We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.

In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:

A primer on how to avoid mistakes in Vietnam

Due to its long history as a tributary state of China, as well as several periods of Chinese occupations, Vietnamese culture is heavily influenced by that of Southern China, with Confucianism forming the basis of Vietnamese society. The Vietnamese language also contains many loan words from Chinese, though the two languages are unrelated. Buddhism remains the single largest religion in Vietnam, though like in China but unlike in the rest of northern South east Asia, the dominant school of Buddhism in Vietnam is the Mahayana School. Nevertheless, Vietnamese culture remains distinct from Chinese culture as it has also absorbed cultural elements from neighbouring Hindu civilizations such as the Champa and the Khmer empires. The French colonization has also left a lasting impact on Vietnamese society, with baguettes and coffee remaining popular among locals.

Souvenir shops in Vietnam sell lots of T-shirts with the red flag and portraits of “Uncle Ho.” Many overseas Vietnamese are highly critical of the government of Vietnam you may want to consider this before wearing communist paraphernalia in their communities back home! A less controversial purchase would be a nón lá (straw hat) instead. It’s common to be stared at by locals in some regions, especially in the central and northern side of the country, and in rural areas. Southerners are usually more open. Asian women travelling with non-Asian men could attract attention, being considered lovers, escorts or prostitutes by some people and may even be harassed or insulted.

These attitudes and behaviours have lessened but have not yet disappeared. The most surprising thing about the topic of the Vietnam War (the American or Reunification War, as it is called in Vietnam) is that the Vietnamese do not bear any animosity against visitors from the countries that participated, and in the South many Vietnamese (especially older Vietnamese involved in the conflict or with relatives in the war) appreciate or at least respect the previous Western military efforts against the North.

Two-thirds of the population were born after the war and are quite fond of the west. That said, there are some attractions which present a very anti-American viewpoint on the war’s legacy, which may make some feel uncomfortable. Be sensitive if you must discuss past conflicts. Well over 3 million Vietnamese died, and it is best to avoid any conversations that could be taken as an insult to the sacrifices made by both sides during the wars. Do not assume that all Vietnamese think alike as many Vietnamese in the South are still bitter about having lost against the North.

The official government relationship with the PR China has deteriorated significantly recently as the two countries are locked in a territorial dispute over maritime borders, stay neutral and be aware. Traditional costume You can see people wearing Vietnamese traditional costume – Aodai (áo dài, “long dress”)- which has a strong bond with Vietnamese tradition, history, culture. It is a long silk dress which is split on its side. For centuries, it has been acknowledged that Aodai is the representative of the country and people. Vietnam is somewhat influenced by the Chinese including their way of dressing due to four thousand years being under Chinese reign.

Going to Vietnam, tourists can easily catch sight of Vietnamese wearing Aodai in solemn ceremonies such as the death anniversary of Hung Kings, Quanho Bac Ninh, Huong Temple celebration, new year’s Eve and other important festivals. Aodai was originally designed for both men and women, but it is mostly preferred by women due to its slender, elegant design – the design which is definitely suitable to honor Vietnamese women. Aodai is usually worn along with Nonla (nón lá, “leaf hat”) or a cloth worn over one’s head, known as Khandong (kh?n ??ng, “silk hat”).

There are various versions of Aodai such as miniraglan Aodai, turtleneck Aodai, etc. “Miss Aodai” pageant is one of the most popular beauty contests on our traditional costume. It aims to preserve as well as introduce Vietnamese traditional costume to friends around the world. Tourists who come to Vietnam can watch this show at Ho Chi Minh City palace of culture. In addition, if you wish to have your own Aodai, here are some recommended branches that you may want to take a look: Thai Tuan Ao dai, Lien Huong Ao Dai. These branches can provide you with the most authentic Aodai.

With this, you had the primer on key facts about Vietnam, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Vietnam food and drinks:

Local food you should try in Vietnam and No miss drinks in Vietnam.

Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Vietnam? Please comment below.