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Generally speaking, Vietnamese people are incredibly forgiving. They’ve seen foreigners do some pretty idiotic things, so whatever errant blunders you end up committing really won’t upset them all that much. Besides, a smile and an apology are universal. To keep you from catching flak from locals, here are 11 things you should avoid doing in Vietnam.
Vietnamese tend to dress conservatively. While some of it comes from their antiquated notion that only peasants have tans, they also believe that respectable people don’t wear overtly sexual clothing. They’ll give you a break if you’re in touristy areas, but not in temples and pagodas. No shoulders, short skirts or cleavage.
When you use an ATM in Vietnam, it will often spew out 500,000₫ notes. For the average Vietnamese working at street food stands and in small shops, this is their weekly wage. So when you try to pay for your 10,000₫ snack with a 500,000₫ note, there’s a good chance they won’t have enough change for you. This is embarrassing for them, and it causes them to lose face. Try to break those notes at convenience stores or larger shops.
Vietnam is a very superstitious country. There are so many weird customs and beliefs here that are firmly entrenched in their culture. For the most part, you get a free pass. But if you’re shopping and happen to be the first customer in a shop, be ready for plenty of snarled lips and harsh Vietnamese if you leave without buying something. This is considered to be a bad omen for the day’s sales.
Count your money carefully before paying, because some people will try to pull a money switching scam on you where they take your large notes and quickly change them for small notes. Then they put on a big act like you’re trying to rip them off. Luckily, this doesn’t happen all that often. But if you suspect somebody has given you the wrong change, you’d better be damn sure. Vietnamese count their money very carefully and don’t take kindly to foreigners whom they think are trying to pull a fast one on them – even if it’s an honest mistake.
Vietnamese hate China. Even though it might seem – to you, a foreigner – that they should hate the Americans instead. It’s because they’ve struggled against their Chinese neighbors for much longer than their war with America. Their distrust of the Chinese goes back several millennia.
If you can afford to fly from the other side of the world to travel in Vietnam, then you’re rich. Everyone knows this already. There’s no need to flaunt your wealth. Arrogant foreigners will often toss around cash like it means nothing to them, which is very rude to Vietnamese workers who are putting in long hours for their wages. No shame in being rich, but try to have a bit of human decency.
Very rarely will you ever see a Vietnamese couple making out in public. Holding hands is alright, but kissing and hugging are too much for many in this conservative society. You might not attract much outright hostility, but you’ll certainly be on the receiving end of a few contemptuous glances. Get a hotel room. They’re cheap.
This one is primarily about road rage, but it also applies to anything you do in Vietnam. As a rule, Vietnamese people are non-confrontational. Even when they’re infringed upon – which happens every three seconds while driving – they don’t flip out and start screaming. It has to do with saving face. Losing your temper is a sure way to lose face, and the person you snap at also loses face. This makes things escalate quickly. Many foreigners have got into fist fights after they lost their temper in traffic. Leave your inflated ego at home and go with the flow.
This one won’t get you chastised and publicly flogged, but it’s just rude. Because of all the rain, the streets in Vietnam often flood. This leaves some rather unhygienic materials on the ground after the water is gone. By tramping into somebody’s home with your shoes on, you’re basically telling them you think the ground outside is cleaner than their home.
Thailand is famous for Thai Time, where nobody is ever in a rush and everything takes five minutes. Well, Vietnam is pretty much the same. The main difference is that while you’ll get smiles and shrugs from Thai people when you try to rush them, Vietnamese get angrier with every prod.
While he is certainly a contentious figure for many, Ho Chi Minh is a deified figure in Vietnam. His life and image are inseparable from national unity and independence. So keep your views to yourself. You’ll find yourself unwelcome in many places in Vietnam if you start speaking ill of their revered Uncle Ho.