“Viet Nam, a country with a history that goes back thoundsands of years, is blessed by Mother Nature with heart-touching magnificent landscape”, that’s what you may read or hear somewhere when searching for the word “Viet Nam” and will make you eager to travel here.
But more than that, this country is also well-known for the diversity in culture and etiquette, since we have 54 ethnic groups living together in this strip of land. The locals sometimes find themselves lost in numerous customs and of course it’s even harder for tourists to follow all of them. Actually there is no worries at all, below are 5 helpful tips that help you behave just like the Vietnamese and assure a happy trip during your time here.
1. Using chopsticks skillfully like the Vietnamese
It is said that chopsticks appeared around 1500 years B.C and through centuries, they have become an essential part of the Asian cuisuine, particularly in countries like Viet Nam, China, Japan and Korea. According to some researchers, ancient Chinese use chopsticks to imitate an act of birds picking up seeds, which really makes sense since the agriculture in Asia is quite well developed.
In Viet Nam, we believe chopsticks stand for many virtues, such as the loyalty and balance between husband and wife and the solidarity of community. Moreover, the Vietnamese use chopsticks in almost every meal because the food here is quite suitable for using chopsticks with rice, vegetables, fish. It is also because a pair of chopsticks can easily accomplish the function of knife, fork and spoon to cut and pick up food.
If you have a chance to join us in a typical Vietnamese meal, your part is simply choose a pair of matched chopsticks with the top face one direction, then hold them between your middle and ring finger to grip food. It requires a few times practising and then you can easily master the skill. There are some rules when using chopsticks in Viet Nam, for example you should not use one chopstick at a time or pretend they are drumsticks and pound the table. And the most important thing is not to stick your chopsticks straight down into a bowl of rice, because it reminds a rite in funeral when we offer that kind of rice bowl to the spirit of a dead person.
2. Eating elegantly like the Vietnamese
Recently in a survey conducted by CNN.com, Viet Nam was regarded as one of ten desinations that has best food in the world. For more information, you can search for “Vietnamese cuisine” online, there are a lot of articles giving compliment on Vietnamese dishes. It is a great honor to us and also a demonstration of our cookery, which has been developed through thoundsands of years.
We are very proud to say that the art of cooking food in Viet Nam is a combination of many elements: The remarkable flavour of sour, spicy, salty, sweet and sometimes bitter; The colourful display that will attract your attention at first glance and the balance of ingredients from sea and land. Of course, last but not least, the love of moms or grandmas who prepare a nutritious and healthy meal for their love ones.
In contrast to Western culture, the Vietnamese serve food on large plates or bowls and put them on the table so that everyone can enjoy together. This is to show the hospitality and the unity of our nation, which means we share everything and the guests are able to try any kind of food on the table along with the hosts or friends. For that reason, the dish may have some ingredients that you like or not, but it is discourteous if you burrow through the food and look for “treasure” or gaze at your favorite food. These actions will be considered as selfish and disrespectful
3. Caring for others like the Vietnamese
Viet Nam is a country that has great compassion and while we are eating, we do think about other people. Consequently, when participating with us in a meal or a party, especially in front of the elders, you should remember not to turn over the fish. This tradition may seem odd but it is especially important if you travel to regions that strongly depend on fishing or are located along the shore (in Viet Nam are the two deltas and some provinces of the Central). People believe that “the fish represents the boat” and if you turn it over, it means you have capsized the boat and brought the fishermens misfoturne. So the best way to eat fish is when you finish eating one side, just simply pick up the backbone and continue eating the other side.
4. Dressing lovely like the Vietnamese
In other Asian countries, you may have known that wearing formal clothes to visit religious buildings is a MUST. When you come to Viet Nam, we are not so strict like that but Viet Nam is also a spiritual country, so we have a high respect for all religions. Therefore, when entering some sacred sites such as pagoda, temple or church, we highly recommend your attire should be appropriate with no shorts, no undershirts or top that doesn’t cover your shoulders, so you will not be stared at by the locals and feel more comfortable.
5. Purchasing smartly in Vietnamese style
In our culture, the first customer of the day is very important. If the seller does well with their first buyer, then they will do well all day and so will the customer. It is especially true in the North and we usually avoid being the first customer when going to markets or shops. But if this is the case, then you shouldn’t bargain many times or walk away without buying anything. Whether you’re happy with the price or not, pick up at least one thing and buy it or else you will bring the owner a bad luck.
Each country has their own traditions and Viet Nam is not an exception. However, as a hospitable and friendly country, we’re willing to overlook it if you unintentionally commit any of those rules. In fact, if you have any question, just ask the locals and they will tell or show you the right thing.
Eventually, we hope these basic information will be useful for you and wish you have a enjoyable trip to Viet Nam.
By Thanh Dang