Go native: etiquette in Vietnam

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Knowledge of local etiquette should help you avoid inadvertently causing offence or, worse, sparking an international incident! And it will endear you to your hosts. Here are a few tips to help you go native.

Dress code

Respect local dress standards: shorts to the knees, women’s tops covering the shoulder, particularly at religious sites. Always remove your shoes before entering a temple. Nude sunbathing is considered totally inappropriate, even on beaches.

Meet & greet

The traditional Vietnamese form of greeting is to press your hands together in front of your body and bow slightly. These days, the Western custom of shaking hands has almost completely taken over.

Related article: When in Vietnam: a guide to local etiquette

It’s on the cards

Exchanging business cards is an important part of even the smallest transaction or business contact. Get some printed before you arrive in Vietnam and hand them out like confetti.

Deadly chopsticks

Leaving a pair of chopsticks sitting vertically in a rice bowl looks very much like the incense sticks that are burned for the dead. This is a powerful sign and is not appreciated anywhere in Asia.

Mean feet

Like the Chinese and Japanese, Vietnamese strictly maintain clean floors and it’s usual to remove shoes when entering somebody’s home. It’s rude to point the bottom of your feet towards other people. Never, ever point your feet towards anything sacred, such as a Buddha image.

Hats off to them

As a form of respect to elderly or other esteemed people, such as monks, take off your hat and bow your head politely when addressing them. In Asia, the head is the symbolic highest point – never pat or touch an adult on the head.