1. What are all those guys riding on bicycles “rattling”?

    It’s a common sight around town, unassuming Vietnamese males dressed in white collared shirts riding around the streets rattling a Y-shaped object skewered with bottle caps. Every now and then, they will pull up to the curb, stand next to their bikes and just rattle away trying to catch someone’s eye. These rattlers are trying to sell customers a massage, half body, full body or a double professional temple rub.

    2. Why do locals say “yes” when they mean “no”?

    “Vietnamese people tend to be very stubborn when it comes to business and family matters,” says Dung, an accountant living and working in Sài Gòn.The best way to avoid getting into these types of harmless confrontations that “never end” is to simply agree with other person with a ‘yes’ and a smile, even if you have no plans to actually agree or enact.However, note that it is rare that a Vietnamese person will say ‘no’ to a request or statement right away.



     3. Why do locals swim with all their clothes on?


    “I’m shy”, enough said!

    4. Does that long pinky finger nail serve a purpose?

    Despite a number of theories on why Vietnamese males have exceedingly long thumb and pinky nails, the consensus is that it is merely a fashion statement.How they can possibly believe it is stylish is another matter, because we have all seen it used in less than fashionable terms.Long nails were very popular look in the 1990s, especially among traditional musicians. Today, many locals often joke, when asked its purpose, by saying nail is for picking your ear or nose. As for the belief that long nails were a sign of status signifying that you don’t have to work in the field, a respondent said both of his uncles are farmers and also have long pinky finger nails.


    5. Why do locals inquire about someone’s salary, job and relationship status even before knowing their name?

    “Personally, I never do, but my parents, grandparents and older relatives all do,” explains Lan, a university student. “They usually want to find out right away about careers and relationship statuses to see if that person can be a potential mate or provider for their child.” Foreigners get asked more often because it is assumed that they will have financial means to support a family. Consequently it has become somewhat of a habit for locals to find out if a person they are interacting with can be a “provider”.

     6. Why are locals obsessed with Tom & Jerry?

     “I have been watching Tom and Jerry since I was a little boy,” replies Hao, a taxi driver.“It was always a cartoon that was on TV and is popular today for young and old alike. I think the idea of a small hero against a bigger enemy appeals to all of us Vietnamese. And besides that, Tom and Jerry is always so funny and entertaining which is why it is seems to be everywhere including small TV screens in taxis like mine.”


    7. What are the girls pulling from each other’s hair?


     Rest assured, it’s not lice. Getting your grey hairs plucked by men and women is a regular grooming practice. As with a salad, no one wants slight discoloration in the lettuce to ruin it, so the practice with hair is so popular that salons offer grey hair plucking as a value-added service. Whether you pay per hair or per hour varies from place to place.


     8. What is Merry One?

     If you have ever walked past a taxi motorbike, chances are he has asked you about “Merry One”. Don’t be confused, though, it has nothing to do with Christmas. You are actually being offered the hippy lettuce, wacky tobacky, Mary Jane, dank, cheeba, Marley, Texas tea, skunk, sticky icky – ie marijuana.

    9. Why are there red markings found on the back of some locals?

     The red markings typically found on the back of the Vietnamese are a product of traditional folk medicine known as ‘cạo gió’ (scraping wind) and ‘giác hơi’.

     The purpose of both treatments is to get rid of the toxins or bad winds in your body that may be causing illness.

     ‘cạo gió’ involves applying tiger balm or a herbal liquid (methanol, winter green, peppermint or eucalyptus are the most common oils) to a spoon or coin and then scraping the back in a linear pattern. Skin abrasions appear and the deeper the red mark, the worse the illness is.

     Similarly, ‘giác hơi’ is meant to treat the bad wind, but the method used here involves glass bottles. The air inside the bottle is heated and then applied to the back creating a vacuum which sucks up the skin, leaving a circular abrasion on the points of contact.

     While a common, everyday sight here, the severity of the markings for both treatments has led to child abuse cases in America .


    10. Why is there an obsession with light skin in Việt Nam ?

     For ages, pale skin was a status symbol in Việt Nam . It meant you had the luxury of being indoors and away from the scorching sun, unlike the lower classes that laboured away in the fields outsides. The aversion to the sun is still evident today, with locals dressed from head to toe in winter gear: jackets, scarves, arm sleeves and gloves to avoid the sun’s rays. An adjunct to this concern are massive ad campaigns plugging whitening creams (eg Pond’s Flawless White in 7 days).

