Business Etiquette is a vital part of all interpersonal transactions and while doing business in Vietnam, one must respect and observe Vietnamese culture. As one of the oldest cultures in Southeast Asia, Vietnam does have several traditions regarding their mannerisms with subtle differences between the northern and southern regions.
Greetings– Though English is gaining prominence in Vietnam, the local language is still spoken by 86% of the population. Therefore, while greeting people, saying ‘hello’ in the local language (‘xin chao’) is appreciated. Furthermore, a handshake and a slight bow of the head is common extension of hello and goodbye. Lastly, names are written and introduced in the order of last name, middle name, first name.
Meetings– Right from setting up a meeting to closing a deal, Vietnamese culture observes several customs. As cold calling is not ideal, the usual recommendation is to be introduced to your potential client through a third-party. After securing a meeting, when it comes to time and location, the meeting should be scheduled in advance and avoid major public holidays. If it’s the first meeting, the common suggestion is to schedule it at the potential partner’s office to avoid travel difficulties. Furthermore, try to send out translated meeting agendas as soon as possible.
On the day of the meeting, one might be offered tea at the reception which should be accepted as it is an expression of hospitality. Remember to bring a translator should one be necessary during the meeting.
It is normal to expect silence during meetings and interrupting that silence is often viewed as rude behavior. This is because silence in meetings usually occur when the client is reflecting. It is important to note that any suggestions or challenges that required being addressed to, should be done privately so as to not embarrass the other on a public platform. During conversations, questions about family and personal life may be raised but only as a form of friendliness and interest.
Typically, it is the responsibility of the guest to signal the end of the meeting. At this time, gifts are usually given. Though it must be noted that the size or monetary value of these gifts are less important
Business Cards – As a vital part of business interactions, exchanging business cards has certain etiquette involved. As in most South Asian nations, respecting hierarchy is very important. Therefore, while handing out business cards, it should be handed to the oldest member first. Furthermore, the card should be translated, given with both hands and read out loud upon receiving one.
Closing – Firstly, scheduling multiple meetings is recommended for multiple reasons. Firstly, there is a preference towards interpersonal conversations over online communication. Secondly, there is a tendency to place importance on social connections and one’s character outside work so the first few meetings are mostly used to get to know each other. Lastly, saying yes if often indicative of understanding rather than agreement, which means constant follow-up is required.
Apparel – Business attire is always modest where bright colors are often avoided. While men usually wear suits and women wear skirts and blouses. However, the difference between North and South Vietnam where the North exhibits more of a white-collar environment while the South adopts a more business casual attire.
Dining – If invited as a guest in a Vietnamese home, it is recommended to bring gifts like fruits, sweets, flowers, or even incense. The gifts to avoid are handkerchiefs, anything black, yellow flowers and chrysanthemums. When it comes to eating, wait for the host to signal the start the meal and then do ensure to taste and share the dishes.
At a restaurant, wait to be seated. In most cases, the oldest person in the group will be seated first. It is respectful to use both hands to pass items and ensure to never pass anything over someone’s head. While motioning for a person to come over, do not use your finger, rather use your hand to call them. Finally, at the end of the meal, paying a tip of 5-10%, though not customary, is appreciated.
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