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The People

A long struggle for independence has given the Vietnamese a deep sense of national pride. Vietnamese value their independence and history and offended by people who ignore or violate either. Most Vietnamese have an interest in all things American. They believe all past hostilities were part of the natural defense of their national territory. Families are very strong and help each other in all needs.

Meeting and Greeting

  • The Vietnamese generally shake hands both when greeting and when saying good-bye. Shake with both hands, and 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 shake hands.
  • When greeting someone, say “xin chao” (seen chow) + given name + title. The Vietnamese are delighted if a Westerner can properly say “xin chao” (because Vietnamese is a tonal language, “xin chao” can have six different meanings, only one of which is "Hello").

Body Language

  • 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 fingers in a scratching motion. Only beckon someone who has a "lower" status than you.
  • Men and women do not show affection in public. However, members of the same sex may hold hands while walking.
  • Always use both hands when passing an object to another person.
  • Touching children on the head is only done by parents, grandparents, etc.

Corporate Culture

  • 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 punctual and expect foreigners to be the same. That said, the Vietnamese can be very flexible and accommodating when situations occur that are beyond the control of one of the parties involved (for example, a washed-out street, traffic jam, etc.).
  • Few Vietnamese speak English well. An interpreter is usually necessary.
  • A foreigner doing business in Vietnam will have to deal with government officials. You may have to go through the same slow procedure dozens of times to obtain the necessary permits to operate a foreign-owned company in Vietnam. Continual, direct contact with the ministry officials responsible for granting or approving your permits and licenses is very important. Difficulties may arise when one official refuses to honor an agreement concluded by another official.
  • Most decisions are made by committee in Vietnam. Individual connections are not as important as in many other Asian countries, because no one holds absolute power to make a decision. You can not rely on one person in a particular organization to safeguard your interests.
  • The Vietnamese willingness to avoid unpleasantness can sometimes lead to great misunderstandings. "Yes" may not mean "yes." When the Vietnamese say "No problem," you can take it to mean "Yes, there is a problem." Double and even triple-check all commitments, and then monitor them closely.
  • Your local partner in Vietnam is very important and should be chosen very carefully.
  • Corruption is widespread. All manners of payoffs, kickbacks and "gifts" are quite common. Be aware that corruption will not only affect your costs, but also may contribute to unexpected delays in delivery and the processing of licenses.

Dining and Entertainment

  • A small dish or shaker of white crystal on the table is more likely to be monosodium glutamate (MSG) than sugar or salt.
  • 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 themselves. Food is placed on dishes in the center of the table from which each person helps him/herself.
  • An offer of tea at a reception or meeting is a ritual form of hospitality and should not be refused.


  • The Vietnamese dress very well.
  • For business, men should wear conservative but casual suits and ties.
  • Women should wear a conservative dress or a businesslike blouse and pants.


  • Flowers are normally given only by men to women.
  • 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 designer 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. Giving a gift in an office setting may be misinterpreted as a bribe. Try to save your business gift giving until you are invited to your colleague's home.

Helpful Hints

  • Walk quickly, and avoid eye contact on the street.
  • Refer to Ho Chi Minh City as Saigon. Local people prefer Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City, which was imposed by the government in Hanoi.

Especially for Women

  • In the major cities, little sexual discrimination exists, and Vietnamese women receive equal pay for equal work. In the country, men are still boss.
  • Western women should dress conservatively in Vietnam. Women who wear heavy makeup and revealing clothing are viewed as prostitutes.
  • When dining with a Vietnamese man, a western businesswoman should arrange to eat in a public place and should insist upon hosting. If the Vietnamese man hosts, the Western woman is obliged to reciprocate with a meal of equal value.
Adapted from material compiled by Window on the World, a cross-cultural training and consulting firm. Originally based on material contained in the "Put Your Best Foot Forward" series of books by Mary Murray Bosrock.
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