Vietnam Travel15 Culture Shocks Americans Will Experience in Vietnam

Kaylin2 weeks ago9

Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a seasoned world explorer, it’s always important to be prepared for culture shock. Culture shock is defined as “the feeling of disorientation experienced when one enters an unfamiliar culture.” In other words, it’s the feeling you get when you’re in a place where everything is new and different.

vietnam culture shock

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Vietnam is a country with a rich history and diverse culture. From the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh City to the stunning beaches of Phu Quoc, there’s something for everyone in Vietnam. However, as an American, you may find yourself experiencing some culture shock during your travels. To help you prepare, here are 15 culture shocks you may experience in Vietnam.

1. The Language Barrier

One of the first culture shocks you may experience in Vietnam is the language barrier. While English is slowly becoming more common, it’s still not widely spoken throughout the country. This can make communication difficult, especially if you don’t know any Vietnamese.

2. The Food

vietnamese food

photo: Hải Nguyễn

Another culture shock you may experience in Vietnam is the food. Vietnamese cuisine is very different from American cuisine.  From strange new flavors to unfamiliar ingredients, it can take some time to get used to the food in Vietnam.

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3. The Weather

Another thing that may come as a shock to Americans traveling to Vietnam is the weather. The country has a tropical climate, which means it’s hot and humid all year round. If you’re not used to the heat, you may find yourself feeling uncomfortable.

4. The Crowds

One of the most shocking things about Vietnam is the crowds. The country is incredibly densely populated especially in the big cities, which means that there are always people around. If you’re not used to being around large crowds of people, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed.

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5. The Traffic

vietnam traffic

photo: Valentin

Another culture shock Americans may experience in Vietnam is the traffic. The streets are always packed with scooters and cars, and it can be difficult to cross the street without getting hit. If you’re not used to the chaotic traffic, you may find yourself feeling frazzled.

6. The Currency

Another thing that may come as a shock to Americans in Vietnam is the currency. The currency in Vietnam is called the Dong, and it’s very different from the US Dollar. One US Dollar is equal to about 23,000 Dong. This can make things confusing, especially when you’re trying to figure out how much something costs.

7. The Cost of Living

Another thing that may come as a shock to Americans is the cost of living in Vietnam. The country is very affordable, especially if you’re used to living in a Western country. However, some things are more expensive than others.

8. The Healthcare

Healthcare in Vietnam is a bit different than what Americans are used to. The quality of care is generally good, but it can be expensive if you don’t have insurance. Additionally, many hospitals require payment upfront, so it’s important to have cash on hand in case of an emergency.

9. Take Off Your Shoes

In Vietnam and most countries in Asia, it is customary to take off your shoes before entering someone’s home as a sign of respect. This practice is based on the belief that shoes carry dirt and negative energy from the outside world, which should not be brought into the sacred space of someone’s home. When visiting a Vietnamese home, you should look for a shoe rack or area near the entrance where you can place your shoes. Overall, taking off your shoes is a small but important gesture of respect when visiting someone’s home in Vietnam.

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10. The Work Culture

The work culture in Vietnam is also different than what Americans are used to. In general, Vietnamese people work long hours and take fewer vacation days than Americans. Additionally, the concept of “face time” is very important in Vietnamese culture, which means that workers are expected to be present at the office even if they’re not working. However, break time is usually two hours long and some employees are allowed to take naps at work.

11. The Dating Scene

vietnam dating

photo: Hoàng Chương

The dating scene in Vietnam is also different than what Americans are used to. In general, Vietnamese people date within their social circles. This means that if you’re not introduced to someone through a friend or family member, it can be difficult to meet new people. Additionally, many Vietnamese people are not comfortable with public displays of affection, so you may need to tone down your PDA if you’re dating someone from Vietnam.

12. The Sound of Horns Honking Constantly

One of the most culture shocks Americans may experience when visiting Vietnam is the constant sound of horns honking. In Vietnam, it’s considered impolite to honk your horn unless you’re in an emergency. However, many drivers ignore this rule and honk their horns constantly. If you’re not used to the noise, it can be very jarring.

13. The Smell of Incense

smell of insense

photo: Dương Nhân

Another culture shock Americans may experience in Vietnam is the smell of incense. In Vietnam, it’s customary to burn incense in temples and homes as a way to ward off evil spirits. However, the smell of burning incense can be very strong, especially if you’re not used to it.

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14. The Lack of Personal Space

Another culture shock Americans may experience in Vietnam is the lack of personal space. In Vietnam, it’s not uncommon for people to stand close to each other, even if they’re not familiar with one another. In a crowded restaurant, you may find yourself elbow-to-elbow with the person next to you. If you’re not used to being in close proximity to others, it can be a bit uncomfortable.

15. The Toilets

Vietnam’s toilets can definitely be a culture shock for Americans who are used to modern western bathrooms. In Vietnam, toilets can range from squat toilets to western-style sit-down toilets. Squat toilets are common in public restrooms, and they require a different technique for using them. Instead of sitting down, users must squat over a hole in the ground. For many Americans, this can be a challenging and uncomfortable experience. Additionally, some public restrooms in Vietnam may not have toilet paper or soap available, so it’s important to carry tissues and hand sanitizer when visiting these facilities. However, it’s worth noting that many hotels and restaurants in Vietnam have western-style toilets with all the modern amenities, so it’s not all bad news.

Overall, there are many cultural differences between Vietnam and the United States. When visiting or moving to a foreign country, it’s important to be open-minded and willing to accept the culture shock that comes with it. It’s also important to enjoy the experience and not let the culture shock get in the way of your enjoyment. So, if you’re planning to visit or move to Vietnam, be prepared for some cultural differences, but also make sure to enjoy all that Vietnam has to offer!

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From what I understand, the poverty seems to be the hardest part for people to grasp when they come from places like America where even the poor have access to clean water and free toilet and shower options. 


I’m definitely going to have to remember to take off my shoes before entering someone’s home in Vietnam.


I wonder how I would react if I experienced these culture shocks as an American visiting Vietnam. It would be such a fascinating experience!


The heat and humidity hands down will shock anyone who has never been to a place like Vietnam. There are other areas that are just as hot if not hotter but they are not common places Americans travel to.


@homeg1rl I agree. I thought this when I saw the thread title. Nothing is more shocking than being in a high humidity, high heat area. I think the only area that compares to it in America is Florida and even then it is not as bad. 


The weather is the most shocking but if you know that going in, sadly, you are still in for a rude awakening. This is why it is best to go during the cooler months where humidity is lower. Crowds are only shocking to people that have never been to or lived in cities in America. And I can tell you first hand, the education system in America should be a cultural shock to anyone visiting. It is embarrassing. 


This article is spot on. The heat and humidity in Vietnam can be intense, but it’s all worth it for the delicious food and breathtaking scenery.


I hope they take the time to learn and appreciate the local customs.


Looks like Americans are in for a wild ride when they visit Vietnam! From traffic to toilets, this article covers it all. Better start practicing my squatting skills now!

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