Vietnamese Culture Reference Guide
“Xin Chao” (Hello), Chào buổi sang (Good morning), and Chào buổi tối (Good evening), are the common verbal greetings and can be used in both formal and informal circumstances. Shaking hands is a norm in Vietnam. Some people may use both hands, with one of the hands on top of the other person’s hand. Handshakes may be accompanied with a slight nod of the head. This indicates respect. When greeting someone of the opposite sex it is better to do it verbally and with a nod or slight bow, and wait for your counterpart’s reaction, since Vietnamese women don’t usually shake hands with each other or with men. Elders are very respected in Vietnamese culture and should be greeted with exceptional respect, either with both hands or with a bow or nod, with no direct gaze.
The Vietnamese are known to be indirect communicators, therefore, you should try to read between the lines and pay attention to non-verbal forms of communication, such as posture, expression, and tone of voice. Like in most Asian cultures, there is a special care for politeness and ‘saving face’, a concept that relates to the individual and community’s dignity and status. For this reason, saying no in a blunt way can be quite challenging for the Vietnamese, so you must look for hints, like hesitation. Silence is appreciated in Vietnamese culture and there is no need to feel uncomfortable in case you find yourself in such scenario.
Personal space and touching
Show of affection in public is not encouraged, especially between women and men. However, between same-gender friends it is not unlikely that you will see displays of affection, like holding-hands, or walking arm in arm. Also, it is important to keep in mind that touching the head of someone, even of a child, as well as passing something over someone’s head is considered rude and disrespectful.
Eye contact and gestures
Direct eye contact should be avoided on the street and with those of opposite gender, older or with a higher status. Nonetheless, it is expected among peers. Loud talking and with too many gestures can be seen as impolite or inconsiderate. Also, pointing is considered disrespectful.
Instead, you can use your open hand to signal, which represents the same thing. Standing with your hands on your hips is considered rude, as it an expression of arrogance and, in Vietnamese culture, humility is highly appreciated.
Vietnamese Population in the United States
Vietnamese Interpretation and Translation Services
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Vietnamese, a language with Chinese and French influences, is the official and national language of Vietnam. The country, smaller than California, has enough room to accommodate over one hundred languages, even though most of the inhabitants speak Vietnamese as their first or second language. After Vietnamese, the most spoken languages in the country (out of the one hundred mentioned earlier) are Chinese, Khmer (the official language of Cambodia) and Cham. Vietnamese is a tonal language, and it has up to six tones that can change the meaning of a word completely. For example, ma “ghost” and má “cheek”, are apparently similar, but have a completely different meaning due to pronunciation.
There are three main dialects of Vietnamese, that differ in its sound system and vocabulary, but that are mutually intelligible.
Northern, Hanoi dialect (Standard)
This dialect is widely spoken in the north of the country and city of Hanoi. It is the dialect used by the media and official channels and it is considered the standard language of Vietnam; therefore, it is overall understood in all areas of the country. The clear pronunciation of the dialect and evident distinction between the six tones of the language helps to ensure its broad understanding among Vietnamese speakers.
Central, Huế dialect
Spoken in the central area of the country, this dialect only uses five out of the six tones, and in some regions, only four. It is characterized by its “heaviness”, due to the emphasis on low tones. This dialect has the least representation in media and uses some ancient words, therefore it is the hardest to understand by those who are not familiar with it. Additionally, there are many dialects throughout different cities and villages in central Vietnam.
Southern, Saigon (Ho Chi Min City)
This dialect can be heard in the south of Vietnam. If you are ever in this part of the world, you will notice that southern Vietnamese speak in a low-pitch and monotone accent, and do not make a distinction between the asking tone (hook) and the tumbling tone. Also, the Saigon dialect has different words, fewer tones, and it modifies certain consonants.
Countries Where Vietnamese is the Official Language
There are approximately 77 million Vietnamese speakers worldwide, around 75 million of them in Vietnam.
Vietnamese is also spoken in other countries, mainly in Australia and the United States, countries with the highest rate of Vietnamese migrants in the world, as well as in Cambodia and Laos.
Immigration from Vietnam to the United States began in 1975, after the fall of Saigon and end of the Vietnam war, with the evacuation of approximately 125,000 Vietnamese refugees.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2017, there were over 1.3 million Vietnamese in the United States, the top destination for Vietnamese migrants, according to estimations by the United Nations Population Division.
Leading states with the highest Vietnamese population: