Guide to Vietnamese Hand Gestures

When traveling to Vietnam, it is polite to use the proper hand gestures when using non-verbal language. Some gestures, such as nodding, are standard worldwide, but several gestures and signs aren’t common in the United States, like bowing. 

Greeting and Meeting Strangers

There are many different rules for greeting someone in Vietnam. For example, Vietnamese traditionally put their hands together and bow slightly to greet each other. However, some modernized young men in Ho Chi Minh City have picked up on the Western practice of shaking hands. 

Vietnamese women generally do not shake hands with each other or with Vietnam war men. However, women might touch hands with another Vietnamese woman and a non-Vietnamese man. But, women of the same sex generally don’t shake with each other.

When greeting women, Vietnamese men will nod their heads and bow slightly. This gesture is also common when saying goodbye. 

Two Vietnamese friends will greet each other by shaking hands and bowing slightly. But, just remember that hugging is for family and close friends only in Vietnam. 

Holding hands, linking arms, and putting an arm around someone are more commonly used signs of friendship. Furthermore, there is no sexual connotation to walking around while holding hands with someone of the opposite sex. It is only a display of friendship.

Vietnamese greet an authority figure by clasping both hands firmly to sign great respect. Also, if you are in a group, speak to the elderly before others to show your respect for them.

In Vietnamese society, elders always have the right to be treated with great respect. Children will also show respect to others, but they like to touch the arms of hairy Westerners.

Furthermore, remember that there is a difference in culture and language between Northern and Southern Vietnam. You will find that northerners tend to be more reserved and polite, while Southerners are more outgoing and speak their minds.

Taboo Gestures 

Public displays of affection are not appropriate in Vietnamese culture. PDA is only acceptable when women shake hands. However, remember that you should never touch women as a form of non-verbal communication.

Expressing anger with hand signals or body language is a type of non-verbal communication people don’t use in Vietnam. Therefore, crossing arms or making an angry facial expression isn’t popular in Vietnam .

Additionally, it is considered rude to touch someone’s head or shoulder. You should also never pass anything over someone’s head and always use two hands to pass. 

You should also be aware that you should never point at people in Vietnam. So, do not point at older adults and do not point or use a hand to summon someone or to get someone’s attention. Vietnamese people point when dealing with animals only. 

Finally, you shouldn’t pat someone’s back or put your feet on the table in a Vietnamese home. 

Body Gestures

Nodding shows a positive response while shaking your head is negative, similar to many other cultures.

The “OK” sign, made with your thumb and index finger in the shape of a circle and the other fingers pointing up, means “poor quality.” 

Also, when a Vietnamese person avoids eye contact, it is a sign of respect to their elders or to a person of the opposite sex. 

You should also be aware that thumbs up or thumbs down do not mean anything in Vietnam, so people will probably not understand these gestures. 

A sign of disrespect is putting your hands in your pockets or on your hips, using either one or both hands. 

For Vietnamese table manners, eating an entire rice bowl is polite, while placing your chopsticks next to the bowl means you have finished eating. You should also know that chopsticks sticking in the rice symbolize death.

Eating soup also has specific etiquette rules, and you should use a soup spoon and hold it with your left hand.  

Finally, one of the most important forms of non-verbal communication to know in Vietnam is that bowing or smiling is a way to say thanks. 

What Does Crossed Fingers Mean in Vietnam?

Crossed fingers in Vietnam is a disrespectful gesture even though in America, crossing fingers means good luck. 

Crossed fingers in Vietnam are rude and disrespectful and refer to a specific female anatomy part. 

Vietnamese people do not use this gesture as often as western countries use offensive gestures. Cross fingers are a rare sign of aggression.

Is the Middle Finger Offensive in Vietnam?

Unlike America, this hand sign is not offensive in Vietnam and has no meaning. In Vietnamese culture, the middle finger is a way to count on your fingers. So, you can hold up your middle fingers or index fingers to show the quantity of something you want to buy.

Are There Any Other Hand Gestures Used in Vietnam?

Yes, bowing and nodding are common in their culture and are both used as greetings or a sign of respect. 

Also, a way to say “no” with your hand is to hold it up, with the palm facing out, and twist your wrist left to right. This sign will signal that you are not interested in something.  

Lifting your hand up as if you are untwisting a light bulb means “no” or “I don’t know” as well. 

Finally, to hail a taxi in big cities, you should raise your hand in the air and flap it around like a bird. You can use this gesture to get a driver’s attention or a server’s attention in a restaurant. 

Conclusion

When traveling to Vietnam, it is crucial to know the proper hand gestures as opposed to those of other countries. 

There are many differences between American and Vietnamese gestures. So, to sum everything up, here are some pointers: 

  • Do not point or call someone over by using your hands. 
  • Men bow to one another and clasp their hands together as a formal hand gesture. 
  • Some people in Ho Chi Minh prefer handshakes over bowing. A Vietnamese friend may also use a handshake since they know you will be used to it.
  • You should nod to greet certain people, such as the opposite sex or Vietnamese girls.
  • Crossing your fingers at someone is an offense sign. 
  • “Flipping the bird” is not offensive because people use it for counting and showing quantities.

In conclusion, respect the people of Vietnam when visiting by reading up on proper social gestures.

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