David G | Mar 21, 2020 | 0
49 Culture Shocks You Will Experience in Vietnam
Traveling is an ultimate eye-opening experience. It’s a great tool for people who want to grow through experiencing new cultures, meeting new people, and starting to appreciate the fortunate in their lives. For us, travelers, it’s always attractive, but at the same time challenging, to move to a completely new environment to learn about the world and ourselves.
A traveling lifestyle has many benefits, but also comes with a great number of daily challenges. Depending on the place you’re coming from, Vietnam can be very tough for first-timers in a sense of culture shocks. If you’ve never been to SEA before and Vietnam is your first country in that region, then you will definitely experience cultural shocks.
Don’t be scared as it’s a normal thing! Just open your mind, be ready to learn and you will fall in love with Vietnamese culture and people.
We’ve been traveling and living in many regions (provinces) in Vietnam and we faced many challenges when it comes to cultural differences. In this article, we’d like to put all the culture shocks we experienced and kind of prepare you, so you know what to expect!
Always expect the unexpected in Vietnam! That’s one of the things we can promise you!
Note: We are constantly going to update this article as we’re sure that there are many other culture shocks we haven’t experienced yet! If you have anything to add, don’t hesitate to share it with us!
Note 2: This post is around 9,000 words which means you probably need about 40 minutes to read it and think about things you’re going to experience in Vietnam!
So make yourself a coffee, find a comfortable place and let’s dip in culture shocks in Vietnam you’re going to experience!
#1 Motorbikes On Each Step
Vietnam is the country with around 45 million registered motorbikes on roughly 90 million residents. There are also many bikes that are not registered around the countryside, so only God knows how many bikes are in the traffic on a daily basis!
The first thing you will probably notice is the chaotic traffic coming at you from all angles and sides. It’s literally chaos since everyone is using honks and it looks like no one respects any traffic rules.
When we first arrived in Hanoi, we were blown away by the traffic mainly because our trip was about traveling around Vietnam on the motorbike! Literally, there are thousands of motorbikes on every step and it seemed our trip won’t work since we weren’t expecting anything close to that.
We must say that no matter how bad it looks like at first, driving in the traffic is manageable since it seems like everyone has the sense of other people in the traffic.
The biggest challenge is to get used to the traffic and get the confidence to go with the flow. Once you get confident driving around the cities, then you will realize why and how the chaotic traffic works in Vietnam.
#2 Street Vendors and Shops Are Part of the Culture
Basically, every household has their own shop where they sell goods or services. Everyone is doing the same, but small details differ from shop to shop. From the first look, it seems that Vietnamese people are born entrepreneurs, but in the reality, some of the people really struggle to feed and support their families, so having a street shop can supplement the money for the family.
These days, that’s the main thing that shows you the authenticity of Vietnamese culture. The food is usually the best there as everything is fresh and prepared in front of you. The only concern we had was the cleanness of the food.
Food is so diverse, so delicious, so fresh and so cheap on the street!
We were eating for a few months only on the street and didn’t experience any problems with the food poisoning. Probably very lucky guys!
Also, street food is quite cheap compared to food in the restaurants and there is even a space for bargaining.
What’s the better way to learn and immerse in Vietnamese culture than walking around street shops and experiencing new things?
#3 Inequality of Women in Countryside
It’s generally noticeable everywhere in the country, but in the countryside, you can see the inequality and the way people treat women instantly.
We must say it shocked us so much when we saw how much problems women have with finding a proper job without getting a lot of stigma from the villagers.
We saw few cases where men publically physically assault women in front of many other people, but no one seemed to care. Also, you won’t see many women smoking publicly or at home since that’s a huge stigma around and cigarettes are only reserved for men.
The really shocking thing was that woman can be seen working the hardest jobs on the heat. Men usually work with them, but only as supervisors, so it’s not a strange thing to see a few women building a house together while men drink and smoke in the shade.
Read More: All about Confucianism in Vietnam
Being a woman in Vietnam is hard since there is much pressure from society on the ‘good’ values every woman should possess. The main role of women is usually perceived as a household wife taking care of the family while the man is a person who’s bringing the money to the table.
#4 Huge Gap Between Rich and Poor
A gap between rich and poor is still very noticeable in Vietnam, especially in the countryside. In the cities, you can still see it, but we’d say it’s not that noticeable like in the countryside.
The good thing is that almost every person has their own way of transportation, so logistic cost is at its minimum. Motorbikes are cheap and there are parts on each step, so maintaining the bike in Vietnam is the least of problems. Rich people usually drive cars that are much more expensive in Vietnam since they put a crazy huge import tax on cars to promote the local car businesses.
Normal people still struggle to get few million dongs per month to support their family, while other people, mainly people in the government or businesses, are getting hundreds of millions per month as corruption makes it easier for selected people.
The gap between rich and poor is wider than ever in Vietnam.
In one street, you will see modern houses and it won’t look like Vietnam at all, but on another street, you will see the struggle of the average family; people are living in self-made houses with tiny and not durable roofs that have many holes.
Like in many developing countries, rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer.
#5 Language Barrier is Real!
