Don’t Make This Cultural Faux Pas When Visiting Vietnam!

When you are traveling around Indochina it is important to be aware of the cultural etiquette so that you don’t accidentally offend any of the local people that you encounter. However, this is a cultural faux pas that you might innocently make in Vietnam that you were probably not aware of!

Vietnamese Hand Gestures: Portrait in Hue, Vietnam
Portrait in Hue, Vietnam: photo credit: Sacha 2D / CC 2.0

Do you ever cross your fingers for good luck? For example, “If we catch this taxi and there is minimal traffic we might be able to catch the earlier bus – fingers crossed!” In the Western World this hand gesture signifies that you are wishing for luck. However, it is important to avoid doing this in Vietnam because it has a completely different meaning.

What Does Crossed Fingers Mean in Vietnam?

In Vietnam, crossed fingers are an obscene gesture, especially if this gesture is made while addressing another person. The crossed fingers are thought to resemble female genitals and it is similar to raising the middle finger in the Western World and saying “F*** You!” This is an incredibly rude gesture and the Vietnamese person you are talking to will be completely shocked that you have used it! Imagine how shocked and confused you would be if you were having a seemingly normal conversation with someone and then out of nowhere – they gave you the middle finger and called you a rude name!

Vietnamese Hand Gestures: Cross Roads are here
Cross Roads are here: photo credit: Tim Sherman / CC 2.0

It can be difficult to break the habit of using the “crossed fingers” gesture, especially if you are used to using it often at home. You might accidently use it without meaning to, which can be very awkward to the Vietnamese people you are talking to. If this happens, simply apologise and explain that you weren’t trying to offend them and that the gesture means good luck where you come from.

Vietnamese Hand Gestures: fingers crossed
Fingers Crossed: photo credit: Comrade Foot / CC 2.0

Are There Any Other Offensive Vietnamese Hand Gestures?

Another Vietnamese hand gesture that is considered offensive is “come hither” gesture that we use to beckon people. This is when you hold your hand with your palm up and flex your finger toward your body. This is a rude gesture in Vietnam because they only use it to call for a small child or an animal. If you beckon someone in this way you will be implying that they are a lower class than you, which will be considered very rude.

Also, when you are shaking someone’s hand it is more respectful to use both of your hands around theirs. When you pass items or money, use two hands instead of one.

Of course, Vietnamese people understand that visitors won’t necessarily know all of the finer details of their cultural etiquette, so they will likely forgive you if you make a faux pas. However, if you plan on travelling in Indochina it is a very good idea to do some research before you go so that you can know as much as possible about the culture.

About Kelly Dunning


A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word. She and her English boyfriend Lee run, packed full with travel guides, stories and inspiration for those who dream of travel. They have been location independent and travelling the world digital-nomad style for the last three years, with no address, no car and no fixed schedule.

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