How to be Popular in Vietnam!

We Vietnamese are a friendly and peaceful people. We extend a warm welcome to foreigners, and are very pleased that you want to come to our country. We understand that you’ll find it as hard to understand us as we do to make sense of the ways you think and behave.

Because we recognise that your culture is different to ours, we’re happy to accept the ways you behave and dress even though they would normally not be acceptable for us. We also acknowledge that there are some things that we do that you don’t like – heavy smoking, men urinating in the street, the incessant noise and so on. We haven’t had much time to develop our social behaviour, but we’re doing our best to improve things.

To get on well with us, please....

..... don't tell us how to run our country!
Although we’re not particularly politically inclined, we are very patriotic and resent it when some visitors regard our country as 'backward' or criticize our system of government. The 'human rights' debate is not one-sided, nor is it as simple as some Western observers seem to think. Despite what some of the guide books say, it’s not 'taboo' to discuss politics in Vietnam, but we don't like critical proselytizing. We know we’re not perfect, but we paid a very high price for our independence and won the right to run our country how we wish.

... dress respectfully!
Although not specifically prohibited, nudity is culturally unacceptable for us. Vietnamese women are embarrassed by 'sexy' swimsuits and topless sunbathing. Our mode of dress is generally casual, but you'll notice that we take care of our appearance when we visit temples and pagodas We feel uncomfortable when you wear skimpy clothes, shorts and so.

... don't expect 'Western-style' politeness
Some aspects of our behaviour may seem to be rude or unfriendly. For example, we don't understand the invisible 'no contact' comfort zone that people from the West automatically observe. Pushing and shoving in queues and on crowded pavements is commonplace, so please feel free to join in!

Many local people avoid eye contact. We know that in your countries, this is regarded as an indication of shiftiness or dishonesty, but in Vietnam, it’s a combination of shyness and respect.

... be fair and reasonable
When you try to buy things, you're bound to be asked to pay an inflated price in markets, from street sellers, and so on. We know that a few Vietnamese people will try to cheat you (they do it to us as well). However, the vast majority of street sellers and traders aren't trying to rip you off - an obviously inflated price is an invitation to barter. We love haggling! Be good-humoured and enjoy the game - once you get used to it, you'll find you can do the same thing in your own country!

However, we’re unhappy when some visitors regard bartering as a challenge to drive the price down as far as possible. Even in the cities, most of our people are still very poor, and many people selling goods in the streets earn only a couple of dollars a day. You re in a powerful position - please pay a fair price, not the cheapest possible.

... don't get cross
No matter how frustrating a particular situation might be, getting angry guarantees that achieving your objective will be more difficult. 'The customer is always right' adage definitely doesn't apply in Vietnam. Aggressive complaining will usually be met with a wall of indifference.

... think before you complain
It’s traditional that when a Vietnamese employee makes a mistake - an error with your meal order or damaging your laundry, for example – he or she is responsible for the cost. If you demand a refund or refuse to pay, the money will probably come out the pocket of the person who made the error, not the business. A matter of principle for an irate tourist can cost a hapless employee a month's wages, his or her job, or both!

... try a bit of Vietnamese!
We know that our language is difficult to learn, but we really like it when you try a few words, even if it’s just ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. When we laugh at your attempts, it’s pleasure and appreciation, not ridicule.

Most important of all, please ...

... laugh and smile as much as possible!
Good humour will go a long way to resolving practically all problems between us. Laugh a lot, and don't take things too seriously – it’s the Vietnamese way!

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