Vietnamese Social Etiquette: Understanding Respect for Elders, Greetings, Gift-Giving, and Hospitality

Social etiquette in Vietnam is a complex and nuanced aspect of the culture, reflecting the nation’s values, traditions, and social hierarchies. Respect for elders, proper ways of greeting and addressing others, and the customs surrounding gift-giving and hospitality are integral to Vietnamese social interactions. Understanding these practices provides valuable insights into the Vietnamese way of life and the principles that guide social behavior.

Respect for Elders

In Vietnamese culture, respect for elders is not just a social norm; it’s a deeply ingrained value that shapes relationships and behaviors.

Addressing Elders

Elders are addressed with honorific titles, often based on their age and relationship to the speaker. Terms like “ông” (for older men) and “bà” (for older women) are commonly used, followed by the person’s first name.

Behavior Towards Elders

Younger individuals are expected to show deference to their elders in various ways, such as standing when an elder enters the room, offering them the best seat, and listening attentively to their advice.

Greeting Customs

Greeting customs in Vietnam are guided by age, status, and familiarity. Understanding these nuances is essential for proper social interaction.

Traditional Greeting

The traditional Vietnamese greeting involves a slight bow with hands clasped together. However, this form of greeting is now less common, especially in urban areas.


Handshakes are common, particularly among men. When shaking hands with an elder or someone of higher status, it’s polite to use both hands or to touch the left hand to the right wrist.

Addressing by Name

Addressing someone by their first name, preceded by an appropriate title (e.g., Mr., Mrs., or a familial term), is the norm. Using the correct title is crucial in showing respect and understanding the relationship.


Gift-giving is an important aspect of Vietnamese social etiquette, symbolizing goodwill, respect, and relationship-building.

Occasions for Gifts

Gifts are often given during visits to someone’s home, special occasions like weddings, and festivals like Tet (Lunar New Year).

Choosing and Presenting Gifts

Gift selection should be thoughtful, considering the recipient’s preferences and the occasion. Wrapping the gift beautifully and presenting it with both hands adds to the gesture’s significance.


Receiving a gift often implies a future reciprocation. It’s common to offer a gift in return at a later time, maintaining the balance and harmony of the relationship.


Vietnamese hospitality is warm and gracious, reflecting the importance of community and connection.

Invitations to Homes

Being invited to someone’s home is a sign of friendship and trust. Guests are often offered the best of what the host has, and it’s polite to accept with gratitude.

Dining Etiquette

Dining etiquette includes practices like waiting for the eldest to start eating, using both hands to pass dishes, and complimenting the host on the meal.

Business Etiquette

In business settings, social etiquette extends to practices like exchanging business cards with both hands, addressing people by their professional titles, and adhering to formal meeting protocols.


Social etiquette in Vietnam is a multifaceted and meaningful aspect of the culture, reflecting the nation’s emphasis on respect, hierarchy, harmony, and community. From the way people greet each other to the customs surrounding gift-giving and hospitality, every social interaction is guided by a set of unwritten rules and shared understandings.

These practices are not mere formalities; they are expressions of a worldview that values relationships, honors age and wisdom, and seeks to create connections that are both respectful and genuine.

In a rapidly modernizing Vietnam, where global influences are increasingly felt, these traditional social etiquettes continue to play a vital role in shaping social behavior and preserving cultural identity.

Whether you are a visitor seeking to navigate Vietnamese social norms or someone interested in understanding the cultural fabric of this fascinating country, appreciating Vietnamese social etiquette offers a window into the soul of a nation that cherishes its traditions, values its relationships, and lives by principles that transcend time and change. It’s a dance of respect, grace, and human connection that resonates with universal truths and local wisdom.