Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Different Countries Are Different

Despite all my advanced training in global management, I arrived in Vietnam completely incompetent in good manners. There seemed to be basic mores about offers and refusals, people communicate and interact differently from Americans, and most frighteningly, I had no idea what to do with my shoes. Knowing how to get along with people is as important in business (if not more), as understanding global market dynamics. Here is what I've learned the hard way...

1. Never clean your plate. If you finish all the food in your bowl, the host will hijack your bowl, fill it with more food, and watch you mindfully until its consumed. In the long run this leads to kidney explosion and obesity, so just leave a "rice buffer" in the bottom of the bowl, and claim fullness (see #3 for making an effective claim)

2. The Sacred Asian Hierarchy of Shoes. Outside shoes may only be worn outside. Inside slippers may only be worn inside, except in bathrooms where shoes are forbidden. In confusing house/office arrangements (like the one I live in), outside shoes may be worn in common areas by non-residents, but not upstairs, unless they are high heels, which are somehow immune to shoe rules. Residents must wear inside slippers at all times indoors, except when entering a bedroom thats not your own. No shoes are allowing in unfamiliar bedrooms. Please keep your shoes lined up neatly in the "Shoe Pit" at the bottom of the stairs.

3. The Rule of Three. If you want to refuse something, you have to refuse three times. If you want to offer something, you have to persist through three refusals before you will know if they actually want it.

4. Host/ess gifts = more important than in the US and a little different. Hit the airport giftshop for trinkets before you leave the States - anything with relevance to your town, state, etc. will be really popular. I totally forgot about this, and have made pitiful attempts with what I can come up with locally, eg. a bag of oranges.

5. "Chi" and "Co" are not peoples first names. Everyone here has a prefix based on their place in a broad family hierarchy. Co Ngoc Ahn means "Older woman Ngoc Anh" and Chi Thao means "Older Sister Thao" - and a Chi is just a friendly woman who is older than you, even if not related. Em is little sibling or cousin. When we talked about "relationships" being really important in Asia, they weren't kidding.

There are probably more - I would love to hear the social rules everyone else has learned this summer. If you want to contribute anonymously, email me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info on the shoes, I needed it for a project I am doing on 'Shoes'