National : Vietnamese
The Vietnamese language belongs to a language group which was established
a long time ago in East Asia. Changes in material conditions over many
centuries and the increasing demands of cultural life have influenced the
While adopting many elements of the Chinese language, the Vietnamese
people changed many Chinese words, gradually creating Han-Viet
(Chinese-Vietnamese) which incorporated purely Vietnamese words. "Vietnamization"
not only applied to the Chinese language, but also to French and other
language groups, creating a diverse vocabulary for the Vietnamese
Foreign Language :
English - mostly in south, but increasingly
in the north.
French - amongst older Vietnamese in tourist
areas. Most minority people (Montagnards) have their own language
The Vietnamese nation was primarily influenced through a process of
anthropological cross-pollination between ancient Chinese and Indian
As far as anthropology is concerned, the Vietnamese people have their
origin in the Mongoloid race, which is scattered throughout northern and
At present, there are about 54 Ethnic minority groups inhabiting Vietnam.
The Kinh (or Viet) people account for nearly 90 percent of Vietnam's total
population. Major ethnic minority groups include the Tay, Thai, Muong,
H'Mong, Dao, and Khmer. Each ethnic group has developed its own language
and cultural identity, thus making the Vietnamese culture a well blended
combination of different cultures.
The Viet language is recognized, however, as the official language and
serves as a universal means of communication for all inhabitants of
Vietnam. In the historical course of national development, all ethnic
groups have been closely attached, sharing in the fight against foreign
invaders, defending the country's territory, and gaining the right to
national independence and self determination.
Custom of Chewing Betel and Areca Nuts
According to the legend, this custom was popularized during the Hung Vuong
Era, and closely follows the famous fairy tale of the "Story of the Betel
and Areca Nut". A quid of betel consists of four materials: an areca leaf
(sweet taste), betel bark (hot taste), a chay root (bitter taste), and
hydrated lime (pungent taste). The custom of chewing betel nut is unique
to Vietnam. Old health books claim that "chewing betel and areca nut makes
the mouth fragrant, decreases bad tempers, and makes digesting food easy".
A quid of betel makes people become closer and more openhearted. At any
wedding ceremony, there must be a dish of betel and areca nut, which
people can share as they enjoy the special occasion.
During festivals or Tet Holidays, betel and areca nut is used for inviting
visitors and making acquaintances. Sharing a quid of betel with an old
friend is like expressing gratitude for the relationship. A quid of betel
and areca nut makes people feel warm on cold winters days, and during
funerals it relieves sadness. Betel and areca nuts are also used in
offerings. When Vietnamese people worship their ancestors, betel and areca
nut must be present at the altar.Nowadays, the custom of chewing betel
remains popular in some Vietnamese villages and among the old.
Tea - An Indispensable Drink for the Vietnamese
As you walk along the streets, somewhere near a lamp post, under
the shade of a tree, or next to a door, there is a low table with glass
pots containing different kinds of candies, roasted ground nuts, and sugar
coated cakes. Usually next to these treats, there is a humble tea cozy
with a tray of cups. Around the table are several small wooden stools.
This is traditionally a complete description of a make-shift tea shop,
which is a very popular part of Vietnamese street life.
The first sentence a customer will utter to the shop owner will invariably
be, "One cup of tea, please". The owner skillfully lifts the cap of the
tea cozy, takes out the tea pot, and then pours the hot tea into a small
cup. The owner then hands the cup of steaming tea to the customer. This
drink is considered indispensable to every inhabitant of the city. Tea is
drunk every day from the early morning until late at night. People drink
tea at their homes, at their work places, and even in tea shops on their
way to and from work.
Whenever the Vietnamese feel thirsty, they are likely to look for this
drink. It is drunk in both the summer and the winter months. In the winter,
a sip of hot tea makes you feel warm inside and better able to cope with
the cold temperatures outside. Unlike northerners, whose preference is for
a cup of hot steamy tea, people in the south like to drink their tea cold,
tending to add ice cubes.
If you pay a little more attention to the surroundings of the average tea
table in northern Vietnam, you will probably notice a very old-looking
bamboo pipe leaning against the edge of a table or kept inside a wooden
box. The pipe is called dieu cay (tobacco water pipe), and it is said to
be one of the typical traits of the lifestyle in northern Vietnam. To make
a dieu cay, a piece of bamboo pipe up to 0.5 meters in length with an
opening at one end is required. A smaller wooden pipe is fixed at the
other end and it is here that the tobacco is placed.
A smoker begins by rolling a small amount of tobacco into his hand before
placing it into the small wooden pipe. He then lifts the open end of the
bamboo pipe to his mouth and lights the tobacco with a burning bamboo
stick while smoking. During smoking, one can hear a merry noise inside the
bamboo pipe. This is caused by the water contained inside the pipe that is
used to filter the smoke. When the tobacco is completely burned out, the
smoker leans his head backwards and slowly exhales the smoke from his
mouth in order to appreciate the complete satisfaction and enjoyment that
the smoke has to offer.
The major religious traditions in Vietnam are Buddhism (which
fuses forms of Taoism and Confucianism), Christianity (Catholicism and
Protestantism), Islam, Cao Daism and the Hoa Hao sect.
Buddhism was first introduced to Vietnam in the 4th century B.C., and
reached its peak in the Ly dynasty (11th century). It was then regarded as
the official religion dominating court affairs. Buddhism was preached
broadly among the population and it enjoyed a profound influence on
people's daily life. Its influence also left marks in various areas of
traditional literature and architecture. As such, many pagodas and temples
were built during this time.
At the end of the 14th century, Buddhism began to show signs of decline.
The ideological influence of Buddhism, however, remained very strong in
social and cultural life. Presenty, over 70 percent of the population of
Vietnam are either Buddhist or strongly influenced by Buddhist practices.
Catholicism was introduced to Vietnam in the 17th century. At
present the most densely-populated Catholic areas are Bui Chu-Phat Diem in
the northern province of Ninh Binh and Ho Nai-Bien Hoa in Dong Nai
province to the South. About 10 percent of the population are considered
Protestantism was introduced to Vietnam at about the same time as
Catholicism. Protestantism, however, remains an obscure religion. At
present most Protestants live in the Central Highlands. There still
remains a Protestant church on Hang Da Street in Hanoi. The number of
Protestants living in Vietnam is estimated at 400,000.
Islamic followers in Vietnam are primarily from the Cham ethnic
minority group living in the central part of the central coast. The number
of Islamic followers in Vietnam totals about 50,000.
Caodaism was first introduced to the country in 1926. Settlements of the
Cao Dai followers in South Vietnam are located near the the Church in Tay
Ninh. The number of followers of this sect is estimated at 2 million.
Hoahaoism was first introduced to Vietnam in 1939. More than 1 million
Vietnamese are followers of this sect. Most of them live in the western
part of South Vietnam.