Vietnam is still in a developing phase, but the rate of development is so rapid that even locals can’t recognize their hometowns when compared ten years ago. Big cities are welcoming tourists and majority of Vietnamese coast and economy, in general, is relying on tourism. The infrastructure is modern in some places, but again, the language barrier is real.
In the cities, sometimes you will have the struggle to find an English speaking person who can clearly communicate the needs with you. You should look at a very specific community to be able to find English speaking people.
Even English teachers have struggle communicating in English since they mainly focus on writing, reading and listening skills in formal education.
When it comes to the countryside, the situation is very crazy as literally, no one can’t speak more than plain basics. We were shocked when we realized that even English teachers have a struggle while communicating in English.
Before coming, we really advise you to learn basic Vietnamese phrases as it will help you a lot and people will have more respect for you. Also, if for any reason you don’t learn the phrases, a good ol’ Google Translate will be a handy application when dealing with locals.
#6 Family First
It’s a very heartwarming thing to see how much respect and love Vietnamese people give to their family. The family here is everything. Everything!
It’s funny how they usually build their houses in height since every floor is designed for one part of the family. The sons usually invite their parents to their houses when they get the jobs so their family doesn’t need to worry about finances or anything since the sons will take care.
Did you know: Divorce rate in Vietnam skyrockets!
People are getting married very young. The rate in the cities is becoming better by western averages, but in the countryside, it’s not a strange thing to see 18 year old kids married with a kid or two.
Vietnamese people also pay much respect for people who passed away, so they hold the anniversaries of death. During that time, they give offerings in form of food or money to their loved ones, spend time with a close family while enjoying the food and alcoholic drinks.
#7 Delicious Fresh Food and Much Alcohol
Vietnam is widely known by its healthy and diverse cuisine that will satisfy all your needs! It’s so amazing how the food they make is so fresh and the combination of ingredients simply makes every dish out of this world.
Probably the first Vietnamese food we tried was a simple Pho in the street shop in Hanoi. It was totally mind-blowing how the tastes and combination of ingredients make the simple soup so complex!
The country literally has hundreds of different food to choose, so even the pickiest people when it comes to food will fill their bellies.
Food is extremely cheap if you eat on the street. The best advice we can give to you is to always look for the places filled with local people as it means the food is cheap and very delicious. You simply can’t miss these places!
Also, if you’re coming from the western countries, then you probably know eating outside can be very expensive and if you’re on the budget then you probably need to cook your own food. Guess what? Not in Vietnam!
Fun Fact: We spent roughly $5 per day on a food during our motorbike trip from Hanoi to Saigon.
The food options are endless and the prices are even cheaper than the prices of all ingredients for cooking at your home! Street food is really the way to go to Vietnam!
When it comes to eating, it’s hard to see any table without countless beers around! People simply know how to combine their food with alcohol to make the experience to a whole another level.
#8 Cigarettes are Dirty Cheap
For instance, the pack of popular Thang Long costs only 10k VND. Marlboro packs cost about 25 – 30k VND.
You get the idea!
In western countries, you stop to smoke, but in Vietnam, you start!
It’s very evident that Vietnam has a huge problem with smoking since everyone smokes! We’re not only talking about the health problems, but also about the environment and trace we’re leaving by smoking.
Almost every beach is filled with cigarette butts which takes a lot of time to decompose, especially in the country whose people are not so much aware of environmental problems and don’t have a proper recycling program.
#9 Tracking Time by Different Calendar
In western cultures, people track time by following the solar calendar, but in Vietnam, people mainly use a lunar calendar. As Vietnam became opened to the tourism industry and international businesses, more people started to use the solar calendar as the main thing to track the time when it comes to business. However, in the family and personal lives, Vietnamese people still count time by the lunar calendar.
Their biggest holiday, Tet holiday or New Year is celebrated in early February, but they also celebrate a normal New Year following a solar calendar. Don’t forget to read the article that follows the celebration of the Tet holiday through Antonio’s perspective.
Also, twice per every month, people are burning incense, money and offering food to their beloved ones who passed away during the full moon. During that time, people don’t eat meat and follow the vegetarian diet.
#10 Siesta Time
Probably not the right name in Vietnam, but you get what we mean by Siesta time. Vietnamese people get their Siesta time for real so you can see them doing nothing and chilling every day a few hours after they are done with lunch.
Some people enjoy their tea or coffee with friends or family, some people are taking naps in street hammocks while some people are reading books or doing things they don’t usually have time to do during the day.
Avoid local shops from 11 am – 2 pm as there is a huge possibility people are taking Siesta time and won’t accept customers.
Want to buy something, eat or take a haircut?
Forget about it since many people will say you to come later as they don’t want to have any interruptions in their Siesta time.
To avoid this, simply take Siesta or avoid local shops from 11 am – 2 pm!
#11 Tea Goes Well With Tobacco
We’ve never experienced or saw such a huge part of the population drinking tea and smoking tobacco from bamboo bongs called Thuốc láo. It’s a crazy combination that actually goes pretty well together! Be careful while doing it since tobacco is very strong and when you take a hit from the bong it will give you lightheaded feeling. Water bong and strong tobacco is our favorite souvenir from Vietnam that’s extremely portable. Antonio got a cinnamon pipe from his host in Nghe An.
You can find tea in every street shop or local restaurant. Just look for a big bucket and you will usually find a few glasses that everyone uses.
These glasses are for sharing the tea!
Everyone can drink as much tea as possible, free of any cost. It goes really well after the hearty and fresh meal.
#12 School Uniforms Are Still a Thing
From early ages all the way to the end of high school, students are required to wear their traditional school uniforms. That is a perfect example of how formal their schooling system is. To go even further, the girls are required to wear Áo dài which is a traditional dress in Vietnam, but also teachers are required to wear it. Every student has their name on the uniform too.
The regulations differ from school to school, but usually, students need to wear uniforms at least 2 times per week with a specific dress codes on certain days.
There were many complaints about the uniforms since people think it’s out of fashion and very uncomfortable.
#13 Buses and Trucks are Playing Fast & Furious on the Road
If you’re coming from western countries then you know public transport isn’t that fast and sometimes not on timing at all (especially in Croatia). In Vietnam, not only the public transport will cost you pennies, but also, the time you spend in transit will be much lower than the time you will spend driving your own motorbike.
Curious about the reason?
Well, bus and truck drivers are the fastest on the road. Sometimes, it seems they don’t care about other people in the traffic. They are very aggressive on using their honks and producing all different rhythms while overtaking everything that’s moving in front of them.
These drivers are getting paid bonuses when they reach a destination on time, so that’s one of the reasons they are always racing.
It’s very dangerous when you’re driving a motorbike and the buses or trucks are also in the traffic. Always be sure to take a close attention to your mirrors and what’s going on behind you! The last thing you want is a huge bus honking a few meters back from you in the full speed.
#14 Lack of Toilet Paper
Yeah, that’s true! Not many places use toilet paper, so it’s time for you to get used to the bum gun or toilet sprayer!
Many buildings are built long ago so the pipes are very old and toilet paper causes a blockage in the pipes. In many places, you will see the signs of people asking to throw a toilet paper in the bin instead of the toilet.
It was a very strange experience to come to the toilet and not having a toilet paper, but the only option is a bum gun. It’s very weird at first, but after some practice, you realize it’s a better way without leaving so much trace.
Be prepared to live without toilet paper!
#15 Dog Meat Trade
Vietnamese culture, as well as cuisine, has many influences from China. The dog meat is a popular delicacy in northern parts of the country. When you start moving south, you won’t stumble upon many dog meat restaurants or markets, but in the north is a different story.
Thai Binh, for instance, is the province near Hanoi and it’s a very popular place for dog and cat meat. People there consume a lot of dog meat and the majority of dog trade in Vietnam goes to that province.
It’s believed that dog meat makes people healthier and provides them with a strength through winters. Also, when people eat a dog meat, they feel a heat from the meat, so it’s not a strange thing the consumption almost triple during the winter months.
There is much controversy about dog meat trade, so more and more restaurants started to remove dog meat from their menus. Still, people in the countryside around north consume a lot as it’s a part of their tradition.
What’s your thought on dog meat consumption? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
#16 Countless Dialects
Vietnam is a long country, geographically looking, that has 58 provinces. The very interesting fact comes when we’re talking about the Vietnamese language. The language is tonal with 6 different tones that completely change the meaning of the word if not used correctly. That’s the reason the Vietnamese language is a very hard one to master for foreigners.
Antonio was living in the countryside and the only way to communicate with people was to learn basic Vietnamese. He got along with locals in the north, but as soon as we hit the road, we realized that the language differs from place to place, from province to province. It’s crazy how Vietnamese can recognize where you’re coming from just by your dialect.
If you’re planning to stay for longer in Vietnam, be prepare for a hustle when it comes to communicating on Vietnamese.
#17 Food Flavors Depending on the Province
This one you will experience on each kilometer while moving around Vietnam in any direction. For instance, we started our trip from Hanoi and the capital is famous for a delicious and fresh Pho (a noodle soup) and fried egg rice. Really, these dishes are amazing in Hanoi and it’s a great introduction to Vietnamese cuisine.
Once we started to move south, we didn’t experience many changes in the food until we reached Hue. There is a very hard task to find a good Pho, but Bun Bo Hue is on each step since it’s a traditional food from that region. It’s also a noodle soup, but with thicker and rounded noodles which differs from Pho in the north.
Again, when you move further south you won’t only experience a difference in the food, but also the landscape and the food people are growing in the regions.
For instance, in the north paddy fields are everywhere, in Highlands, there are endless coffee fields while in the south you can experience many dragon fruit farms.
It’s a really diverse country from all aspects and foodie lovers will definitely enjoy the experience!
#18 Money Can Solve Every Problem
Money can probably solve any problem anywhere, but in Vietnam, it’s so common and widespread since the corruption is at its high levels. The corruption can be seen from the lowest all the way to the highest levels in the government.
For instance, the best example of how money is solving the problems in Vietnam is by dealing with Vietnamese police. Many foreigners drive illegally in Vietnam as the lack of documents is common in the country.
Almost every problem with the police can be solved with a few hundreds of Vietnamese dongs…
Police sometimes target foreigners as there is a huge possibility the person will miss a document or because of the language barrier, the foreigner won’t mind giving away some money.
Keep in mind that 200k VND can solve almost any problem with the police!
#19 No One Stops at Crossing – Be Aware If You’re Walking!
This one almost gets us killed many times around the streets of Hanoi until we learned the lesson. Always be careful while crossing the street!
Lesson learned: It’s not your home country where drivers get fined if they don’t stop to let a walker pass the road.
Vietnamese traffic is a jungle with wild beasts on each step. There are millions of motorbikes operating in the traffic each second and no one seems like paying attention to any traffic rules.
#20 Pollution and Littering
Vietnam has a huge problem when it comes to pollution and littering that comes from the local population. It’s definitely not the worst place in SEA, but the trash floating around the ocean where the majority of the local community lives from seafood isn’t fun at all.
The country is definitely lacking the education programs on the topic, as well as the recycling programs that will raise the awareness of people about the problem. There are many small projects where college students try to educate local communities about the problem and try to engage them to beach cleanups, but it’s still a small movement!
The littering is kinda deeply rooted in the culture since even the small kids don’t care about the trash. They just throw it anywhere and parents just find it alright.
It’s time to change it by educating people, especially a youth generation since the problem of pollution and plastics is huge on a global scale.
Who needs a banana or pineapple wrapped in a plastic bag? Or coffee with few straws?
Just go to any store and ask for a takeaway and you will see how much plastics you get. Like 99% of that you don’t need, so it’s important that you’re also aware of the problem.
It’s time to change a few habits in our daily lifestyle, don’t you think so?
#21 Loud Speaking Country
It’s extremely weird and funny at the same time hearing Vietnamese people speaking in public. At first, it sounds like they are in the middle of the argument that is almost going to get physical, but no, that’s the way the people in Vietnam speak.
People speak very loud and in many cases, it can be overwhelming to listen, even if you don’t understand a single thing.
When Vietnamese people speak in public, you may think they are about to get into a fist fight, but in the reality, that’s just a way of communicating.
The best thing is when they get a phone call in the middle of the crowded sleeper bus. They start to scream on the phone with a slight smile on their face. It’s amazing and annoying at the same time, so be prepared for that!
#22 Loud Eaters Too
In western countries, people usually eat with a closed mouth; that’s the eating etiquette. Again, in Vietnam, it’s not the case. People seem like they are proud to demonstrate their skills in loud eating while talking and collecting the pieces of food around.
For a Croatian person, it was a strange thing at the beginning, but after living in Vietnam for 9 months, I don’t even notice that people are eating really loud.
In western cultures, people have usually schooled table manners, but in Vietnam, only a few percentages of families are schooling their kids’ table manners. Basically, loud eating means people enjoy the food they are eating.
#23 Sense of Time
Vietnamese sense of time is on total another level. If you ever had a friend who’s always late, don’t think you will be prepared for Vietnamese people.
Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes is totally annoying when you have a meeting with Vietnamese (casual meeting) and they usually come late or don’t come at all.
We talked with many people around Vietnam about it and many people shared the same experience when it comes to drinking coffee and relaxing with Vietnamese people. When it comes to business and making money, Vietnamese people are always on time.
We had many experiences with Vietnamese local people and many times we need to say 20 minutes before we reached the place that we’re already there. Sometimes, they even come late!
You never know and it’s hard to be prepared for it! Welcome to Vietnam!
#24 If Something is Working Don’t Try to Make it Better
Through our experiences, Vietnamese people are very satisfied with the current situation of the things. Even if there is a huge possibility to improve they will just leave it as it is. It was very surprising for us since we were sharing many ideas with locals who were in different kind of businesses as there are so many gaps in Vietnam.
People are very interested, but they usually won’t do anything or won’t show any initiative since the things already work for them just enough to feed their families.
It’s working, so why to make it better?
We are mainly talking about the English centers and English speaking cafes as we have a lot of experience in helping and working with these. People are so interested and respectful when you give them the ideas, but you will have a hard time to put the idea to work in Vietnam.
Want to know: How teaching in the countryside looks like?
We still don’t know the reason why people are like that, but we believe it’s because of security. People usually take care of the big families and they were building their businesses or ways of living for a long time. So, they are not up for risking that all to make their life a few levels better.
Probably it hugely depends on your experiences and the current point in life, so you might not see this as a culture shock at all.
#25 Rice Wine is Dirty Cheap
Local people, especially older generations in the countryside are literally killing the rice wine. The consumption is so huge since almost every household in the countryside has their own piece of land with the rice field. Also, many people will proudly show you their ‘distillery’ where they produce their beloved drink.
The bottle of 0.5l of homemade alcohol costs about 20k VND in the city, but we managed to find it even cheaper, but wouldn’t advise you to try it as the day after isn’t the most pleasurable.
It’s important to mention that it’s not the best quality alcohol and probably it will cause a stomach ache and crazy intense hungover.
Anyway, once you’re in Vietnam, you should try it and experience it like a local! It’s a lot of fun!
#26 Sleeping Buses
In western countries, we never experienced a drive or saw a sleeper bus like in Vietnam. Of course, some people refer a sleeper bus to a bus that travels during the night, but by Vietnamese standards, that’s just another bus.
