Cultural rules and traditions in Vietnam

When you travel to a foreign country, you will most likely encounter different cultures and societal norms. This is the case of Vietnam. Nestled in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is characterized by a deeply rooted culture steeped in millennia-old traditions. The influence of history, religious beliefs, and 54 ethnic group’s traditions create a unique cultural tapestry.

Rules related to religion

Religion is not as important to Vietnam’s population as in some other countries of Asia. Vietnam is an atheist state, and the majority of the population follows folk or traditional Vietnamese religion. This religion blends indigenous beliefs, the worship of various divine gods and ancestors, and a belief in the existence of spirits, including guardian spirits, village spirits, and nature spirits.

Although Vietnam is linked with Buddhism, only between 8-10% of Vietnamese people identify as Buddhist. It is worth saying that, although there are many temples and pagodas, many of them serve as multi-purpose spiritual spaces. Additionally, only 6-8% consider themselves Catholics.

Alongside Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have also left their indelible mark, shaping societal values and moral codes.

Some common rules related to religion are: 

  • You should remove your shoes before entering temples and pagodas. This is also true for entering homes, certain shops, and restaurants.
  • If you plan to visit religious sites, dress modestly with covered shoulders and knees, avoid loud conversations, and behave discreetly. 
  • Always inform yourself about the places you are visiting and be utmost respectful of religious and social traditions.

Social customs

Vietnam’s population strongly believes in the role of family. It’s still common to see families living together in one house led by a patriarch, especially in rural areas. 

The role of the elderly is important for Vietnam’s population. The worship of ancestors is significant in Vietnam and it is very common that each house has an altar for their ancestors. It is also common to practice rituals, and visit graves, always honoring their memory and asking them to protect them. 

There is immense respect for elders in Vietnam, rooted in Confucian beliefs, which serve as one of the pillars upon which society is constructed. This implies that the older an individual is, the more respect people are expected to show towards them.

General customs

With the following list, you will be prepared for more general norms and customs: 

  • Don’t be boasting your wealth or affection in public. Some of Vietnam’s core values are humility and modesty. 
  • Have fun and join the Vietnamese people during the Tet Nguyen Dan (Lunar New Year). Lunar new year is celebrated between the end of January and the end of February and it marks the arrival of Spring. During Tet, families come together, prepare special meals, visit relatives, give red envelopes with money, clean and decorate their homes, visit temples and pagodas to pray for good fortune, and prepare offerings for their ancestors.
  • When you meet someone, greet each other with a slight bow or nod. It is especially important to avoid physical contact with elders.
  • The time for meals holds a sacred significance in Vietnamese culture. It is a moment that strengthens familial and community bonds through shared meals, always guided by a set of etiquettes. For instance, the eldest family member or the host traditionally begins eating before others, and there is a particular emphasis on chopstick etiquette – one should avoid leaving them sticking upright or pointing towards fellow diners.
  • Don’t leave food uneaten on your plate, especially when you’ve been invited to someone’s home and they’ve prepared a meal for you.
  • Seek permission from locals before photographing them.
  • Get used to bargaining
  • Tipping is not mandatory, but it is appreciated. If you want to give a tip, it is recommended to leave a tip of about 10-20%. 
  • Don’t speak badly of Vietnamese war heroes or crack jokes about war or colonial past. 
  • Be prepared to witness the extensive drinking culture in Vietnam. The drinking culture predominantly centers around beer and rice wine (ruou), playing a crucial role in various types of gatherings.