With such different values and customs than the West, the local culture in Vietnam can be difficult to adjust to and at least some culture shock can be expected.
Expats moving to Vietnam will need to make some adjustments to their lifestyle and behaviour to take into account the nuances of the local culture, as they would when moving to any new country.
That said, having an open mind and a sense of humour will certainly help new arrivals to reduce the impact of culture shock in Vietnam.
Attitudes towards foreigners in Vietnam
Expats living in Vietnam often find that the attitudes they experience when interacting with Vietnamese co-workers are vastly different to those of market vendors and touts. The Vietnamese people who expats have to deal with on a day-to-day basis are usually warm, welcoming and helpful.
However, Vietnam is a popular tourist destination, so there are often times when Western expats find that some locals view them as outsiders. Once expats move away from tourist spots, they will find they can get a better sense of Vietnam, its people and culture.
Politics in Vietnam
New arrivals will soon find that the Vietnamese are very patriotic, and it is best not to mention the painful history of the Vietnam War. Expats will also find it helpful to learn a little about the national history of the country and the significance of its national holidays and associated festivals.
Language barrier in Vietnam
While speaking Vietnamese is not a prerequisite for success in the workplace, learning a few basic phrases will certainly hold expats in good stead when it comes to social situations. While Vietnamese is not the easiest language to speak, even a few lessons will help expats when it comes to reading signs and navigating everyday interactions, especially when pronouncing names and places.
The Vietnamese people are friendly and they appreciate it when foreigners make an effort to speak to them in their own language.
City life in Vietnam
The majority of expats who relocate to Vietnam will arrive in the hustle and bustle of cities such as Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. At first, some expats might find the vibrancy and non-stop energy of Vietnamese city life overwhelming. Life among the vendors, travellers and motorbikes is exhilarating but noisy.
Expats also often find themselves the focus of unwanted attention, be it from vendors or curious bystanders and children. The best thing to do is just to accept the attention and learn to ignore it. Most foreigners eventually get used to the comments and learn to blend in.
Unfortunately, market vendors are quick to assume that Westerners are wealthy, so expats can expect to find that the prices they are charged tend to be far higher than what the average local would pay for the same goods. However, expats should never feel that they have to simply accept the price of an item. When it comes to shopping at markets in Vietnam, everything is open to negotiation.
Road safety and transport in Vietnam
One of the major challenges that new arrivals face when moving to Vietnam is getting to grips with the numerous modes of transportation available to them. Buses and trains in Vietnam get incredibly crowded and so do the roads during peak hours. Road safety is an issue in Vietnam, and expats will need to be keenly aware of their surroundings at all times.
Learning how to cross a Vietnamese road full of motorbikes, cars and bicycles is vital. It is best to envision the traffic as a school of fish and cross the road slowly with no sudden movements. This allows drivers to predict a pedestrian's movements and alter theirs accordingly.
Ultimately, expats who approach the chaotic aspects of life in Vietnam with a sense of calm will find that they are more successful. Those who are friendly, open-minded and eager to learn about the Vietnamese people and the local culture will find that their expat experience is far more rewarding.
►Find out more about maintaining links with friends and family back home with Keeping in Touch in Vietnam
"The locals here are very curious about foreigners. When it comes to the youth, they are so unabashed with their English and will easily approach a foreigner to make small talk. But for the older generation, many of them struggle with English and therefore become too shy to engage. But if you flash a smile at them, they immediately warm up to you. I think they are some of the kindest people I have ever met on my travels!" Read American expat Izzy's interview about living in Vietnam.
"If you are respectful and know that you are a guest they will welcome you with open arms. Vietnamese are very curious and like to host. But of course you have to respect their culture and traditions." Read more of German expat Anne's Vietnam interview.
Are you an expat living in Vietnam?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Vietnam. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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