A sleeper bus is an amazing way of transportation around the country because it’s cheap and usually has a certain level of comfort. It’s really crazy how the people invented sleeper buses.
It’s not the most comfortable driving experience, but it’s cheap and it can save you money on accommodation. Take warm clothes since the AC is always on crazy low levels!
Basically, they order normal buses, remove all the seats from inside and customize them to make sleeping and adjustable chairs. It’s kinda comfortable for the short people, but if you’re taller and you don’t like AC, then maybe it won’t be the most pleasurable experience.
The tickets are very affordable and you can basically travel half of the country for 500k VND. Also, always book a trip during the night as you can save money on accommodation since it’s possible to catch some sleep in the sleeper bus.
#27 Busy Students
Student lifestyle is dynamic and very busy because of their tough schedule. From the primary school, the students need to pass through schooling formalities like wearing the uncomfortable uniforms, having the classes in the morning and afternoon, so much homework during the weekend and of course, school during the summer.
It’s very tough for younger students to cope with all of that since they don’t have much free time to enroll in activities they really like. Education in Vietnam is very formal and outdated, so the majority of stuff people are learning in the school will never give them the advantage in real life.
College students are living in a totally different world. Usually, kids from the countryside come to big cities to continue their studies and improve their chances to get a better life. We’ve met a crazy amount of college students who are studying for a long time during the weekend and then working two or more part-time jobs at the same time to support their schooling or lifestyles.
Learn the facts: Everything about education in Vietnam!
Imagine how tough it can be! On top of that, many students and young people saw the importance of knowing English, so they enroll in extra classes to improve their English levels.
Very hard working people from the young ages!
#28 Bargaining is the MUST!
Bargaining culture in Vietnam is real! Everyone bargains and everyone will try to make a bit of money on you if you’re not familiar with usual prices and bargaining tactics.
We almost never bargained before coming to Vietnam, but as soon as you arrive, you will realize that some people are paying even triple price less than you. Then you start to think about why and what you can do to pay a similar price.
Bargaining isn’t that hard since everyone wants to sell their goods. If there is no menu or pricing list, it means the bargaining is the must or you will overpay.
Some people don’t bargain and they complain they’ve got ripped off. Usually, you will pay a bit higher price than locals, even after bargaining, but it’s bearable!
After living for 9 months in Vietnam, Antonio has got the experience that people will usually tell you 3 times bigger price at the beginning, but will most likely settle for 30% – 50% of the beginning price.
What you can do to make your bargaining skills shine?
Never show people that you really want something so much as they will instantly notice that. Be relaxed and offer 30% of the beginning price and accept 50%.
It’s great to know the usual prices for locals since on some things you can’t offer a 30% price as people will get offended!
Do your research before going to buy things and you will be more than fine. Also, bargaining is a lot of fun and people in Vietnam love it!
#29 Rapid Development of the Tourist Destinations
Vietnam is slowly becoming the most attractive tourist destination in the SEA region. It’s not a surprise as the country has stunning landscape on each step, delicious and diverse cuisine, friendly people with beautiful smiles and you can travel on a tight budget without missing anything! What more to ask for?
In the last 10 years, the country has undergone rapid changes when it comes to development in tourist infrastructure. A huge portion of the money is coming from international tourists and it’s so evident as you can see new hotels and resorts are building up every day.
We saw the building of a hotel when we first reached Da Nang and when Antonio moved to Da Nang a few months later, the hotel was operating. Imagine that!
Locals, especially in Da Nang, said they can’t believe how many changes the city underwent in the last 10 years. The several bridges were built, the beachfront area is completely different and modern and many job opportunities are opening each day. Young people are extremely happy since it gives them many opportunities when it comes to jobs.
#30 Delicious and Strong Coffee With Condensed Milk
If you can’t start your day without a cup of a strong coffee, then Vietnam will be a pleasant experience for you. The country is the huge exporter of coffee and the beans hugely differ from province to province.
We had a chance to try many different coffee types in Vietnam, but by far, our favorite is a simple milk coffee – cà phê sữa.
Their milk coffee is totally different from other milk coffees we had a chance to try around the world since they mix it with a sweet condensed milk. This combination gives your coffee a creamy texture with a sweet taste which is so addictive. It’s so easy to start drinking a few coffees per day in Vietnam.
If you’re drinking coffee outside, expect to pay around 10k – 20k VND on the street and up to 50k VND in a nice coffee shop. We tried both and we must say that coffee on the street simply rocks since it is strong and nothing gives you a better boost than sitting on the street, observing local life while enjoying the sips from your cup!
Antonio had a chance to experience many different beans and ways to make a coffee, so he came up with a guide on making Vietnamese drip coffee. You need a coffee phin filter and basically, you can make your milk coffee anywhere!
#31 Hard Language
The Vietnamese language is a tonal language with 6 different tones. The words change the meaning depending on the tone. For instance, there are many words that are spelled the same, but just one tone makes the whole meaning different.
It’s a real struggle for foreigners to get cope with the language as people are speaking so fast and sometimes it’s hard to understand. When you start to travel around the country you will notice how the dialect changes depending on the place you’re in. The northern dialect is much different than central or southern. It makes mastering the language even harder for foreigners.
