Vietnamese traditions, culture and customs

Features of Vietnamese culture: customs, religion, literature

Vietnam ─ a small country with a long history and unique culture ─ attracts more and more attention. And not only from the point of view of tourism, everything is interesting in it – traditions, way of life, national art and art. Southeast Asia remains perhaps one of the few places on the planet, where centuries-old traditions are carefully preserved and protected. Purity of manners and family values prevail over the influence of the West. Especially it is felt by the culture in Vietnam.

How do people live in Vietnam?

Many things will seem strange to a European in the life and culture of the Vietnamese. We have long been isolated in our own little world, sometimes we don’t even know our neighbors in the stairwell. The Vietnamese live “wide open”. Literally. In Vietnam, it is not customary to close doors when someone is home. Even in modern apartment buildings, they are always wide open. “We have nothing to hide,” they say.

The life of ordinary Vietnamese

The main thing in the life and culture of the Vietnamese is to honor their elders. Their elders never live separately, only in the family. There is almost no divorce. It happens very rarely, but this is the influence of the West. So is the fact that in the big cities, young people have begun to show a desire for an independent life, separate from their parents. Still, Vietnamese culture is slowly and reluctantly transforming toward the West.

The fate of women in Vietnam is not enviable. She has to do all the housework. It is good when in the city it is only cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children. In the countryside, her life becomes a servitude. Because it’s a woman’s job to fix the house, house livestock, and vegetable garden. Working in the rice fields is also a woman’s job. A man can spend all day in front of the television and it wouldn’t even occur to him to help a woman. It’s not customary. That is the culture and customs of Vietnam.

The Vietnamese never eat breakfast at home. From very early in the morning, small street cafes are packed with customers. The traditional breakfast is a huge portion of pho soup.

The culture of child-rearing in Vietnam is also different from ours. It is believed that up to one year old child should eat a lot. When you meet your child, you are not asked how your child is feeling. They ask how much he weighs. In the morning, you can see a touching picture ─ of mothers or grandmothers walking around the yard with their children, holding plates of food in their hands. They follow and feed their child. Up to a certain age, children are allowed anything that does not endanger their safety.


The culture of the Vietnamese is such that they often live by predictions. Before making any decision a Vietnamese will turn to a soothsayer. You will often see a funeral procession on the streets of a Vietnamese town at 7 am or 6 pm. This is the time for the funeral appointed by the soothsayer. The opening of a new office, the time for receiving guests or the date of a wedding are all assigned according to his recommendation. This culture of fortune telling is very common here.

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Wedding in Vietnam

A modest wedding in Vietnam is a wedding with 200─300 guests. The wealth of the bride’s family is judged by how many dresses she has changed at the wedding ceremony. One gift is never given at a wedding. The number should be odd.

The name culture of the Vietnamese is complicated (in our opinion). The name given to a child at birth is considered secret and only the parents know it. They address their children quite simply as “the first”, “the second” and so on in the order of their birth. The secret name is considered protection. There is no patronymic either – you cannot take an ancestor’s name in vain. The culture of communication in Vietnam implies that interlocutors address each other by so-called individual names.

In Vietnamese there are as many as eight pronouns, which in Russian are translated only by one – “I”. Their use depends on age, sex and social status.

Deceased relatives are always given a new name. The Vietnamese culture does not allow pronouncing the name when alive as it is a great sin. The wake can last up to 7 days. The first day relatives should be in white clothes – this is the color of mourning in Vietnam. The hearse is more like a gilded carriage, the funeral procession travels quite fast and is accompanied by bravura music. In Vietnam, there are also public cemeteries, but often you can find burials right in the yard of the house where the deceased lived. Sometimes there are as many as 10 graves. Return to Table of Contents


Handshakes are customary in Vietnam, but only men shake hands this way. A slight bow with prayerfully folded hands is only appropriate during official receptions. The culture forbids a slight pat on the shoulder because it is perceived as aggression. You should not pat a child’s head, you will deprive it of protection from evil spirits.

Vietnamese etiquette

When you have dinner with the Vietnamese never leave your chopsticks in the plate with the food, you should not touch the chopsticks of the person sitting next to you with your chopsticks. The one who pays for dinner is always the one who is higher in social status. Vietnamese culture is such that the bill for a meal in a restaurant is never shared. It is always paid by one person.

When entering a temple or a house, and even some stores, take your shoes off outside. And don’t be afraid, no one will ever steal them. Vietnamese by their culture are very clean and they wash their shops several times a day.


When they talk about the culture of Vietnam in the area of religion, they call it the “religious triangle”. Three religions have influenced this side of spiritual life-Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. The French colonizers left their mark on Vietnam in the form of Christianity. About 8% of the Vietnamese are Catholic or Protestant. Most are animists – those who worship spirits and the mother goddess. Buddhism is practiced by about 17% of the population.

