The Expat in Vietnam

By , April 10, 2007 10:55 pm

Dear friend,

If you are working and living in Vietnam as an expatriate expert, please try not to be shocked when…

People are two hours late!
Many Vietnamese are late for meetings, appointments, schedule, get-togethers, especially weddings. It’s very usual that you receive a wedding invitation at 5pm, and it only starts after 7pm. While being late for work activities is absolutely not good, I may explain the case of the wedding. Weddings, more than an official announcement ritual, are chances for relatives of the couple’s large families to meet with and get updated about others. Poverty, digital divide, telecommunication constraints have made communication so hard that these chance are precious. If it happens that you arrive at exact 5pm, spend the time gossiping with other people – you already knew Vietnamese are friendly. On the positive side, enjoy the slow pace of life in this tropical country!
Fortunately, more and more Vietnamese people practice the basic etiquette of punctuality.

People ride their bikes like flying mosquitoes!
I’m serious here. 13,000 people are reported fatal victims of traffic accidents annually. Please be very careful with traffic. Don’t go on motor-taxi if the rider is not trusted. Moreover, buses might not be as safe and comfortable like in more developed countries, but it’s still safe enough to travel by.

You go out with your workmates and they hand you the bill.
It is Vietnamese culture that the seniority pays the bill. Vietnamese peers also take turn paying the bills for coffee shops or light break. FYI, more Vietnamese go Dutch. If you’re not sure, just ask – and simply be prepared for most cases.

Shopkeepers charge you your arm and leg
Remember to bargain! One third of the proposed price is reasonable. Also, go with a Vietnamese friend, or go shopping in supermarkets.

People eat ‘gross’ food…
…like pig skin, chicken claw, kidneys, small intestine, insects, or reptiles. Even ‘nuoc mam’ (fish sauce), mam (salted fish), durian taste horrible.
Also, many Vietnamese share the same bowl of soup and the same dish of sauce.
It’s natural in this country. If you’re not comfortable, speak it out so your co-workers know how to order more familiar food and a separate dish of sauce for you.

People find it hard to say ‘No’
Most of the time the reply to your questions with negative element like “This isn’t correct, is it?” is the pleasant “Yes”. While in English language, the ‘Yes’ answer means that the information being communicated is correct, it is different in Vietnamese language. When Vietnamese say “Yes”, it can be literally translated to English as “Yes, I agree with what you say”. Linguistics researchers point out that the root of the difference lies in the fact that Vietnamese language is more human-focused, and English language might be more information-focused.
It’s observable that a few Vietnamese respond the same way English normally do.
When you’re aware of this, please select the best way of speaking that allows you to have the answer you expect.

People avoid losing face
This can be sensitive. Please take any tactical steps to overcome the glitch in communication in order not to make any unnecessary cultural shock to both sides.

People tend to overuse English words in their conversation
Especially in the workplace of foreign-owned sector. The only reason is that many terms have not had the corresponding Vietnamese word. It’s not something to make a fuss over, as long as we find it convenient for our works.

(to be continued…)

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