of the world’s
market; and the second-largest rice exporter in the world, after Thailand. Other primary
exports include coffee, tea, rubber, and fishery products.
ECONOMY OF VIETNAM
With its large population and great geographic location, Vietnam is
likely to be one of the biggest markets of the future.
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