Guide Culture and Customs of Vietnam (Cultures and Customs of the World)

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The flavors of Vietnamese food range from spicy and sour to sweet. The first one refers to a cross-collared robe worn by the Vietnamese men while the second is a four-part dress worn by the women. The last two dresses were worn by the peasants in the north and south, respectively and appeared like silk-pajama-type costumes.

Vietnam is associated with a rich tradition of dance and music. Vietnamese music also exhibits variance in different parts of the country. It is older and more formal in the north while Champa culture exerts considerable influence on Central classical music and music in the southern part of the country is a more lively affair. The country has nearly 50 national music instruments. The great ethnic diversity of Vietnam has gifted the country with diverse dance forms.

These dances are usually performed at the cultural programs and festivals held in the country. The Lion dance, platter dance, fan dance, imperial lantern dance are some of the traditional dance forms of Vietnam. The dances that developed in the imperial courts of Vietnam are quite complex in nature and require great skills to be mastered. Literature in Vietnam has greatly evolved over the years from romanticism to realism.

Two aspects of the literature in the country are the folk literature and the written literature both of which developed almost at the same time. Folk literature features fairytales, folk legends, humorous stories, and epic poems. Written literature was previously written in the Cham and Nom characters and focussed on poetry and prose.

Now, it is mostly written in the National Language and includes short stories, dramas, novels, etc. Vietnamese art is mainly influenced by Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. However, more recently, the Cham and French influence have also been reflected in the art presentations. Silk painting is popular in Vietnam and involves the liberal use of colors. Calligraphy is also a much-respected art form and often, during festivals like the Lunar New Year, people would visit a village teacher or an erudite scholar to obtain calligraphy hangings for their homes.

Major purchases such as household appliances, bicycles, or furniture are often made in specialty stalls in larger markets or in stores in towns and cities. Currency is used for most transactions, but the purchase of real estate or capital goods requires gold. The number of open market wage-laborers has increased in recent years. Industrial output is evenly split between the state-owned, private, and foreign sectors. Since the late s, Vietnam has actively promoted foreign investment, resulting in a very rapid growth in output by that sector.

International corporations have been most active in mining, electronics assembly, and the production of textiles, garments, and footwear, usually for export. Corruption and an unclear legal system have severely limited Vietnam ability to attract additional foreign investment since the Asian financial crisis. Vietnamese state-owned factories produce a number of commodities for local consumption, such as cigarettes, textiles, alcohol, fertilizer, cement, food, paper, glass, rubber, and some consumer appliances. Private firms are still relatively small in size and number, and are usually concentrated in agricultural processing and light industry.

Many complain that state interference, an undeveloped commercial infrastructure, and a confusing and ineffective legal system inhibit their growth and success. Overview of Hanoi's Old Quarter. The French colonial influence is apparent in the architecture of many of the buildings that line the street. Vietnam's international trade relations have grown considerably since the early 's. Major exports include oil, marine products, rubber, tea, garments, and footwear.

The country is one of the world's largest exporters of coffee and rice. It sells most of its rice to African nations. Its largest trading partners for other commodities include Japan, China, Singapore, Australia, and Taiwan. Vietnamese of all ages work.

As soon as they are able, young children begin helping out around the house or in the fields. Men tend to perform heavier tasks, such as plowing, construction, or heavy industrial work while women work in the garment and footwear sectors. Individuals with post-secondary school educations hold professional positions in medicine, science, and engineering. The lack of a post-secondary education is generally not a barrier to occupying high-ranking business or political positions, though this had begun to change by the late s.

National occupational surveys show that only slightly more than 16 percent of the population is engaged in professional or commercial occupations, while just under 84 percent of the population is engaged in either skilled or unskilled manual labor. The vast majority of the contemporary Vietnamese population is poor.

There has been an increase in social stratification based upon wealth, particularly in urban areas where some individuals, often with links to business or the government, have become very wealthy. Another important axis of stratification is the distinction between mental and manual labor. Given the recent origin of this wealth-based stratification and the widespread poverty, these groups have yet to congeal into clearly-defined classes. Symbols of Social Stratification.