#32 Ah These Vietnamese Women – Beautiful Human Beings
If you’ve ever had a chance to date a Vietnamese woman, then you will totally understand every word. Vietnamese women are simply rocking with their beauty and kindness!
In the countryside, the women are a bit conservative since the life in the small environment is going along with much stigma, but the women are the nicest human beings ever! Also, stunningly beautiful with genuine smiles that can change your day completely! The only problem in the countryside is the language barrier, since not so many people are able to talk English. It can be manageable, but after some time you will definitely lose interest as you can’t connect on a deeper level with a person without understanding each other language.
Learn more: Globalization is changing everything!
Antonio was dating a woman in the countryside for a while and the biggest problem for them was a language barrier. He found out a way around it by talking through Google Translate, but soon, they ended up. He explained it as the weirdest dating experience in his life as they didn’t speak anything just sharing the phone with translations.
The language barrier and culture differences combined with the power of globalization make dating very dynamic in Vietnam. Vietnamese women are one of the most beautiful women we had the chance to meet!
In the cities is much different and women are more open-minded and liberal about dating. Also, the language barrier is still existent, but not on that huge level as in the countryside. For instance, many women want to get married or get babies or will tell you they love you after few dates. Also, it not uncommon they become over caring which can be totally opposite of attraction.
We’re totally sure you will fall in love with beautiful Vietnamese women! Just don’t get married too soon!
#33 Bottoms Up with Beer
Vietnamese people are very keen on food, hanging out with family and friends and of course, drinking their alcohol. In the north and during the winter time, people usually drink their iconic rice wine. During the hot months, you will see thousands of small chairs around with the beer and the ice.
Usually, they put the ice in the glass and fill the glass with the beer and then yell “Cham Fan Cham” which literally means 100%. When someone tells that, you can’t reject as it can be very rude or even offensive to some locals. It’s better to just follow what they are doing as you’ll have a lot of fun.
Also, the tradition here is when people invite you to drink with them, you should invite them too. Don’t forget to shake hands after finishing your shot of beer.
Learn more: Vietnam drinking traditions and scene
Bottoms up with a beer sounds very tough for a stomach, and believe me it is, but people make it easier as they usually enjoy delicious food that goes perfectly with a beer.
#34 Friendliness of People
The best part when it comes to Vietnamese people is their friendliness, kindness, and willingness to help. They are simply rocking on these things!
When we were traveling around the country, we were always changing the locations and meeting new local people. Every time we were surprised by the friendliness of these people without expecting anything in the return.
Many times, Antonio ended up without gas in the middle of nowhere and the locals always give a hand without understanding the language. Also, Antonio crashed the bike in Da Nang with another woman and locals were just smiling at the beginning but soon, they jumped and helped with the bike and the wounds. They even bought the medicine for him and try their best to make him feel good and healthy.
We felt so welcomed in Vietnam and in many places, it felt more like home than in Croatia. Also, people are very keen on football, so we were very lucky to travel around the world cup as Vietnamese were mainly cheering for Croatia.
It was a nice feeling when you pass around the countryside and you see a Vietnamese person wearing Croatian football dress!
Such amazing people!
#35 Value of Speaking English
One of the most important things when it comes to education and opportunities in Vietnam is by far English language. Literally, everyone wants to learn English in the country and it is a good thing since the country opened their borders to international businesses in the 90s and there are many international companies and crazy tourism industry. The English language opens many doors to local people to have a better quality lifestyle.
Kids from the young ages are enrolled in the private schools where English teachers who’re usually foreigners are teaching for crazy sums of money.
For instance, locals who are good at English have so much more opportunities and also, their salary hugely depends on your English knowledge.
However, the situation isn’t the best when it comes to English as there is still a huge language barrier. The situation in the cities is quite good, but in the countryside, sometimes you won’t be able to stumble on a single person who knows more than “Hello”.
Antonio was living in the part of the country where some people probably never saw a foreigner person. English levels there are so poor that you need to learn a bit of Vietnamese to be able to cope with the most basic daily situations.
#36 Importance of Skin Color
It’s crazy to say it, but it’s very evident that people here give too much importance to a skin color. The huge stigma is connected to the skin color and brown people are perceived as the farmers or people of lower status. Many people pay too much attention to skin color to the levels where their skin looks completely unnaturally white!
Interesting read: Importance of skin color in Asia
If you’re thinking of becoming an English teacher in Vietnam, then you will experience huge racism in that field. Employers and parents don’t care so much about teacher’s qualifications as their skin color and appearance.
We’ve met a person who is literally overqualified to become a teacher, but with a huge teaching passion, he wanted to become a teacher in Vietnam. The problem was that he is an Indian with a brown skin color and he had a tough time to find a job so at the end he gave up!
#37 Passionate Football Fans
We’ve been traveling around the country during the World Cup and it was a crazy good atmosphere around the country with many people watching the matches and wearing dresses of countries around the world. As the World Cup was going to the end, many people started to cheer for Croatia so it wasn’t weird to see people wearing Croatian dresses even in the countryside. It was such a crazy experience to see people know about your country!
Vietnamese people are passionate about their food, drinks and of course, football!
