Together with spoken communication, non-verbal communication also plays an indispensable part in Vietnamese society. It sometimes accompanies and reinforces linguistic symbols, sometimes can express more meaning than verbal language.
Vietnam Non-verbal Communication
To convey respect and other traditional values, Vietnamese usually choose non-verbal gestures, such as gentle bows, friendly smiles, nods and by avoiding direct eye contact. From early age, Vietnamese have been taught be avoid direct eye-contact, especially with older people and those of higher status because looking straight into the eyes of listeners indicate a challenge or express deep passion. Thus, avoiding eye-contact in talking to people who are not an equal or the same sex is deemed to be appropriate, polite behavior in Vietnam. A gentle, not prolonged handshake is commonly used when men greet one another. Women sometimes welcome one another with a handshake, but a slight nod of acknowledgement will often suffice. For many Vietnamese, a sweet smile is another nonverbal symbol used to convey apology for a minor offense, such as a late coming to class or to express embarrassment when making a stupid mistake. Smiling is also a proper response in most situations when verbal expression is unnecessary or inappropriate. Those circumstances include compliment, thank and greeting in which a happy smile is used to substitute for “I’m sorry“, “Thank you“, “Hi!” and so on.
Some gestures are considered to be unacceptable or even offensive in Vietnamese culture, including winking (especially when directed at the opposite sex), beckoning someone with the index finger, placing hands in pockets or on hips while talking, patting a person’s back, and pointing to other people while talking. For more non-verbal expressions and their interpretations in Vietnamese culture, a summary of nonverbal behaviors and their meanings in Vietnamese culture is presented as follows:
|Non-verbal Expressions/ Behaviors||Meaning in Vietnamese Culture|
|Avoiding eye contact||Showing respect to people senior in age or status or of the opposite sex|
|Bowing||Greeting, great respect|
|Crossing arms||Sign of respect|
|Frowning||Frustration, anger, or worry|
|Holding hands with or putting an arm over the shoulder of a person of the opposite sex||Not usually done in public|
|Holding hands with or putting an arm over the shoulder or a person of the same sex||Friendly gesture with no sexual
|Nodding||Greeting; affirmative reply; agreement|
|Palm of right hand out, fingers moving up and down several times||“Come here.”Not used with
people senior in age or status.
|Patting a person’s back, especially someone senior in age or status||disrespectful|
|Placing one or both hands in the pockets or the hips while talking||Arrogance, lack of respect|
|Putting one’s feet on a table or sitting on a desk while talking||Rude|
|Shaking hands||Friendly greeting between men (but not the elderly). Not customary between women or between a man and a woman; acceptable between a Vietnamese woman and non-Vietnamese man.|
|Shaking one’s head||Negative reply; disagreement|
|Smiling||Agreement, embarrassment, disbelief, mild disagreement, appreciation and apology|
|Touching a child’s head||Not appreciated, but not offensive|