Relocating to a new country with unusual habits and customs can be a very stressful experience, with some patience and guidance living in a foreign country and learning different sets of customs and habits can be a truly memorable experience.
There are numerous publications that you can read before arriving in Ho Chi Minh City that will provide you with a basic list of cultural “Do’s and Don’ts”. Numerous websites for expats can be a good source of these lists.
Compared to the rest of Vietnam, people in Ho Chi Minh City are generally more tolerant of foreign cultures and culture faux pas committed by foreigners. Vietnamese culture differs greatly from Western culture on many fundamental levels. Here are a few of the more prominent differences:
- The Vietnamese use different titles based on age and gender groups. If you attempt to use Vietnamese, it is important to learn the title to avoid embarrassment or possibly offending someone.
- The Vietnamese have customary practices in most homes. Guests are expected to take their shoes off at the door. It is important to remember to offer to take your shoes off when entering a Vietnamese home. When the host gestures that you do not need to, it is ok to wear them.
- Even though more and more Vietnamese (especially in Ho Chi Minh City) learn to speak English, we advise foreigners to learn at least some basic Vietnamese. Vietnamese truly appreciate when effort is shown to speak their language. This effort can truly endear you to the Vietnamese and can make your life here easier and more enjoyable.
- In Vietnam, there is a huge emphasis on family values. Don’t be surprised if your local Vietnamese staff or colleague asks to take 2 to 3 days off to go back to her hometown for an extended uncle’s death anniversary.
- It is essential for the Vietnamese to occupy interpersonal relationships outside of the family group and to be a member of wider social networks. The Vietnamese can use any reason to get together for a good time. Welcoming new staff, a farewell party for a colleague moving to another department, receiving a bonus, a raise or a promotion, owning a new phone, a new motorbike or house, or being invited and attending a friend’s relative’s wedding that they might not know are all perfectly good reasons to get together for a party in Vietnam.
- The Vietnamese value patriotism and a devotion to their famous former leader Ho Chi Minh. It is important not to parade or display another country’s flag, make negative comments about the government or its leaders, you could be jailed for committing crimes against the party.
- Crossing the index and middle finger does not mean good luck in Vietnam. To the Vietnamese this is a very offensive gesture. It is best to avoid making this gesture at all costs.
What may seems odd to you may be a perfectly normal custom in Vietnam. One of the most important things to consider is to always be prepared to be tolerant, keep an open mind and learn to embrace cultural differences.