When it comes to football in Vietnam, people also get very crazy. In recent years, Vietnamese football went through great changes and the teams are playing a very good football. Currently, they are playing the finals of AFF cup and the whole country is supporting the team. Everytime Vietnam is playing, everyone stops to do their things and start to watch football.
Update: Vietnam won the finals for the first time in the last 10 years! The celebration was simply AMAZING!
When you drive around the city, you will even see people staying in front of technology shops and watching football while drinking and cheering!
After the match, it’s the time for “di bao” where people put the red colors on themselves and go on the streets. Literally, the streets change the atmosphere in seconds and everything becomes a good hell!
People usually drink a lot, drive motorbikes, cheer and scream. It’s an amazing feeling to be in the middle of that!
#38 Propaganda in the Countryside
Around 70% of the Vietnamese population still lives in the countryside where the access and quality of education is noticeably worse than in cities. Majority of the population in the countryside are older people while younger people move to cities to study and find the opportunities that will make their lives much better.
Every morning and afternoon there are ‘news’ reproducing on loudspeakers around streets talking about different aspects of life in the countryside. We didn’t understand any things, but the only thing we know is that it’s crazy loud and it’s literally impossible not to hear it.
Further read: Propaganda is still a huge thing in the country
We were very shocked by how they want people to listen to their ‘news’ so we started to talk with locals about this news and what are the topics. Basically, they are selecting and filtering things they want people to hear and follow.
#39 Incredibly Active and Healthy People
People in Vietnam are extremely healthy and active, that especially applies to people in the countryside. For instance, in the countryside, people usually tend to wake up around the sunrise and they do the power walking with the neighbors. It’s a perfect way for them to socialize and energize their bodies for the hard work that is coming!
We’ve seen so many people in the cities doing bodyweight training that have incredible levels of strength and stamina at old ages. It was really impressive to see that level of determination.
Did you know: Vietnamese cuisine is one of the healthiest in the world
Also, Vietnamese food is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, with almost no junk and processed food so it’s easier to get and keep your body healthy.
#40 Way of Communicating With Foreigners
This one might not apply to everyone since it’s completely from Antonio’s experience working with schools around Vietnam. After talking with other teachers and sharing the stories, we can say that many teachers share the same experience. Also, when we thought about the way people communicate with foreigners, we can notice it in a normal life too.
It’s a bit hard to understand or notice it if you’re not living in Vietnam for a bit, but pay attention and you might experience this one.
Vietnamese people, according to our experience, are one of the best people we’ve had a chance to interact with. We generally like how they treat foreigners and how they communicate with them, but when you stay there for a long, you will see a bit different layer.
For instance, people are scared to tell you the whole truth as they think you’ll get offended and they don’t want to offend a foreigner. They will tell you a partial truth and you will have a hard time putting the pieces together. In every school Antonio was working, he experienced that.
Is it just a language barrier or purposely selecting the information you will hear, it’s up to you to judge.
#41 Dirty Cheap Fresh Beer
If you’re a beer lover and really passionate about tasting different beer, then Vietnam might disappoint you since their beer isn’t the best, but!
Yeah, there is always a but! Their beer is very cheap and the beer culture is very vibrant and active. Vietnam is the home of probably the world’s cheapest beer called fresh beer or Bia hơi.
The history of making fresh beer is very interesting since that kind of beer was born during the war. People loved the rice wine, but as the shortage of food was a real problem during the war, the rice was banned to be used to make the alcohol. Vietnamese people simply love their alcohol, so they invented fresh beer. They made a beer from many different ingredients and put it in a huge pot.
Today, the fresh beer culture is huge, especially in Hanoi where you can see many people drinking beer from the glasses. Beer is stored in huge pots and it’s important to drink it fast since it evaporates even faster.
The price for one glass of 0.25l is around 5,000VND. We stumbled upon a 2l bottle of fresh beer for 20k VND.
The taste differs hugely from place to place and some beers are very strong. For instance, three of us were drinking 2l of fresh beer and we got a decent buzz!
#42 Iconic Red Chairs
Ah, these tiny and funny red chairs. We’re from Croatia and we’re using tiny red chairs when kids are playing. It always reminds us of amazing childhood. In Vietnam, we were blown away when we saw these tiny red chairs all over.
We landed in Hanoi and the city is literally full with the small chairs and tables where people eat or enjoy their night drinks with friends or family. Once you’re in Vietnam, there is no a chance that you’re going to miss these chairs.
At first, we had the struggle to sit on these since we are all taller than 185 cm, so it’s kind of uncomfortable, but after some time, it became a second nature.
Whenever you want to eat their iconic street food or amazingly cheap fresh beer, be prepared for the red chairs!
#43 Boxes of Beers Everywhere
As you may already know, Vietnamese people are passionate drinkers and they like to invite foreigners to their table to drink with them. If you think you can drink more than Vietnamese people, be careful! They take drinking very seriously and they will outdrink you as they are doing it every night!
It’s a very amazing thing when you come to the restaurant or just sit down on small chairs somewhere on the street for a beer, you won’t get just one beer; you will get a whole box of beer! Just in case you get thirsty!
Ordering one beer in the local restaurant always ends up with the box of beers on your table!
