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My neighbour is Vietnamese

Vietnam is one of the most populous countries in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north with Cambodia and Laos to the west. 

Vietnam has a long history of war and struggle, beginning with a thousand-year domination by China and seven decades under French rule. Hostilities within the country escalated in 1965 when the Communist controlled North invaded the South. The Vietnam War, or American War as it is known in Vietnam, ended in 1975. Today, the country is governed as a communist state through a one-party system.

Its culture reflects a mixture of local traditions that have also been significantly shaped by the influences of both neighbouring and Western countries.

Cultural customs

Vietnamese value flexibility, a readiness to compromise and the avoidance of conflict. They are usually punctual to a meeting. Vietnamese avoid eye contact and may bow their head as a greeting. This will be a sign of respect, especially if you are a different gender. The answer, “Yes,” may be used to indicate that someone is paying attention rather than agreeing with you. Don’t touch anyone on the top of their head, including children, as it is considered the most important part of the human body.

People are expected to defer to status, particularly regarding age and maintain a modest disposition. Profuse compliments are regarded as insincere and criticising someone directly should be avoided. To offer opinions or ask questions, especially to question authority figures, is regarded as impolite. Displaying signs of anger in public are frowned upon.

Life in Australia

Approximately 46 million ethnic Chinese live outside China, including Australia. The first Chinese people arrived in Australia with the gold rush in the mid 1800s, generally from the Pearl River delta area. Since the 1970s Chinese migration has increased, particularly from the mainland, with approximately half of Australian residents born in China arriving here since 2008. Two out of every five Australian residents born in China (44 per cent) live in the Greater Sydney area. University students make up 22 per cent of all Chinese-born people in Australia.

Family life

Family is the most important aspect of life in Vietnam. Vietnamese often feel a heightened sense of belonging and loyalty to their extended family. Three generations normally live under the same roof. To live alone can be an intimidating experience for Vietnamese people.

Though gender roles are changing in the younger generations, men are still more dominant than women in the public sphere. It is not uncommon for a man to answer a question directed at his wife by someone outside the family. Male children are also often shown preference over females.

Vietnamese culture is strongly influenced by Confucianism, which values allegiance to family, respect and education. Ancestor worship and respect for the elderly is very important. Succeeding academically and working hard demonstrates honour to parents and the family name.


Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam.


The Chinese introduced Buddhism and Confucianism to Vietnam, which combined with existing ancestor worship to produce a Vietnamese Buddhism. Christianity was introduced by French colonists. Although there is officially freedom of religion, the Vietnamese communist government discourages religious activity. Just over 80 per cent of the population say they have no religion.

When meeting people of Vietnamese ancestry, please consider…

The political situation in Vietnam together with the Vietnam War can be a sensitive subject. While most Vietnamese in Australia are from the South, people’s opinions may vary.

Vietnamese usually list their family name first, then their middle name, with their first or given name listed last. Many given names are common to both men and women.

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