[Newsletters | June 2021] – 10 Secret Taboos When Eating With Vietnamese People (Part 1)

Asians in general and Vietnamese people in particular are famous for their rules and standards in all aspects of life, including on daily meals. If you have the opportunity to dine with the Vietnamese as a partner or friend, Noble Network recommends that you pay attention to the following 10 hidden taboos in order to avoid making a bad impression on the Vietnamese rice tray (a common way of calling Vietnamese meals)!

A Vietnamese tray of rice looks like

1. Before eating, you need to invite everyone

Before starting a meal, there should be an invitation ceremony, even if only done informally. In western religious customs, meals often start by ceremoniously thanking God. Likewise, the Vietnamese will customarily invite everyone before they start to eat. In some places, you just need to invite in general: “Enjoy your meal”. However, in many parts of the North, especially Hanoi, you need to invite everyone one by one, from the oldest or highest-ranking person to the younger, lower-ranked person (but still older or higher-ranked than you). Usually you don’t need to invite someone lower than you.

2. You should not start eating before the elderly or the host starts.

““After you” is good manners” is one of the beautiful parts of Vietnamese culture, and it also applies to Vietnamese meals. Usually, we need to wait for the elders or the host (if you are a guest) to invite everyone and start eating first. This shows your respect for the highest-ranking person or the host.

3. You should not connect chopsticks when serving others or being served by others.

Connecting your chopsticks with other chopsticks when picking things for each other is considered a taboo on the Vietnamese rice trays. In some regions, people believe that if you do so, two people connecting chopsticks will conflict with each other. Meanwhile, in some other places, it is said that this brings bad luck because they use chopsticks to pass the cremated ashes of the dead. Therefore, you need to avoid connecting chopsticks when giving or receiving food from others. If you want to pick up food for someone, you can place it in their bowl, but don’t forget to swap chopsticks or use new chopsticks.

If you want to pick up food for someone, you can place it in their bowl

4. Do not stick chopsticks into the rice bowl.

Most Vietnamese families have ancestral altars and incense bowls. Sticking chopsticks into a bowl of rice while not using them looks similar to putting incense in an urn on the altar to offer rice to the deceased, so sticking chopsticks in a bowl of rice is very taboo for the Vietnamese. If Vietnamese people see someone doing this in the tray of rice, they will immediately remind you, so you should never do that when eating with them. Instead, lay your chopsticks flat across the top rim of your bowl or lay them on the table with the smaller tips elevated off of the surface by one of your setting items such as your plate, bowl, or spoon. 

Use the chopsticks properly

5. Do not knock chopsticks, bowls, spoons together when eating 

There are many reasons to abstain from knocking chopsticks, bowls, and spoons together when eating, however, there are three most common reasons. The first reason is that it is believed that knocking the bowl is like knocking the Buddhist wooden bell to call the dead back, bringing bad luck to the meal and the people in the meal. Another reason is that the knocking of the bowl is also often used to call animals to have a meal. Finally, the act of knocking bowls is similar to what beggars do to attract the attention of passersby. No matter what the meaning, knocking chopsticks, bowls, and spoons isn’t positive, so try not to forget this taboo.

The Buddhist wooden bell

(To be continued…)

See also  Event in May: Talkshow “Generative Capitalism in the United States” Was a Great Success!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *