How to deal with disrespectful Vietnamese

Many westerners that have visited Vietnam have given feedback that some Vietnamese are rude, disrespectful and try to rip you off. Their only conclusion is that Vietnamese people don’t like westerners because of the war-torn past the country and people experienced. One would wonder why it is so, when they are known to be quite homely. This is because the tourist is probably ignorant of their culture and traditions. Most times, especially in rural areas, and most especially when the language serves as a great barrier in communication, many persons do not get to know what wrong they have done and only experience the aftermath of their action. The Vietnamese are known to be one of the most culturally aware and modest people in South East Asia.  Their culture and traditions are expected to be obeyed by foreigners also, thus it is important to do a thorough research before embarking on a tour, to avoid experiencing any rude and unfriendly gestures. Most times what warrants these unfriendly gestures are the non-verbal communication signs you portray. For instance in Vietnam, when you bow, it is regarded as a greeting or a sign of respect, however, when you frown, it is regarded as a sign of frustration, anger or worry.

Below is a table of 20 non-verbal forms of communication and their meaning according to the Vietnamese culture.

Bowing Sign of respect or greeting
Frowning Frustration, anger or worry
Winking Indecent (towards opposite sex)
Smiling Embarrassment, agreement, apology, mild disbelief or disagreement
Nodding Agreement, affirmative response or greeting
Crossing arms Sign of respect
Sitting on a desk while talking or putting feet on table Rude
Pouting Disdain
Shaking head Disagreement, negative reply
Touching a child’s head Unappreciated
Avoiding eye contact Sign of respect to older people or opposite sex
Holding hands with same sex Friendly gesture
Holding hands with opposite sex Frowned upon. Not done in public
Shaking hands Considered friendly greeting between younger men. Not usual between women or between opposite sex, but fine between a Vietnamese and a non-Vietnamese of opposite sex
Finger moving up and down severally with palm of right hand out Understood as “come here”, but not used for older persons.
Whistling during a performance Sign of displeasure/ boredom
Thumb down, other fingers closed No meaning
Thumb up, other fingers closed No meaning
Placing hands in pockets or hips while talking Sign of disrespect
Pointing at others while talking Threatening, disrespect
Middle finger pointing with other fingers closed No meaning

Besides these non-verbal forms of communication are also certain etiquettes, both social and dining etiquettes. One important social etiquette of the Vietnamese is that taking of photographs at airports, harbours and ports is prohibited, it is advised to always seek permission before taking other persons photographs. Also when entering a Buddhist pagodas, always take off foot wears. When dining with the Vietnamese, it is considered impolite to pass dishes without using both hands. It is inappropriate to eat directly from the serving dish. It is uncourteous to consume only meat, without considering others; meat is seen as an expensive ingredient and everyone would probably want enough of it too. Endeavour to finish the food on your plate, this is a sign of respect towards to cook and doesn’t portray wastefulness. The Vietnamese are naturally homely people. Understand their culture and you will have a tremendous experience while in Vietnam.

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