VIETNAMESE TET – WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO WESTERN TRAVELERS?
Vietnamese Tet is at the same time with Chinese New Year and is the most important holiday to Vietnamese for the family reunion. While most businesses are closed, people going home, prices going up, there is still a very high number of curious travelers who want to experience a Vietnamese Tet. So what does Tet mean to you as a traveler?
Plan your visit well in advance
Yes, you really should do. Since most Vietnamese are home, there will be a big shortage of human resource in every field, not to mention the service people in Hospitality. A Vietnam package tour well booked in advance will make sure all the services are available and ready to you. Your Vietnamese tour operator and their staff will make them all happen.
In such a context of high demand and short of service, no matter how hard people work it will always be something not up to everyday standard. Imagine one third of a restaurant staff have to serve triple amount of customer at lunch. In such a case, please be tolerant and if you can do anything to help them, they’ll be grateful for that. Don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to help them wash the dishes, just take your seat, order a drink and enjoy your waiting time patiently, and leave your seat quickly for other clients once you finish your meal that is a big help.
Learn some local taboos, etiquettes, and traditional practices
Vietnamese are generally superstitious, and what happen during Tet may stay in their mind for the whole year.
If you happen to do any shopping on the New Year days, don’t be too picky or do not bargain too hard. Mostly shop owners won’t overcharge you on these days. They open their shops for some good luck so be their God of Good Luck by having a fun light bargain and shop easily.
Your tour guide will be a big help for learning local etiquette. Learn to say hello to Vietnamese according to their ages and genders (warn you, this is challenging!), learn to accept or to refuse a food or drink offer etc. You will soon realize how your world has turned upside down in Vietnam, and you’ll love it.
Prepare some small money bills for “lucky money” tipping
You may come from a country without tipping practice, yet on the Lunar New Year Days you can be generous to local people, or at least those who are at your service. Prepare red envelopes, which are for sales in any local market, and put small money bills in there, give it to your hotel room maid, bell boys, receptionists, your divers, your tour guides, or the kids, the elderly you meet on the first New Year day with words of Chuc Mung Nam Moi. You’ll for sure see how well you make their day.
Vietnamese, from all walks of life, all dress up on the New Year day, and so should you. Unless you lock yourself in your hotel room (that is miserable.), you’ll encounter some sort of interaction with local people and you wouldn’t want to look bad. Besides, you may happen to enter somebody’s home; proper outfit makes the family loves you better.
Visit Buddhist Pagodas and Local Family
With a help from your tour guide, you may have a chance to visit a local family. In such an event make sure you learn how to say Chuc Mung Nam Moi with a big smile, firm handshakes and respectful attitude. Say it to Elderly first, then to the kid last, take off your shoes if the family does so, and do not sit with your back to the family altar.
After all the exchanges of best wishes for the new year (Good health, Luck, Success Prosperity, Having new babies…) you may be asked several personal questions, from how old you are to how much do you weight, from you are married yet to how many children you have, or from what you do for a living to how much you make a month… Yes you’ll be shocked but just take it easy, as Vietnamese always ask those questions among themselves, and yes you can return the same questions to them and see how they openly and comfortably answer you.
A big MUST DO in Tet days is to visit Buddhist Pagodas. They will all be full and busy, and the air is thickening with smoke from incense… You’ll see another corner of Vietnamese spiritual life. Since they are religious places, you may want to learn some practice before visiting.
Vietnamese are BIG drinkers, especially in Tet time, and you may be invited to join a meal or a few drinks. Remember your limit, and remember there is still a lot for you to discover about Vietnamese Tet. It’s not fun to sleep over these exciting days.
Some people feel they are in a bad luck when their holiday comes right at Vietnamese Tet, where the shortage of service is huge. Others take this as an experience of a lifetime. Obviously, you don’t have many opportunities to visit Vietnam during Tet, get the most out of it. Also, you are in the country when everyone is happy, and there is no reason you are not.