Vietnam Business Etiquette

Chào mừng đến với Việt Nam (“Welcome to Vietnam” in Vietnamese)

Vietnam is home to beautiful beaches, dense jungles, and delicious food.  But the country is best known, at least by Americans, for the Vietnam War and the numerous movies about it.  After all, some of the biggest names in Hollywood have been in a movie about the Vietnam War: Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam, Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Robert De Niro, Tom Cruise, Charlie Sheen, and Mel Gibson.  While the U.S. was making movies, Vietnam was recovering from the war, revitalizing its agriculture, and implementing a planned economy to help industrialize the nation. 

Today, Vietnam ranks 57th in GDP according to the World Bank’s list of more than 180 countries. The economy continues to grow, with projections of growth of 10% and estimations that Vietnam will pass other countries and jump up to the 20s in rank. Vietnam is the 3rd largest oil producer in Asia, and is fast-growing in the manufacturing and information technology sectors.  The country also has expanding industries in trade, science and technology, and transportation.

Before you dock at one of those beautiful beaches, let’s learn about the dos and don’ts of Vietnam business etiquette.

THE LOWDOWN

  • The capital of Vietnam is Hanoi, but the largest city is Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). 
  • The government is a Socialist single-party state, and the country is known officially as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
  • The official language is Vietnamese, spoken by almost everyone in addition to a number of minority languages. French is known by many as a second language, and English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean are growing in popularity.
  • Vietnam is a collective society, meaning that the group—whether it been company, family, or country, is seen as more important than the individual. This coincides with the teachings of Confucius, which are followed by many Vietnamese.

DRESSING SHARP

  • The climate of Vietnam depends on where you are; the south is more tropical, while the north has a warm dry season from October to March, and a monsoonal rainy season from May to September.  Check the weather before you start packing.
  • Men should dress in suits with jackets for business in the North.  If you’re in the south, business is more casual and you can go without the jacket.
  • Women should dress conservatively in a dress or business suit.
  • Shorts should only be worn if you are going to the beach.

MAKE OR BREAK MEETINGS

  • Hire a translator or interpreter and make your appointment several weeks in advance.  A local representative could be a great asset as both a reference and an interpreter.
  • Punctuality is important.  Your colleagues will arrive on time and you should do the same.
  • Shake hands with your colleagues; some people will use two hands, so just follow what your colleague does. Allow a woman to offer her hand first; if she does not, bow your head.
  • Vietnamese names start with the family name, then middle, then first.  When addressing colleagues, use a title or Mrs./Mr. followed by their given name.
  • Provide business cards with one side in English and one in Vietnamese. These are presented at the beginning of a meeting.  Use both hands when exchanging cards and examine the cards before putting them away.

DINING DECORUM

  • When dining at a restaurant or someone’s home, wait to be seated. The oldest members will be seated first.
  • Meals are served family style and you should pass the dishes with both hands. Chopsticks and a flat spoon are the utensils of choice.
  • Hold the bowl close to your face when eating soup, and use the spoon with your left hand.  Try to finish your meal.

GIVING AND GETTING GIFTS

  • At the end of a meeting of business dinner, it is common to exchange small, inexpensive gifts. 
  • Something with your company logo or a souvenir from your home country would make acceptable business gifts.
  • If invited to someone’s home for a meal, bring sweets, flowers, or fruit wrapped in colorful paper.
  • Avoid gifts of handkerchiefs, yellow flowers, chrysanthemums, or anything black.

DOWN TO BUSINESS

  • Being a collective society, the Vietnamese make decisions by committee.  Everyone must agree on the decision before anything is finalized.
  • Relationships are important in business. Get to know your Vietnamese colleagues and allow them to get to know you before you jump into work and negotiations.
  • The concept of “saving face” is important in Vietnam as in many Asian cultures. Do not embarrass or correct a colleague, and be careful with your words and actions as you may cause someone to lose face.
  • If someone disagrees with what is being said, they may stay silent so as not to lose face or cause another to lose face.  It is important to make sure that everyone is in agreement before moving on.
  • Be patient during the negotiation process as it may take some time.  Not only does everyone have to agree on the decision, but the Vietnamese want to be sure they get the best deal.

Now that you’re ready to set sail for your business trip to Vietnam, make sure to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb.

Tạm biệt (“Goodbye” in Vietnamese)


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