The most prominent contemporary symbols of social stratification are consumer goods. Two of the most common symbols are the possession of a motorcycle, particularly one of Japanese manufacture, and a mobile phone. Other items include refrigerators, televisions, video players, gold jewelry, and imported luxury goods, such as clothing or liquor. Some individuals also assert their status through large wedding feasts. For the very wealthy, automobiles, foreign travel, and expensive homes are important status symbols. Many of the poor ride bicycles, wear old and sometimes tattered clothing, and live in thatched homes.

Vietnam is a socialist republic with a government that includes an elected legislature, the national assembly, a president as head of state, and a prime minister as head of government. However, real political power lies with the Vietnamese Communist Party. Party members hold virtually all executive and administrative positions in the government.

The party's Fatherland Front determines which candidates can run in elections and its politburo sets the guidelines for all major governmental policy initiatives. The most powerful position in the country is the Communist Party general secretary. Other important positions are the prime minister, the president, the minister of public security, and the chief of the armed forces.

Women and members of Vietnam's ethnic groups are nominally represented in the government. One of the most sensitive issues the government faces is balancing regional interests.

Vietnamese Culture and Tradition

Leadership and Political Officials. The Communist Party pressures its members to serve as examples of political virtue. The image they employ as their ideal leader is Ho Chi Minh. Ho was a devoted revolutionary who lived a life of simplicity, avoided corruption, behaved in a fair and egalitarian manner, and put the nation and revolution above his own personal interests.

Party members and others often invoke the numerous moral adages coined by Ho during his life as a benchmark for social and political morality. Ho's popularity is greatest in the north. Residents of other regions sometimes have more ambivalent feelings about him. Local political officials often are caught between two conflicting sets of expectations regarding their behavior. As party members, they are exhorted to follow the official line and disregard their own interests, but relatives and members of their communities often expect them to use their positions to their advantage; thus nepotism and localism are, at one level, culturally sanctioned.

Officials must balance these two sets of demands, as moving too far in one direction can lead to criticism from the other. The Vietnamese revolution eliminated the extremely inegalitarian forms of interaction such as kowtowing or hierarchical terms of address that had existed between commoners and officials. Most Vietnamese address officials with respectful kinship terms, such as "older brother" anh or "grandfather" ong , or in rare cases as "comrade" dong chi. Events in the late s, notably several uprisings in rural areas in , have demonstrated that the people's respect for the party and its officials has declined, largely as a result of the highhandedness and corruption of many officials.

However, significant alternative political movements have not emerged. Social Problems and Control. Vietnam has enjoyed a large measure of stability since the late s, but its government today faces a number of significant social problems. Its greatest concern has been unrest in rural areas brought on by official malfeasance and land disputes. The government is also concerned about relations with religious groups in the south, particularly Catholics, Cao Dai, and Hoa Hao, who have demonstrated against the government since the s. Another source of concern is smuggling and the production of counterfeit commodities.

Three problems that have increased dramatically in urban areas during the s have been theft, prostitution, and drug abuse. Many who engage in the latter two activities are often from the poorest segments of the population. Official corruption associated with the drug trade and sex industry are another significant problem.

Vietnam has a legal system supported by a police force, a judicial and a security system. Yet, many Vietnamese feel that the system does not work, particularly with regard to its failure either to punish high-ranking offenders or to prevent the wealthy from bribing their way out of being punished for illegal activities.

A Look at Vietnamese Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette

The former is often made possible by the extremely low salaries received by public officials. People also feel that the state deals more severely with political dissidents than many civil and criminal offenders. While there is a limited police and security presence in rural communities, the tightly-packed living spaces and ubiquitous kinship relations hinder the conduct of many crimes. If possible, local officials often prefer to settle disputes internally, rather than involve higher authorities.

Public skepticism regarding the police and judicial system is a source of concern for the government. The People's Army of Vietnam has roughly , active members with three to four million in the reserves. Since its withdrawal from Cambodia in , the military has not been Houses clustered along the shore of Halong Bay.

It is common for houses in Vietnam to be built close to one another within a village. The Vietnamese government has a strong commitment to social welfare and social change, particularly health improvements, poverty alleviation, and economic development. It is also concerned with providing assistance to war invalids and the families of war dead. Numerous offices at all levels of government are dedicated to these goals, but their efforts are severely constrained by a lack of funding. As a result, the implementation of many such policies is carried out with the assistance of international donors and organizations.

Several governments including those of Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Japan, have provided significant assistance. The international nongovernmental organization presence is significant, ranging from various organizations of the United Nations that conduct a wide variety of projects across the country, to small groups that work in only one community. The programs they finance and implement include poverty alleviation, infectious disease control, contraception, educational assistance, and water purification, among others.

The development of civil society in Vietnam is still in its nascent stages, thus there are as of yet few indigenous nongovernmental associations that play a significant role in social life. Two types that appear to be gaining importance are patrilineages and religious or ritual organizations, such as local Buddhist Associations or Spirit Medium Associations.

Some official organizations such as the Communist Party's Elderly Association that has a presence in villages throughout the country play an important role in organizing funerals and assisting the elderly. Division of Labor by Gender. In prerevolutionary Vietnam the "public" ngoai domain was the male domain while the "domestic" noi domain was for women. This pattern still largely remains with women performing most of the essential tasks for running the household such as cooking, cleaning, going to market, and caring for children.

Outside Two women sit down to breakfast in Vietnam. While women have a strong role within families, their status in business and government is less significant than men's. In urban areas women are often secretaries or waitresses, occupying lower level service positions.

In general, men perform the majority of public activities, particularly business, political office or administration, and occupations that require extended periods away from home, such as long-distance truck driving. Men also control the most prestigious religious roles such as being a Buddhist monk or Catholic priest. While both men and women engage in all phases of agricultural production, the physically demanding activities of plowing and raking are mostly performed by men.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Vietnamese revolutionary policies endorse the principle of gender equality, but its realization in social life has been incomplete. Men dominate official positions, the Communist Party, business, and all other prestigious realms of social life. Women play a strong role within their families, a point made in the reference to the wife as the "general of the interior" noi tuong. The position and status of women has improved significantly since , but lower literacy rates, less education, and a smaller presence in public life indicate that their inferior status remains.

Marriage is an expected rite of passage for the attainment of adulthood. Almost all people marry, usually in their late teens or early twenties. According to Vietnamese law, arranged marriage and polygamy are illegal. Young people can court freely, but many women are careful not to court too openly for fear of developing a negative reputation. Many Vietnamese regard the development of romantic love as an important component in deciding to marry, but many will also balance family considerations when making their decision. Vietnamese prefer to marry someone of equal status, though it is better for the husband to be of slightly higher status.

Such considerations have become more significant in recent years as wealth differentials have grown. Vietnamese law allows both men and women to ask for a divorce. Divorce rates have increased, particularly in urban areas, but many women are reluctant to divorce because remarriage is difficult for them.

The common pattern for the domestic unit is to have two or three generations living together in one home. In some urban settings, particularly if the family resides in government allocated housing, the household might only include two generations, while some homes in the countryside have up to five generations.

Residence in most homes is organized around the male line. Authority within the household is exercised by the eldest male, although his wife will often have an important say in family matters. Sons stay in the parent's home, and after marriage their brides move in with them. The eldest son will usually remain in the home, while younger sons might leave to set up their own household a few years after marriage.

Women of all generations tend to such matters as cooking, cleaning, and caring for children, though these responsibilities tend to fall on the younger wives. The general custom is for the eldest son to inherit the parental home and the largest portion of the family property, particularly land. Younger sons will often inherit some land or other items, such as gold.

In rare cases daughters receive small items. Many parents like all of their children to receive something in order to prevent discord. If a person dies without a pre-stipulated arrangement, Vietnamese law requires an equal distribution of property among the next of kin. Patrilineages are the most important kin groups. At birth, children become members of their father's patrilineage and are forbidden from marrying anyone of that patrilineage within five degrees of relation.

Most rural villages have several patrilineages whose members live amongst each other. Patrilineages generally do not exercise a dominant role in social life, although lineage members often meet to conduct commemorative rites for their ancestors. Many highland groups have matrilineages and different rules regarding marriage. Vietnamese infants are in constant contact with others. People hold children and pass them around throughout the day.

During the night infants sleep with their parents in the parents' bed. Infant care is largely the responsibility of female family members.

Vietnam in Close-up - Youth preserve tradition & culture

Mothers play the primary role, although in cases when they must be away, older relatives help care for the children. Older siblings often help out too. People talk and play with infants, calm them when they cry, and always try to make them smile and laugh. Child Rearing and Education. Adults take a generally indulgent attitude toward children until they reach the age of five or six. At that point, they become more strict and begin more serious moral instruction. The general moral message is for children to learn to "respect order" ton ti trat tu , a reference to knowing their inferior position in society and showing deference to their superiors.

