What’s acceptable to American etiquette may not be acceptable for the Hanoi culture
When traveling – be it in Vietnam or any place in the world – you should acknowledge that there are massive cultural and political differences. Many tourists found themselves in trouble for not knowing the basic Hanoian etiquette. So before embarking on your visit, you should know some of these Hanoi do’s and don’ts.
1. Carrying a lot of money on the streets than what you need
If you’re exploring the streets or the night market, I advise that you just bring the amount you need. There are pickpockets in the city and bringing everything you got can land you penniless in one night. Even if you hold your bag like grim death, snatchers can easily take it away from you. Anyway, showing a lot of money is impolite for the locals because it sends a flaunting attitude.
2. Wearing many pieces of jewelry or showing off expensive belongings
Aside from being the victim of snatchers, wearing too much jewelry is an arrogant look for the locals. Hanoi people hates flaunting of wealth and it’s rare to see any local wearing such heavy jewelry except if there are special occasions. If you’re really bent on wearing a few, just stick on a simple pair of earrings or a less attractive bracelet.
3. Wearing revealing or short clothes in temples and pagodas
Temples and pagodas are very sacred places for Hanoians. Thus, wearing revealing clothes or shorts is an outright disrespect to their ancestors. You should avoid wearing shorts, sleeveless shirts, and slippers. If you insist on entering the place, the locals will apprehend you and send you away. That’s too much for a public spectacle let alone shame on your part.
4. Sleeping with your feet pointed on the family altar
When you’re sleeping at a friend’s house, avoid sleeping with your feet pointing on the family altar. Hanoi people believe that this is bad luck for the family. Also, you shouldn’t sit with your feet pointing towards other people in the room.
5. Losing cool while haggling
Vietnamese people in general value their “face”, meaning their integrity and honor. If you get angry while haggling for your sought-after silk, you’re making them “lose their face”. When you show anger towards a person in public, they’re put in extreme humiliation. Hanoians don’t have the “brutally honest” idea that, we, Westerners have. If you have to criticize them, do it discreetly and don’t get offended if they just smiled instead of saying sorry. It’s their gentle way of not “losing face” so it’s important to remember these Hanoi do’s and don’ts .
6. Showing affection while in public
It’s rare to see Hanoi couples kissing or holding hands in public if it isn’t for a photo op. Showing affection to your lover in public is disrespectful for elders and immoral for some. If you happen to see youngsters doing such, they’re already a more liberated generation. But I suggest that you refrain from the PDA. Yes, it isn’t a big deal here in America, but not abiding by this etiquette will send locals eyeing you all the time. And that’s not a very comfortable scenario for a vacation.
7. Taking video cams in ethnic villages
Ethnic people have a reserved attitude so bringing and using a video camera is an intrusive move. They may find you arrogant and shy away from the touring group. If you want to take a picture with them, you’ve to ask for permission on their village head or to anyone they trust. Anyway, showing a fancy smart phone may not also be proper so you better ask the tour guides first.
8. Talking about Vietnam War or corruption
Vietnam War and political corruption are taboo topics in Hanoi. If you start a conversation with those topics, the locals will cringe on your attitude and feel indifferent about you. If you’re not sure if the folks are open to talk about it, it’s better to keep mum.
9. Taking photos of military installations
Military installations in Hanoi may look grand, but it doesn’t give you the permission to take pictures. Due to national security, they ban anyone from taking shots of the place. If you dismiss this Hanoi do’s and don’ts with a few camera shots, you’re going to be apprehended and hold in question. Being in trouble with the law is every tourist’s primal fear.
10. Sharing a room with the opposite sex (Vietnamese)
Hanoians have a very conservative culture and sleeping with a Vietnamese of the opposite gender isn’t allowed. Locals will find this immoral and disrespectful of their elderly although a bunch of liberated souls accepts this already. But just like showing PDA in public, you’re discouraged from sharing a room with your boyfriend or girlfriend in extreme cases. Of course, it’s an exemption if the other person is your spouse.
11. Complaining about the queue in Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Many tourists and locals flood the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum especially during the weekends and the queue can stretch into a hundred meters. Complaining about it is disrespectful for Hanoians and their Uncle Ho. If you’re getting bored, chat with the people in the line or observe people walking around. Just don’t throw a scene and make them think that Americans are one hell of spoiled brats.
12. Daring locals at Bia Hoi Junction for a drinking competition
Nightlife in Hanoi is one of the best in the whole Vietnam. Your visit will only be solidified if you get to sit in one of the colorful stools in Bia Hoi Junction while sipping a tall glass of Bia Hoi. As much as you’re trying to be friendly, you shouldn’t dare the locals for a drinking competition because you’re destined to lose. Some of them are heavy drinkers and used to intoxication. When you dare or bite the bait for a spree, you’re going to buy food more than you plan or you’ll be ripped off by someone. Worse thing is you might lose your belongings due to extreme drunkenness.
13. Touching an elderly’s head
I don’t know if it’s attributed to their social bubble, but touching an old folk’s head is a disrespectful act in Vietnam. On the other hand, it’s okay to touch a child’s head as it’s a sign of affection. Don’t be so silly to trying it with an innocent local. That will be more arrogant of you.
14. Pointing with your finger
When asking for direction or pointing something, you shouldn’t use your fingers, instead, you should point with all your hand. It’s disrespectful for locals to see you pointing fingers especially toward other people. Also, it’s more polite to use both your hands when handing somebody anything. It’s not that one hand is already rude, it’s just customary to say the least.
15. Getting offended with personal questions
Vietnamese people don’t mind being asked personal questions during first meetings so don’t get offended if they do so. As a new kid in town, they’re curious about you and to be friendly, they’ll start a conversation. If you’re not willing to answer, you can just dismiss it with a smile and they won’t dig deeper.
Some of these Hanoi do’s and don’ts may sound weird to you, but as a tourist, it’s better to follow than have yourself in trouble. Hanoians are warm and accommodating people, and if you know these simple things to avoid, you’ll make good friends with them.
What do you think of these don’ts? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section!
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