Things not to do in Vietnam #2: “If in doubt, face your palm to the floor”

DSC_2032Perhaps the best thing about and the main reason why most expats get a kick out of living in a foreign country is the countless cultural anomalies we face daily. Getting them sometimes so very wrong and learning why and when to use the new rules can be pretty amusing – sometimes embarrassing.

Apart from the more obvious language and lifestyle differences, body language is one that is often overlooked. Little things we say or actions we do, one’s that we’ve so become accustomed to during our familiar lives can actually mean something totally different – particularly in Asia!

In my first few weeks living in Vietnam, I learnt one of my most important lessons. If ever your need to call out, motion a direction or wave someone to come over, always make sure your palm is facing down to the ground. Never gesture with your palm up. In fact, this rule should be strictly followed as it is quite offensive to beckon someone with an upward facing palm.  This same rule applies for calling someone towards you with a curling index finger. Another definite no-no. Any guesses why? DSC_2044

Gesturing with the palm up is reserved for signaling to animals, particularly dogs. By directing it towards a person you’re not only saying they’re subordinate but also inferior to you. In most cases, this is probably not your sentiment but many Vietnamese, particularly older than you, could easily be offended by it. It’s hard to get used to and actually feels awkward to most westerners at first as we rarely use a downward palm to gesture anything but the height of someone or something. Anything else?

If your an ESL teacher, it’s especially important to get into the correct habit as you’ll often have to call on students, both young or old. This same rule also applies in other South-East Asian countries too, so keep it in mind as you travel… unless you feel the need to offend random strangers!



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