The Western Guide To Vietnamese Culture
In Western Society, we’re pretty used to what we do on a daily basis. There isn’t much of an air of ‘culture’ that we really pay attention to – more what our parents and families have instilled in us. What we consider to be right and wrong, and the dos and don’ts of the world.
Differences between Vietnam and Western cultures
For example, if I were to put my elbows on the table in my first Grandmothers house she’d smack me around the back of my head and shout. Whereas if I did it at my other Grandmothers house, she wouldn’t even notice.
But, when Vietnam tours,the people are proud of their culture – and they adhere to it as an integral part of their society. It’s quite universal, and it’s not worth running the risk of upsetting anybody without meaning to.
So, just for you, we’ve put together this brief guide of the essential differences between Western Culture and Vietnamese Culture – and why they’re important.
- Western Culture: The Younger The Better
- Vietnamese Culture: The Older The Better
Hierarchical differences in society in the Vietnam and west
In the west, we’re proud of our young people. And although we respect our elders – the powers of youth get away with murder. They run wild in shops, sit at the head of the dinner table and have a rather large say in what happens on a day-to-day basis.
Occasionally, and totally innocuously – our worlds revolve around them.
However in Vietnam tours, the opposite is true.
The Vietnamese culture is totally hinged on respect (which we’ll come to later), and age is powerful presence in both ranking and seniority. It doesn’t matter who you are, who your family is or how wealthy you are – the older person outranks you and deserves your respect.
Adhere to this principle whilst travelling and you’ll go pretty far.
- Western Culture: It’s About Being Polite
- Vietnamese Culture: It’s About Respect
We just touched on the fact that Vietnamese culture is heavily reliant on respect. It’s a rich, intertwined part of their culture that has existed for generations.
In the west, respect can be shown in a few ways: being polite, asking questions and letting them lead the way, to name but a few.
Yet, in Vietnam – a lot of the signs we consider respectful and polite can be counted as disrespectful, even when you can’t fathom why.
But in order to be safe and save confusion I want to focus on two words – Yes and No.
Differences in the concept of “politeness” in the Vietnam and west
To Westerners, they’re polite and normal words to use in every day language. But to the Vietnamese, especially if you’re talking to someone older (and therefore more senior), speaking this abruptly can be considered a sign of disrespect.
Instead, elaborate on what it is you’re saying.
If someone was to offer you food, instead of saying Yes and No, you’d explain:
- Sorry, I just ate and I’m really full
- Yes please, I haven’t eaten in hours and I’m starving
This way, you avoid offence – and can respectfully get your point across.
- Western Culture: Using Someone’s Name Is Respectful
- Vietnamese Culture: Someone’s Name Can Be Disrespectful
In western society it’s normal to be estranged from people. To not be aware of who the people in your apartment block are, or who the neighbour across the road is.
We live in a fast paced society, where all of these things are considered normal.
If you are using someone’s name, it either means you know them or are including them. It’s polite, respectful and part of our culture.
But in tours of Vietnam – that can be considered quite disrespectful, especially when addressing someone who is more senior than you.
In this culture, everyone is a part of a close-knit bond and they are all aware of each other. Unless absolutely necessary their names are not used and are replaced with other colloquialisms, unless talking about someone junior to them in status.
Differences in how to dress in the Vietnam and the West
Try to avoid using names altogether unless you have an excellent grasp of the language.
- Western Culture: It’s Hot? I’m Wearing Shorts
- Vietnamese Culture: It’s Hot? Still Got To Keep My Legs Covered
When travelling to Vietnam tours I want you to keep one thing in mind at all times, ‘dress modestly’.
Like a lot of Eastern Cultures, if you’re not in densely populated or tourist places like the beach, wearing highly revealing clothes isn’t well accepted.
Instead it’s highly frowned upon and can sometimes create cause for concern for westerners in more rural areas.
When packing, opt for more conservative clothes like linen pants, hiking pants or breathable t-shirts. Bikini’s and Board Shorts are a no-no.
Traditional dress of Vietnam
- Western Culture: Public Display Of Affection
- Vietnamese Culture: Offensive Rude Display
If you were strolling through downtown in any western environment, nobody would take a second glance at you holding your partners hand, having a quick kiss or stroking each other’s hair.
But, if you were to try it in Vietnam – it could cause a lot of offence to anybody around you.
The society is respectful and conservative, where any and all affection is displayed only in the confines of your own home.
For you travellers, try and keep it to the hostel or the hotel room – and off the streets.
These are just some of the most obvious and fundamental differences in life between Vietnamese and Westerners. The more you know about the differences between Western culture and Vietnam, the easier it will be for you to integrate and make more international friends. Travel to Vietnam tours and other countries to improve your knowledge.
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