After reading and researching in books and on the internet, here are a few pieces of information relevant to today's greeting customs in Vietnam. This is where this site comes in handy so tell your friends so you can stay up with the current trends.
Hehe...sorry I need words. Today's article will be about some of the basic Vietnamese greetings, past and current, since there are still a lot of people who do the traditional greetings and it does not hurt if you know them yourself.
In an everyday situation, the most basic Vietnamese greeting when meeting someone is shaking his or her hand and slightly nodding. The handshake is used more today than in the past due to Western influence. Men are more willing to shake hands with you than women are and it is even less likely if the ladies are from the rural areas. For Vietnamese women, when it comes to shaking hands only do it when they offer their hand first. What do you do when it is a person that is a figure of authority or official? When you do a handshake with this type of person, use both of your hands (so it seems like you are clasping with both).
For an elder, the best way to greet the person that is older than you is with a small bow and smile. Simply bowing a little bit shows a sign of respect to the person and if you want to get some extra points from them, cross your arms while you take the bow. If you do not like to cross your arms then clasp both of your hands together above the waist, this also works with a smile. (So if you're happy and you know it clap your hands. * Clap* Clap*)
This greeting is an old tradition in Vietnam, but there are not a lot of people still doing it, especially among the younger generation (such as those that are born and raised in the U.S.), so it is not common to see it. When you see someone that is doing this greeting, it means that the person comes from a traditional family, which can mean a lot. A more common greet is just shaking hands, but like in China, always shake hands with the person with the most authority or seniority first (especially when doing business
In the end, why do the Vietnamese people greet with a bow or a nod? What does the bow actually mean? If you remember from a previous Chinese article, you will remember that the head is the most sacred thing on a person's body. By bowing to the person you show that you are giving them the highest respect you can possibly give. The head represents the family, its ancestry, and a person's spirit. The only people who are allowed to touch another person's head are their family members.
Keep this in mind when you greet a child as well. Whatever you do, refrain from patting the child's head. This is why in Asian movies, the highest insult that a person can give is to make someone crawl between his legs. This insult is not only degrading but tramples on the family's respect and pride. It offends all of the family ancestors, not to mention bringing shame and disgrace to the family's name.
One similarity between the Chinese and Vietnamese... Well a lot of places in Asia refrain from touching the opposite sex like a pat on the back or a touch on the arm. A handshake should be the most contact toward the opposite sex. Vietnamese people tend to not show a lot or any public displays of affection, not even if they are related, so please keep that in mind. This custom is slowly changing with the younger generation but with people in their 30s and up, please be respectful.