6 Taboos in Vietnamese Culture You Should Be Aware Of

Explore the cultural nuances of Vietnam and learn about the six critical taboos that visitors and those engaging with Vietnamese culture should respect to ensure harmonious interactions.

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Create an image that illustrates six symbols comically placed next to a prohibitory 'No' sign which is universally understood and represents taboos. These symbols depict a variety of items common in the Viet culture. They include: a pair of chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, a hand giving something with left hand, pointing straight with one finger, crossing fingers for luck, cleaning shoes with a washcloth and clapping hands in public.

Understanding Vietnamese Cultural Sensitivities

Vietnam is a country rich in history and tradition. Its cultural fabric is woven with etiquette and norms that may seem unfamiliar to outsiders. Grasping these nuances is not only a sign of respect but also key to a harmonious visit or business interaction in the country. In the following sections, we delve into the six cardinal taboos in Vietnamese culture that are essential for every traveller and business person to acknowledge.

Avoiding Public Displays of Affection

In Vietnam, public displays of affection, particularly between non-married couples, are frowned upon. This modest behavior stems from traditional values and is a sign of respect for public sensitivities. Visitors should take note to act accordingly, especially in rural and conservative areas of the country.

Respecting Family Hierarchies

The Confucian principle of hierarchy plays a significant role in Vietnamese culture. Respect for elders and those in authority positions is paramount. It is customary to greet the eldest or most senior person first and wait for them to initiate handshakes. Gift-giving should also adhere to this hierarchy, with more significant and respectful gifts reserved for those at the top.

Taboo on Head Touching

Touching someone’s head, especially children, is considered highly disrespectful in Vietnam as the head is believed to house the soul. Always refrain from this action to show your reverence for an individual’s spiritual well-being.

Handing Objects with Both Hands

When passing objects, especially to those of higher status or age, use both hands as a mark of respect and politeness. This gesture is symbolic of giving due importance and consideration to the act of sharing or transferring items.

Naming the Dead and the Spiritual

Speaking of deceased relatives or invoking their names is often avoided in Vietnamese culture. It is believed to attract their spirit unnecessarily and can cause unease. Always be considerate of this aspect and steer clear of such conversations unless brought up by a Vietnamese counterpart.

Gifts and Colors: Understanding the Unspoken

The Vietnamese associate certain colors and items with superstition and luck. Gifting anything in black or white can be seen as inauspicious, as these colors are traditionally related to mourning. Instead, opt for bright colors like red or yellow, which symbolize prosperity and happiness. Similarly, avoid giving handkerchiefs, anything sharp, or chrysanthemums, as they are associated with sadness or severance.


By respecting these six taboos of Vietnamese culture, visitors can avoid misunderstandings and deepen their appreciation of Vietnam’s heritage. Remember, awareness and sensitivity to local traditions are crucial when visiting any foreign land.

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Avery Ingram

Avery Ingram


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