Imagine this scene. You get to the restaurant and order a few beers, but the waiter comes and gives you 24 beers (1 carton box) with the bucket of ice. After you’re done with a drinking session, the waiter will come with the paper and check how much beers you drank and charge accordingly.
Are they lazy to always bring the new beers or are they just smart sellers? We’re going to leave it to you to answer!
#44 Tattoos are Still Taboo Topic
Ah, these tattoos…
It’s still a taboo topic around the country, but the urban population is developing on a very rapid rate, so the taboo is slowly fading away. In the cities, there are many tattoo shops popping out and you can see many young people wearing crazy beautiful art on their bodies. Many people wear full-sleeve tattoos or huge pieces of art. Also, women started to express their personalities through tattoos, but the majority of them have a few smaller symbolic tattoos which can be very attractive.
In the countryside, tattoos are a huge taboo and people wearing tattoos are seen as bad people related to gangs.
Experiences of local people: How is it to live with tattoos in Vietnam?
Antonio was living in the countryside where he had a chance to talk with many people about their opinion on tattoos. Majority of them said it’s fine to see a foreigner with tattoos, but for a local person having tattoos, it represents a trouble.
He also had an opportunity to meet many people wearing tattoos in the countryside and the only he can say is that these people don’t differ from the other locals. Very hospitable, funny, friendly people who’re always for drinking or doing funny things.
Our opinion is that tattoos are a huge taboo in Vietnam, but as the country is getting the influence from western culture, people get more open-minded.
#45 Cosmetic Products
The skin care market is huge and booming at a whopping 3.2% annually! It’s really crazy how many people take care of their skin seriously. It’s not only because of the health but also because of trends and stigma connected to skin color.
Basically, every skin care product has chemicals that give you a whitening effect. It’s so hard to find a normal skin care product without whitening effect and also, these products are more expensive.
A hard mission in Vietnam is to find a skin product without a whitening effect! Even if you manage to find it, expect to pay the higher price!
People value white skin and they see it as more valuable than any other skin color since it’s connected to a higher status in their eyes. Like we already mentioned, the brown color is connected to working class and many people don’t want to be perceived as farmers, even if they are.
White skin is a huge trend from China, Japan and Korea, and Vietnam is hugely influenced by these cultures, so younger people, for instance, just follow the huge trend.
In Europe is totally different, everyone wants to be brown, so it’s probably that you want what you don’t have.
#46 Huge Korean Cultural Influence
Korean influence is very visible in Vietnamese culture and demographic structure. Korea has a huge influence on a whole of Asia, but their drama called “Hallyu” is responsible for the cultural influence. Vietnamese television started to reproduce these dramas around a decade ago and many young people started to follow the trends from these shows.
Learn more: Korean influence in Vietnam
These shows are showing how Korean people interact with people, the way they deal with daily challenges, love life, fashion aspects and much more. Also, K-pop which is Korean music reached the fame in Vietnam a few years back. Almost every teenager knows about K-pop and a few artists.
Korean cultural influence is one of the reasons why Vietnamese people value skin color so much since the social status is largely connected with skin color.
#47 Getting in Problems While Talking About Government
If you want to get arrested in Vietnam, probably the easiest way is to go to protests against the government and take pictures or videos. These are very sensitive topics for the government and ‘well-being’ of its people, so it’s always monitored by the government officials. If they see a foreigner around, you will become their focus instantly since the last thing they want is to spread the local topics outside the country.
Read a story: American arrested at a protest
Any topic about the government is very sensitive. If you’re talking or sharing these stories, be sure that you’re not doing that on the mainstream platform. In the best case, you might be deported, or even imprisoned.
#48 Overstaff at Working Places
If you think your working place isn’t efficient, then wait to come to Vietnam. Every working space has at least 3 people doing a job that can be done by one person. The result?
You will see many people sleeping, not paying attention or entertaining themselves on the phones while earning money. We don’t have any problem with that and we think that it’s a good thing since the young people earn money, but from the productive side, it’s so funny to observe it as an outsider.
#49 Six People on the Bike or Even Moving a House Isn’t Rare to See
One of the first culture shocks we experienced, along with a crazy traffic, were overloaded motorbikes everywhere. We saw a crazy amount of things people are transporting on their tiny motorbikes. In Vietnam, you can see many things, animals and who knows what people transporting on a daily basis.
It’s not strange to see people transporting few times bigger things on their motorbike than their bikes. Also, we saw people transporting another motorbike on the bike; that one was very funny!
The most often thing you will see is driving more than two people on the bike. During our trip, it was a daily scene. Sometimes it shocks you as you can see a few kids on the bike without any protection. It’s quite dangerous and in Croatia for example, you will probably lose your kids if someone reports you. Not in Vietnam!
After driving for more than 10,000 km around the country, Antonio tried the same, so there is his cosplay of doing it!
That would be it! 49 culture shocks you will experience in Vietnam!
The list is huge, but expect us to update it once we experience the next culture shock.
Sorry for writing a huge article, but we believe it’s a great preparation for people who’re traveling to Vietnam, especially the first-timers.
Experienced a culture shock that you can’t find on the list? Please share it in the comments!