General Information

Customs & Habits


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 Vietnamese language.

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 language.

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 cultures.
As far as anthropology is concerned, the Vietnamese people have their origin in the Mongoloid race, which is scattered throughout northern and eastern Asia.
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.

Customs and Habits

The 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 Catholic.

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.

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