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In fact, most Vietnamese are atheists by culture of religion. And the main thing in their life is the cult of ancestors. Wherever you go – to a store, a café, an office, a private house or an apartment – everywhere you see a small altar with smoked aromatic sticks and fruit. This is the altar of the ancestors.

Religion in Vietnam

Every second and sixteenth of the lunar month, a treat is presented to the ancestors. A table is set under the open sky and various dishes are served. Among them are sure to be sweet rice, homemade rice noodles, boiled chicken, and fruit. If the ancestors were smokers and took alcohol, there will be shot glasses of Vietnamese moonshine and smoked smoking cigarettes on the table. After the ancestors accepted these gifts, they are supposed to be eaten (except cigarettes, of course).

The culture of this religion combines features of Freemasonry, Buddhism, Taoism, the cult of ancestors, and Christianity with a great deal of mysticism. The culture of this religion combines features of Freemasonry, Buddhism, Taoism, the cult of ancestors and Christianity with a great deal of mysticism. In Vietnam it emerged in the second decade of the twentieth century and at one time was repressed for political reasons. Today it has several million followers, is freely worshiped and is very attractive to tourists. Historical figures such as Lenin, Leo Tolstoy, Victor Hugo and Louis Pasteur are elevated to the rank of holy spirits.

Theater and music

An integral part of the country’s culture is the Vietnamese art of theater. It has its roots in the distant past. Like the Japanese shadow theater, it has its own traditional national theater of puppets on water. The puppets are made of wood and the entire performance takes place on the water surface of the lake. Unforgettable spectacle – under the national music in the light of burning lights action takes place, which is reflected in the water. These shows are loved by locals and tourists alike, on whom it makes an indelible impression.

Theater and music in Vietnam

Another favorite cultural trend in Vietnam is the theater opera. There are several of them – Cheo (a popular opera), Tuong, more like a production of a heroic epic, and Cai Luong – an opera in the modern style.

Cheo originated in mountain villages where people entertained themselves by staging genre scenes to music. The culture of singing is accompanied by dancing, with a clown as an indispensable participant. Often the actors improvise during the performance.

Tuong was designed to awaken patriotic feelings. The obligatory attribute is lush scenery, military props, and masks.

Cai Luong is quite modern theater, combining tradition and folk music with modern urban rhythms.

Vietnamese music is very melodic. The Vietnamese are musical people, they love to sing and they do it very beautifully. They draw inspiration from music – for love and for feats of labor. Their culture allows them to sing in sorrow and in joy. The national instruments are gongs, bamboo flutes, plucked string instruments and xylophones. The latter, preserved from ancient times, have stones instead of keys. But how they sound!

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A separate genre of culture is the music played on the instrument Dan Bau. It is played exclusively for oneself, to fill one’s soul with love. In Vietnam, it is said that young women should not listen to it. Often poetry is recited to this music.


In literature, Vietnam has been influenced by China for centuries. However, it affected all aspects of the spiritual life of the people. Until the XX century the Vietnamese written language was based on Chinese characters, and only in the last century the Vietnamese language shifted to the Latin alphabet.

Literature in Vietnam

The first literary monuments in Vietnam date back to the 10th century and are heroic epics, mythology and tales. In the XIII-XIV centuries the genre of court poetry began to develop. The culture in the field of Vietnamese literature was created by its classics. They are Nguyen Chi (15th century) – patriot and humanist, Nguyen Binh Khiem (16th century) – author of contemplative poetry, Nguyen Zu (18th and 19th centuries) – lyric poet, who has been compared to Pushkin.

The 20th century is marked by the emergence of new genres in culture and thematic convergence with Western literature. Fiction, science fiction, philosophical and love affairs appeared.

Festivals and celebrations

The culture of each part of the country has its own characteristics and traditional festivals. But there are several major ones that unite the whole country. This is Tet, the New Year according to the lunar calendar. It is accompanied by colorful processions, carnivals and festivities. Chang Phu Autumn Festival in Vietnam ─ a time when the whole country is decorated with paper lanterns, all sorts of sweet treats are displayed and costumed Lion Dance is performed.

Independence Day in Vietnam.

North, Central, and South Vietnamese festivals are local cultural festivals. They usually focus on Buddhist temples, historical and cultural figures, sporting duels, and local fishing or village festivals. The Vietnamese calendar has 13 official holidays, but there are only a few red (non-working) days – Independence Day – September 2, Tet (according to the lunar calendar, the date is not constant) – 4 days and May 1 – International Workers’ Solidarity Day.

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Everything you didn’t know about Vietnamese culture: customs, laws and language.

Everything you didn't know about Vietnamese culture: customs, laws and language.

Vietnam is an exotic country with mild climate and ancient history. Traditions and lifestyle, geographical landscape and local people all create a special atmosphere and flavor of the country.

