Drinking is a huge part of Vietnamese culture. It’s definitely a prominent part of many Vietnamese people’s everyday lives. I also believe, just like with any other Vietnamese culture, drinking culture here shows how the people of Vietnam are so inviting and warm-hearted.
I worked in Ha Long bay about 6 years ago on a cruise boat for an internship and I remember genuinely enjoying experiencing different Vietnamese cultures.
As I’m quite familiar with Vietnam’s local culture now, I became accustomed to it. So I’m really happy to introduce this very unique and loving culture to my foreign friends who come and visit Vietnam. After realising how everyone new in this country is always in for a good cultural surprise, especially when it comes to drinking, I thought it’d be a great idea to share with you my insights on Vietnamese drinking culture.
6 Cultural Insights on Vietnamese Drinking Culture
1. Everyone Drinks as a Team
I find Vietnamese drinking culture truly fascinating and one of the biggest shocks foreigners might get is how drinking is a teamwork. Unlike in Western culture, every drink is supposedly a group drink. In other words, whenever someone, including yourself, drinks, it’s commonly with a cheers with everyone and everyone drinks too.
I personally love and embrace this culture because I believe it shows how inclusive and inviting everyone is. One the other hand, there can be occasions when peer pressure takes over drinking limit. I have met and seen some people who can be quite forceful, although not at all out of mal intention.
As far as a culture can be appreciated, I think it’s as important to remember that everyone has the right to politely reject. So even at times, some or everyone in the group can be pressuring you to drink, if you’re not up for it, you can say no and most likely, they’ll respect you and your culture.
2. Một, Hai, Ba, Dzo!
During my time working in Ha Long bay, I used to do a little drinking class with my guests – as part of a cruise programme. With my zero knowledge of Vietnamese language, I taught them how to say cheers in Vietnamese.
That is một, hai, ba, dzo! It means one, two, three, cheers! The last word is pronounced differently in south and north Vietnam. In the north, people pronounce it as ‘zo’ and in the south people say ‘yo’. So you’ll be able to hear the difference if you travel both regions.
Actually, the full version of it goes:
“Một, hai, ba, dzo, một, hai, ba, dzo, một, hai, ba, uống!”
It’s basically repeating it three times but replace the dzo with uống, which means ‘to drink’ at the end.
This also is a group work and it’s the time when everyone shows how loud they can volume it up. It doesn’t happen every night or for every drink. But it can be once or twice (or many more) during the night. If you’re in a restaurant or beer place, you might hear this some times or many times.
3. Một Trăm Phần Trăm - Bottoms Up
Along with mot, hai, ba, dzo, this phrase, một trăm phần trăm is probably one of the very first phrases I learned in Vietnamese. It literally means 100 percent indicating you should drink 100% of your glass – bottoms up!
Bottoms up is pretty common anywhere, but what I found super interesting was that you get to decide and negotiate the percentage of drink you’ll chug in. So as well as một trăm phần trăm, you can bargain down to năm mươi phần trăm, which means 50%.
4. Inviting Specific Person to Cheers
As mentioned above, drinking culture in Vietnam is generally a teamwork. However, there are also times when some people can invite specific person or people in the group to cheers with. I’ve witnessed this a lot in my boyfriend’s and friends’ homes. I was also occasionally encouraged to initiate and personally invite some uncles or aunties of the family as a gesture of gratitude and love.
In such case, the person who invites would usually say something like “I’d like to invite you for a drink to say thank you for your support and kindness.” Then everyone else in the group would respectfully let them drink on their own. I believe it’s another very sweet part of Vietnamese drinking culture.
5. Shaking Hands
Usually, after drinking with the person or people someone personally invited to cheers with, they’d exchange handshakes. Sometimes, this handshakes can be exchanged after a general group drink as well. So you can imagine in a group of 10 people, you’d shake hands with each and everyone in the group after a drink.
I imagine this particular custom is a great opportunity to build a genuine rapport and personal connection with one another.
6. Position Your Glass when Clinking
This last one might be an Asian culture in general, because I know that in Korea it’s practically the same. When people cheers and clink their glasses with others, there’s a whole rule for positioning the glass depending on age or status.
So if you’re younger than someone, you should clink your glass below the older person’s glass. It’s a very small detail, but if you pay attention to how Vietnamese clink their glasses, you’ll be able to spot how each and everyone positions their glass.
With friends of your age, you would just clink without considering the level of your glass in comparison to theirs. However, if you’re considerate in this detail when drinking with senior people, they’ll surely appreciate your effort and understanding of their culture.
So the above were some really fascinating facts about Vietnamese drinking culture. There’s another awesome blog article about this topic called “How to Drink Like a Vietnamese Local”, so you can check it out too for more information.
Also, it’s very possible that you can be invited to join a group of locals for a drink or cheers with them, even if they’re total strangers sitting beside you in beer street. And I really hope you’ll have an opportunity to join! Because it’ll surely be a fun and memorable time and also a truly local experience!