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    The mountains, including the Tian Shan Mountains (pictured), give Kyrgyzstan a unique culture, partially formed from this isolation from the mountains. Go Now!

Social Life in Vietnam

Behavior

The Vietnamese people are very proud people and insulting them or putting a person down in anyway can be very offensive as the person will feel "shamed." In much the same way, the Vietnamese will rarely give you critical advice or insult you in fear of "shaming" you. This is especially true in business. Turning down a business offer in the wrong way may, unknowingly, be an insult and could force your contact to feel so shamed that he will actually quit his job; if all hope is lost on a business deal or important personal interaction, allow your local counterpart to gracefully exit the situation so he can save "face." However, the opposite is also becoming more common and if you do (intentionally or unintentionally) insult another, that person may defend his honor by insulting you and will pursue a shouting match. Fortunately, this is more common among locals arguing over driving etiquette.

Most Vietnamese that regularly work with foreigners, either in business or tourism, tend to be very forgiving on behaviors that are commonly considered rude or inappropriate in Vietnam, but effort should be made to avoid giving any offense. In general, try to follow the lead of the locals by dressing conservatively (see below for details), dining in the local etiquette (see our Vietnam Dining & Food Page), and avoid sensitive conversation topics, such as politics, finances, and business unless initiated by your local counterpart. Also try to avoid being loud, rude, showing off wealth, or getting noticeably drunk in public. Finally, sunbathing naked or women sunbathing topless is rarely permitted; check with locals before doing so.

Dress

The Vietnamese often dress in more traditional clothing, but in cities and among the younger generations this is quickly changing. The traditional outfit for women is called an ao dai, which is a loose-fitting outfit similar to a dress and is often brightly colored. Men tend to wear what is called an ao the, which is a loose-fitting shirt or tunic. However, men have turned to Western clothing in greater numbers than women in Vietnam so western clothing and suits are also common. With the traditional clothing, large-brimmed sun hats are common, especially for those working in the muddy fields. With this clothing long pants are the norm; but in some places, like muddy fields, the pants are pulled up to appear as shorts in order to prevent them from getting muddy, however most pants and shirts are long sleeved.

Despite the traditional dress, both men and women are turning to western clothing in greater numbers. As mentioned, men are more commonly seen in western clothing, but women seem to still dress in traditional clothing in fairly large numbers.

There are few dress restrictions in Vietnam and there is no expectation that you dress like the locals. Although few locals wear shorts, there is no discourtesy involved in wearing them as this is a cultural phenomenon, not a religious rule or cultural offense. Of course if you are visiting temples or other sights of particular religious, historical, or political importance you may be expected to cover up with long pants and long-sleeve shirts.

This page was last updated: November, 2013