Customs and traditions

Vietnamese culture is inseparable from the distinctive values and spiritual traditions of the people. For thousands of years, the Vietnamese people have worshipped their ancestors because they sincerely believe in the immortality of the human soul after death. In the honorable corner of the house there is an altar, where it is customary to pray for one’s wishes.

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The wedding custom of the Vietnamese people is also interesting, which begins with the engagement ceremony. The families of the bride and groom prepare their representatives with a high position in society and exchange mutual gifts in honor of the upcoming marriage. Gifts to the newlyweds are placed on an odd number of trays covered with red cloth. According to local beliefs, this brings good luck. The date of the wedding celebration is chosen according to the lunar calendar, and after the main banquet, another one is organized. The additional event is designed to meet those guests who were not invited to the wedding.

The expectant mother should follow a dietary regime – eat only nutritious food in large quantities. It is recommended to talk and educate the future child as if it were already born. Pregnant women should not do heavy work, overexert themselves, or attend any public events, from weddings to funerals.

After the baby is born, it is compulsory to dress the baby in the clothes of the siblings to ward off evil spirits of envy. The first feast for the newborn is arranged in a month – the child has a patroness godmother, who teaches the baby to smile. The second celebration is called “Coming out of the cradle” and is held after the first lunar year. During the celebration, the person in question is offered several household items to choose from that determine his or her future.

Laws and Responsibilities

It is officially forbidden in the country not only to sell and buy, but also to kill animals. Plants are sold only through outlets with special certificates. The same rule applies to the unauthorized movement of the country’s cultural treasures and taking photographs of military objects, including selfies against their background.

A large fine can be incurred for disrespecting the Buddha. This applies not only to the temple statue, but also to an ordinary souvenir. Do not openly demonstrate your feelings on the streets, such as hugging or kissing, even if it is a married couple.

Vietnam has a taboo on the use of the World Wide Web. There is a ban on access to social networks for foreigners. The latter have no right to invite local residents to their rooms. It is possible to get a fine for smoking in public places, as well as trading e-cigarettes or their analogues. And possession and sale of drugs can carry the death penalty.

Cultural and Linguistic Practices

Vietnamese are friendly people, but they do not tolerate any touch, including a friendly hug or a pat on the shoulder. Such behavior offends people because they believe that the human soul is in the head. The Vietnamese greet each other with a slight bow with palms joined at chest level. Also, these people often smile, but it is not always a sign of affection for others. Such a facial expression can be a sign of sadness or even outright hostility.

Etiquette here is principled and meticulous. People necessarily address each other courteously, “sir” or “madam,” which is considered a sign of respect. People are used to hiding their emotions in public, so they are very limited in their body language. Obtrusive waving of hands is considered a sign of lack of culture and upbringing.

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In public catering establishments one does not leave chopsticks on the plate, and the person who has a higher social status pays for the food. It is always up to one person to pay, even if it is a girl who has come on a date with a guy.

In houses and temples people necessarily go barefoot and go out facing the shrines. At the entrance to a Vietnamese house you can see a mirror, which is not intended for the fair sex. They are placed to scare the dragons that can fly into the house and bring trouble.

The language of the Vietnamese people can not be called simple, because it has many dialects, classified into many possible dialects and accents. Even a common speech has six tones, so the slightest error in pronunciation may not only change the meaning of the phrase, but also turn into an obscene insult.

The main peculiarity of the Vietnamese language – tonality and a great number of syllables (about 2,5 thousand). Thus one syllable can have several meanings, which changes depending on intonation. Characteristic of the language is the reduction of compound words to monosyllables, and the construction of grammatical relations by means of auxiliary words, instead of prefixes or suffixes. The pronouns indicating personhood are replaced by related terms. There is also a fixed word order in the subject-predicate-complement scheme.

Modern written language is a Latin alphabet with diacretics, which affects both the essence of words and their pronunciation.

The way of the Vietnamese family

When a newborn baby is born in a Vietnamese family, he is not called by name, but according to the order of birth. That is, the eldest child is the “big one,” and the following are the second, third, and so on. But such a tradition is very rare nowadays. Modern families prefer to choose common names consisting of several parts. For example, by the paternal surname (first syllable), the so-called middle name, symbolizing a certain generation (second), as well as the personal name chosen by the parents (it is the last, third part). Exclusively first names (without surnames) are used both in everyday life and in business address. At the same time, if the family already has a person with the chosen name, the child in no case is called by the same name.

Children’s upbringing is of great importance, especially its moral part. Education takes second place, but assimilation of social norms, relationships within the family and the community is the most important parental task. Children’s obedience is valued much more than independence and intelligence.

In Vietnam, it is customary to show reverence for the elderly. Grandparents are classified into internal (paternal) and external (paternal). When parents reach an advanced age, their children and grandchildren organize special longevity ceremonies. They are held on birthdays or during Tet. This is one of the most favorite celebrations of the Vietnamese people, which is celebrated from a week to 10 days.

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