    11. Why do Vietnamese clubs insist on playing the music at 2000 decibels?

    “It’s different for clubs here,” explains DJ Wang.

    “I find that locals like the music as a stimulant. They come in and the beat is pounding fast and it gets them excited.”

    Vietnamese club goers don’t generally stay at one nightspot for the entire night, so when they reach a new place, the music has to immediately be intense to keep the pace moving.

    For locals, visiting night clubs is also about showing off your new hair style to a potential mate girl than idol chatting and meeting people.

    Sure, the music is so loud you cannot talk to anyone but the truth is if patrons want to talk, then nightclubs might not be the best venue.

     12. Why are Vietnamese people allergic to queuing?

     “We have a saying here in Vietnam : ‘giành giựt’” says Vân, a bank teller.

     “It means that everyone looks out for themselves or tries to get what they can as quickly as they can.

     “I think it’s just a habit for many locals to jump in at the front lines especially country people. It’s like with motorbikes, no one want to wait in a line. It’s a waste of time.

     That’s why so many people drive on the sidewalks and in opposite directions during traffic jams to get to where they are going.”


    13. Why are vendors yelling in alleyways at all hours of the day?


    The voice that is waking you up every morning or keeping you up at night is either a woman yelling ‘ve chai’ (selling empty bottles?) or a machine blaring on repeat ‘banh gio, banh chung’ (sticky rice with meat inside).


     14. How does a lottery ticket game work?

     Anyone who has been in Sài Gòn for more than 15 minutes has been approached by a ticket seller.Contrary to the lottery system in the west, the game and ticket selling process here is quite odd but still legal. Run by one of many companies including the government backed CTY Xo So Kien Thiet Sài Gòn, pre numbered tickets are sold either for daily or weekly draws, with tickets costing either VND5,000 or VND10,000. The former price is for a grand prize of VND125 million while the latter is for cash of VND 1.5 billion. Winning numbers are announced on the radio and TV. Also, tickets sellers will have a record book with the most recent winning numbers but to see them you must buy a lottery ticket.

     15. How did “haha” turn into “hihi” in texting and chatting lingo?

    If you have ever used an online messenger chat or have text messaged with a local, there are some peculiarities when it comes to the variation of “haha” to express laughter. The Vietnamese have added their own twists to this universal expression of amusement.

    To avoid confusion, the following applies:

    “hahaha”: male laughter

    “hihihi” : female laughter

    “kakaka”: adolescent laughter

    “hichichic” or “hixhixhix”: disappointment/feigning tears.

    16. Are the hairs growing out of a mole good luck?

    Well, yes and no. both guys and girls in Vietnam have been known to let a singular strand of hair grow to interesting lengths.

    The operative word here is singular. If it is one strand poking out of a mole on the cheek or even on the arm or chest, it is typically for good luck. However, if a facial or neck mole is growing a many hairs, the reason for this less fashionable look, has to do with health. Moles can be cancerous and plucking a strand from one is believed to have potentially negative health consequences.

    17. How come small children never wear helmets?

     When the helmet law was first instituted, a legal loophole meant that children under 14 year-of-age were not required to wear helmets.Despite recent amendments to the law, many rebellious youngsters from a few months old up to school age still go sans helmet.

     There is a belief that wearing helmets will either stunt their growth or slow their brain development. Instead, mesh nets are the protective gear of choice, which definitely will not cushion any head trauma during a bike accident.

    18. Why are pyjamas fashionable throughout the day? 

    The ubiquitous two piece, polyester pyjama get up is a staple for female shopkeepers and vendors. The reason for the affinity to them is quite straightforward. Back in history, female peasant workers were required to wear ‘áo bà ba’ which served as de facto uniform. The modern day pyjama is the continuation of that lineage for some.

    19. Why do people urinate anywhere they want?


    a. They are too lazy to find a toilet

    b. They feel comfortable while urinating at a tree, wall or over a river

    c. There are not many public toilets in Vietnam

    d. And you have to pay if you want to use public toilet

    The above lead to the saying: “the world is your oyster, um – toilet!”


    Why do they do that? (2009, August). The word Ho Chi Minh City, p37-46.

    Published 16/01/2013 Viewed 6244 Category ASK
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