Parents also emphasize the importance of filial piety and obedience to the parents. A good child will always know its inferior place and yield to its seniors. As they get older, the moral socialization of girls is more intense than that of boys. Girls are expected to display a number of feminine virtues, particularly modesty and chastity. Schools continue the instruction of these moral themes, but given that the majority of Vietnamese do not study beyond primary school, they are not a significant site for moral socialization.

Higher education is very prestigious, a tradition that dates back to the competitive examination system to become an official in the precolonial period. Many families want their children to attend university, but such an option is beyond reach for the majority of the population, particularly those in rural or highland areas. Polite behavior is highly valued. One of the most important dimensions of politeness is for the young to show respect to their elders. In everyday life, younger people show this respect by using hierarchical terms of address when interacting with their seniors and parents regularly instruct their children on their proper usage.

Younger people should also be the first to issue the common salutation chao when meeting someone older, should always invite their seniors to begin eating before they do, ask for permission to leave the house, announce their arrival when they return, and not dominate conversations or speak in a confrontational manner with their seniors. Prerevolutionary practices demanded that juniors bow or kowtow to their seniors, but the revolution has largely eliminated such practices.

Many elders today feel that the revolution produced a general decline in politeness. People of the same gender often maintain close proximity in social contexts. Both males and females will hold hands or sit very close together. People of different genders, however, especially if they are not married or related, should not have physical contact. In general woman are expected to maintain greater decorum than men by avoiding alcohol and tobacco, speaking quietly, and dressing modestly.

In many public spaces, however, people often avoid standing in queues, resulting in a chaotic environment where people touch or press up against one another as they go about their business. Rice is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine, eaten three meals a day, but rice is also exported as well—mostly to African countries. The Vietnamese government recognizes six official religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, and two indigenous religious traditions that emerged during the colonial period, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao.

The Mahayana tradition of Buddhism is dominant in Vietnam, and over 70 percent of Vietnamese consider themselves at least nominally Buddhist. The constitution technically allows for the freedom of religion, but this right is often constrained, particularly with regard to any religious activities that could become a forum for dissent.

All religious organizations are technically overseen by the Communist Party's Fatherland Front, but opposition, notably from the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and some Buddhist sects, has been present. Denominational variations aside, the core of religious practice for almost all Vietnamese is the worship of spirits. The most important spirits are the souls of the ancestors. Almost all families have altars in their homes where they perform rites for family ancestors, especially on the deceased's death anniversaries and the Lunar New Year.

Many Vietnamese also perform or participate in rites for their village guardian spirits, spirits associated with specific locations, spirits of deceased heroes, or the Buddha or different Boddhisatvas, particularly Avalokitesvara. Some Vietnamese believe that spirits have the ability to bring good fortune and misfortune to human life. Revolutionaries strenuously objected to such thinking because they felt that it prevented the Vietnamese from becoming masters of their own destinies.

Today, acceptance of ideas of supernatural causality is more common among women, while some men, particularly those with party or military backgrounds, reject such ideas. Each of the main religious traditions has its own set of practitioners such as Christian priests, nuns, and ministers, Buddhist monks and nuns, Islamic clerics, and Cao Dai and Hao Hao priests.

Vietnamese society also features spirit priests, Taoist masters, spirit mediums, diviners, and astrologers. The three former specialists have the ability to interact with the spirit world in order to learn the spirits' desires and persuade or coerce them to behave in particular manners. They are usually consulted to help the living cure illness or end a pattern of misfortune. Spirit priests and Taoist masters are usually men who study religious texts to learn their specialty. Most mediums are women, many of whom become mediums after a crisis or revelatory experience.

Diviners and astrologers have the ability to predict the future. Diviners make their predictions through a range of divinatory rites or by reading faces or palms. Astrologers make their calculations Agriculture is one of the few areas in which men and women share tasks in Vietnamese culture. Many people consult one of the latter two specialists when planning a new venture, such as taking a trip or starting a business. Rituals and Holy Places. The most important ritual event in Vietnamese society is the celebration of the Lunar New Year Tet Nguyen Dan when families gather to welcome the coming of the new year and pay their respects to family ancestors.

The first and fifteenth of every month in the twelve month lunar year are also important occasions for rites to ancestors, spirits, and Buddhist deities.

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Other common days for rites are the death anniversaries of family ancestors, historical figures, or Buddhist deities; the fifteenth of the third lunar month when family members clean ancestral graves; and the fifteenth of the seventh lunar month, which is Vietnamese All Soul's Day. Vietnamese conduct rites in a variety of sacred spaces. These include family ancestral altars, lineage halls, a variety of shrines dedicated to spirits, communal houses that hold the altars of village guardian spirits, temples of Buddhist or other affiliations, Christian churches, and mosques.

The country also has many shrines and temples that hold annual festivals that pilgrims and interested visitors attend, often from great distances. Death and the Afterlife. The vast majority of Vietnamese hold that a person's soul lives on after death. One of the most important moral obligations for the living, especially the deceased's children, is to conduct a proper funeral that will facilitate the soul's movement from the world of the living to what Vietnamese refer to as "the other world" gioi khac. This transfer is vital because a soul that does not move to the other world is condemned to becoming a malevolent wandering ghost, while the soul that does move can become a benevolent family ancestor.

There is a great deal of variation regarding the conduct of funeral rites, but they share this common goal. The other world is regarded as identical to that of the living. To live happily there, the dead depend on the living to provide them with essential items. At a minimum this includes food, though some also send money, clothing, and other items.

Family members deliver these items through mortuary rituals, especially those performed annually on the deceased's death anniversary. All rituals associated with death have a tremendous moral significance in Vietnamese society. The Vietnamese, like residents of other poor, tropical countries, suffer from a wide range of maladies, including parasitic, intestinal, nutritional, sexually transmitted, and respiratory diseases.

In , the average life expectancy at birth was The major endemic diseases include malaria, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B. Since the early s, the Vietnamese government, with assistance from international organizations, has achieved tremendous successes in reducing malaria fatalities and also in eliminating polio. However, some infectious diseases have begun reemerging in recent years, particularly tuberculosis, and the number of HIV-AIDS cases has also grown significantly. Many infectious diseases are associated with poverty and the poor often suffer the most severe consequences. The Vietnamese revolution created improvements in the quality and availability of health care.

The government constructed hospitals in urban areas and health clinics in rural communities where patients were required to pay only minimal fees. Many of the larger facilities were constructed with international assistance.

Culture of Vietnam

The south has three identifiable seasons, with the rainy season extending between June and November, the cool, dry period stretching between December and February and the hot, arid months being comprised of March to May. The Vietnamese language belongs to the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic family of languages along with other tongues such as the Cambodian official language Khmer and many regional variations such as Khasi and Mundi.

It is heavily influenced by Chinese due to the 1, years of Chinese rule from roughly BC to AD, with a significant proportion of its lexicon borrowed almost directly from its larger neighbour. Up until the end of the 19th century, Chinese characters were also widely used to transcribe the language.

However, in the 17th century, a French Jesuit missionary named Alexandre de Rhodes converted the language into a Roman form, adding accents to indicate stress and tone.

Vietnam Guide

This script was not adopted on a large scale until the beginning of the 20th century, when education became more commonplace and the Romanised alphabet began to be taught in schools. Thanks to the millennium of Chinese rule, Confucianism is the dominant influence on Vietnamese customs and etiquette. This revolves largely around comporting oneself admirably in Vietnamese society, most notably with respect to age and status.

All due respect and deference is paid to those of advanced years, with the oldest members of any group always being greeted and served first. Their wisdom is sought in important family or community matters, as well. In addition to recognising the esteem attached to age, Confucianism also places heavy emphasis on duty, honour, loyalty and sincerity. In social situations, there are a large number of expectations placed upon your behaviour towards your peers in terms of public etiquette.

As a foreigner, allowances will be made if you do not always comply with these codes of conduct, but in order to make the best impression possible, it is good to bear in mind the following:. In order to gain the respect and favour of any prospective business partners in the country, it is important to familiarise yourself with practices and etiquette that are integral to successful commerce. Doing so will communicate not only your familiarity with their way of life, but also your suitability as a partner and will underline your business acumen.

The first meeting should not discuss business and should be seen only as an opportunity to get to know your counterpart and cultivate a good working relationship with them. While placing hands together and bowing your head is the traditional form of greeting in Vietnam, it has been all but eradicated by the westernisation of society.