Vietnam is one of the most time-honored cultures in Southeast Asia. If you are planning to do business in Vietnam, do not forget to learn about Vietnam’s business culture. This is a crucial element in building and maintaining a successful business relationship with Vietnamese partners.
In this blog, BBCIncorp will walk you through how to do business in Vietnam in Vietnamese ways. Let’s explore key highlights of the business culture in Vietnam!
1. Importance of understanding business culture in Vietnam
Each country has its distinctiveness of its culture, and it is interesting to know that the culture significantly reflects the ways of doing business in that country. And Vietnam does not run beyond this pattern!
Foreign investors who are eyeing Vietnam as a promised land for expanding their business, especially the newcomer or those intending to operate business in Vietnam for the first time, should get to know about Vietnam's business culture before moving.
What makes this value is the fact that you can well connect with Vietnamese partners, avoid cultural barriers, and create a long-term business relationship as you expect.
Furthermore, Vietnam’s traditions and culture have a long-standing background in the region of Southeast Asia. Understanding Vietnam’s business culture will definitely make it easier for you to do business in this country.
In what follows, we will delve into key highlights of Vietnam business culture, including some common customs in Vietnamese business, business etiquette in Vietnam, communications in business, etc.
2. What should foreigners know about Vietnam’s business culture?
2.1 Common business customs in Vietnam
It is always a good idea to know about popular business customs in Vietnam to create good impressions for your business partners in the first meetings.
As a foreigner, you may show your interest in Vietnamese culture by saying “Xin Chao” (which means Hello) when greeting someone. Like other countries, the handshake is another form of greeting which is very common in the Vietnamese business environment. A slight bow of the head, together with handshaking when greetings represent appreciation or respect to your partners.
Seniority & Respects
This is a striking feature in Vietnam culture in general and in Vietnam business culture in particular. Vietnamese are highly appreciated for the respect to senior members with regard to their position in the company, years of experience in their area of expertise, or their age.
To give an example, you can normally see that the member who holds the highest position of a Vietnamese company would be welcomed and introduced first in most business meetings.
Typically, Vietnamese surnames are not widely used in both informal and formal situations. You may feel interesting to know that 6 out of 10 people in one group can have the same last name which is “Nguyễn” or “Trần” (these are the two most popular surnames in Vietnam). Therefore, Vietnamese people tend to expect others to call their first name, together with an appropriate title.
In formal/business situations, it is popular to use [Mr/Mrs/Ms/Designation] + [First Name] to communicate among partners.
For example, you may use Chairman Tuan, Director Ngoc, Ms. Lan, Mr. Hoang, etc.
Body language is a type of art. In Vietnam, the use of body language can indicate different meanings from what it is like in your home country, which can make others misunderstand although you do not expect that.
While hugging can be a widely-accepted public display of affection in most western countries, you will find that it is seldom seen in Vietnam. Or in another example, placing one or both hands in your pockets in Vietnam is often considered to be a sign of arrogance and absence of respect to the opposite partner.
2.2 Business etiquette in Vietnam
Business attire. It appears to be common that the dress code in the business culture of Vietnam is conservative, meaning that business partners should dress formally but need to be modest. For men, they typically attend the meetings with dark-colored suits and ties. On the other hand, formal dresses, or blouses with high necklines are customary for women in business.
Eating and drinking. Business etiquette in Vietnam is obviously characterized in its eating and drinking manner. Unlike western countries, dining in Vietnam includes many dishes on the table and you will share those dishes with your business partners. Normally, the Vietnamese host tends to deliver a signal for starting the meal, and the best dish would be given to you as a guest.
The Vietnamese eating manner is attached to rice bowls and chopsticks. Making noise by tapping the chopsticks on the bowl is considered to be rude and impolite.
In most business circumstances, tea is often served at the reception as a signal for the hospitality and you should feel pleased to accept it. The Northern area uses hot tea, whilst the Southern part of Vietnam is usually seen with iced tea or soft drinks served.
Moreover, tipping is not customary in Vietnam eating and drinking etiquette. However, you can pay a tip of around 5 to 10 percent if you appreciate it. It is also worth noting that reciprocation is a part of value in Vietnam culture. They will expect you to arrange for a return dinner which should be of the same standard as yours.
2.3 Women in Vietnam business culture
Vietnamese women are likely to prefer bow rather than handshaking when greeting someone. In business situations, you should let a businesswoman make the decision upon whether they extend their hand or not.
Like the aforementioned, the connection between the dress code and conservatism is quite obvious. Businesswoman needs to dress formally with appropriate makeup. Note, however, that women in the South of Vietnam can be a little more relaxed for dressing in such formal settings.
Equally important, if a foreign businesswoman would like to have a working dinner with a Vietnamese partner, then a public venue should be selected. In case the man hosts the meal, then the foreign woman is advised to invite for a return as well.
2.4 Other considerations for business culture in Vietnam
“Keeping face” culture in business
Keeping face, or in other words, keeping your prestige and reputation is very important in Vietnam business culture. Foreigners are advised to pay attention to their words and actions during the meetings and business relationship to make sure you do not lose your partner’s face by mistake. Treating your business partners in Vietnam with respect is the key tip to help you accommodate the “keeping face” culture in this country.
Business cards are often exchanged at the opening of business meetings. How business cards are designed is actually crucial since they could decide the level of impression and information to your business partners and all those participating in the meeting.
It is recommended that your business cards should show details on both two sides, one of which is in English while the other should be written in Vietnamese translation.
As formality is a key in culture patterns in Vietnam, business cards should be given and received with both hands. You should also take the time to read carefully the information on the card and to know the function of the person you are talking to.
In Vietnam business culture, gift-giving does not mean bribery and corruption, but it will depend on the context.
At the end of business meetings, giving gifts is the common etiquette. Like Vietnamese style in business attire, modesty can also be seen in gift-giving culture. These presents do not need to be expensive and big, but they should be practical. One note for you as a foreign, the gift you intend to give the senior partners should be better than the similar items sent to others.
To ensure a successful business partnership in Vietnam, understanding Vietnam’s business culture is relatively essential. It is obviously worth being aware of this country’s culture and traditions in business for creating good impressions and building long-term relationships with your prospective Vietnamese business partner!