Cultural Differences of Vietnamese Americans

Space and Time Orientation

According to a popular myth Vietnamese originated from the marriage between a fairy heavenly angel and dragon. The couple was blessed with 100 children who reproduced to the current people of Vietnamese. Vietnamese practice ancestral worship together with other East Asians religions such as Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism with only a small group of Vietnamese practicing Christianity. The Vietnamese group lives in patriarchal families. After the end of Vietnam War, many Vietnamese left their home country and resettled to North America, Australia and Western Europe (World Atlas, 2016).

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World Atlas (2016) explains that in United States, approximately 1.6 million Vietnamese are living there. California has the largest population of Vietnamese with Texas having the second largest Vietnamese population. This group came to America in three major waves. After the end of 1975 war, military officers and their families came to America. In early 1980s the boat people entered America while in 1990’s; the Communist “re-education” camps prisoners were released to the country. Until date, the immigrants of Vietnamese are still going to the US under family sponsorship. Majority of the Vietnamese group have made a successful transition in US, but some are still struggling with barriers such as psychological effects of war and displacement, language and cultural differences, and lack of transferable job skills.

Nutritional Patterns

The Vietnamese community eats raw fish and meat with their diet consisting of a lot of red meat and fat instead of fruits and vegetables. The reason why majority of Vietnamese eat raw food is because they lack time to prepare and cook their food. In America, they eat junk and fast food and sweet foods are popular to the ethnic group (Janet Tu, 2001). Vietnamese cuisine is common and it uses a variety of vegetables and very little oil. It is mostly served with Fish sauce, soy sauce and rice. It also has a variety of noodles and noodle soups, mostly eaten during breakfast and they are also eaten as satisfying lunch or light dinner.

Janet Tu (2001) discuses that majority of Vietnamese are lactose intolerant as adults cannot consume sour milk. Their traditional diet is mostly fish, rice, and vegetables. They also take chicken and pork when available. The older persons of Vietnamese living in America still prefer traditional food though there is more readily available food than there was in Vietnam. The traditional diet of Vietnamese is healthy. The meals contain fish, vegetables and rice and their cooking methods include stir-frying or steaming.

The Vietnamese adults eat three meals a day which consists of steamed rice with side dishes of fish, meat or vegetables. The most common protein of Vietnamese is fish which is prepared in a variety of ways sautéed, steamed and fried. However, the Vietnamese meals lack calcium since sources such as soy products, dairy products, and milk are hardly consumed. This ethnic group is also susceptible to diabetes and obesity due to the high cholesterol and saturated fat in their diet (Janet Tu, 2001).

Communication Style

Pharm (2014) explains that the style of communication among the Vietnamese people is not clear. They have a habit of greeting each other with a question and often use communication instruments to send a message to one another.  The Vietnamese people are harmonious, considerate and graceful. Their habits are molded by the delicate way of communicating where they do not talk directly. According to their tradition, communication always starts with a question about work, home or others. This type of communication makes the Vietnamese to hesitate or think before speaking.

Due to the intimate nature of the Vietnamese community, every individual in the community is considered a family or relative. They address each other depending on social status, space, age or time.  The way they address each other also shows a hierarchy of communication. The Vietnamese community refers to themselves as humble and addresses each other with respect.

Death and Dying

They view death as a finality of life and plan their funerals well. Depending on family beliefs, the funerals follow many procedures and takes place three days after a person dies. The first step is keeping the body at home for prayer and worship. They then bury it and on the third day after the person’s death, they open the grave for worship. After they finalize with the funeral, for 49 days, friends and relatives brings rice to the family. The mourning or crying time ends after 100 days, and after they end their mourning festival, they commemorate the first anniversary of the death. During funerals, they wear white bands which are restricted for this function only (Pharm, 2014).

Family Patterns

According to Pharm (2014), the Vietnamese families are patriarchal with the man always heading the family. Although they have legalized divorce, it is not yet common in that society. A wife is expected to persevere in marriage sacrificing herself for her children rather than obtaining a divorce. They consider parental leadership as very important. Their children are expected to obey their parents and those who are older than them. Physical punishment is also allowed. They also do not allow unmarried girls and boys to court whoever they think.

However, the role of the wife is changing where she can now go to work; she is more independent and equal to her husband although he is still the leader of the family. They are now accepting divorce although it is still rare. They are allowing their children to speak out their minds as they have reduced physical punishment. They are also continuing to encourage healthy interaction between unmarried boys and girls.

Health Beliefs and Practices

Pharm (2014) explains that the most striking health concerns of the Vietnamese are access to health, tobacco use, nutrition and cancer. The tradition of this group holds that sharing of tobacco is a sign of hospitality. They view it as a way to relieve depression. Many traditions affect their health practices. For example, they think that cancer is caused by bad Karma and is incurable. Some are also unfamiliar with western medicine and they think that a spirit doctor can heal their condition. Some of the Vietnamese groups have low information about health and the health care system.

Childbirth and Perinatal Care

According to White (2002), pregnant Vietnamese women follow dietary restrictions to avoid big fetus which may cause difficulty in delivery. They remain physically active during their pregnancy while avoiding strenuous exercises. During pregnancy, many avoid sexual intercourse due to the fear that it may cause fetal abnormalities. The culture does not allow the father’s presence in the labor ward. Traditionally, the community does not prefer Cs due to fear of blood loss. After birth, the women undergo traditional post-partum practices including keeping warm and strict bed rest to avoid potential colds. They also follow traditional dietary restrictions such as avoiding beef, green vegetables and cold drinks. Fatness in a child is considered healthy.

Spirituality, Religion, and Faith (include holy days)

The predominant religion in Vietnamese is Buddhism with 85% followers. Christianity is 8%; Cao Dai is 3% while the others are the minority religions. The Buddhist teaching have eight ways of living virtuously; with right effort, right mind, right livelihood, right views, right thought, right conduct, right speech and right meditation. They also worship their ancestors. Taosism teaches its followers that for them to have harmony, they must observe self-contentment, patience and simplicity (Pharm, 2014). They have commemorations and ancestors ceremonies throughout the year. The Christians celebrate Christmas following the western calendar.

Prayer and Meditation

Vietnamese Buddhism is an eclectic tapestry of beliefs, customs and schools. Meditative practices and Lotus Sutra are taught in their schools together with pure land customs are aimed at insight and calm. They attend on morning alms rounds and adhere to a single religion. In Buddhist they pray using the sacred prayer beads.

Pain Response

Majority of the Vietnamese accepts pain as part of life and attempts to use self-control to deal with pain. This deep restraint against weakness or pain is limiting the use of pain medication. However, the ethnic group allows the sick person to receive and depend on family for care and attention. During times of loss and distress, the Vietnamese complains about physical discomfort like insomnia, backaches and headaches.

New Ideas of the Ethnic Group

The community does not summon another person with a hand or a finger to be in an upright position. That is reserved for animals and inferior people. Another interesting thing about the community is that everything that they do on New Year Day determines a person’s luck for the next twelve months.


Janet Tu,. (2001). Nutrition and Fasting in Vietnamese Culture. Ethnomed. Retrieved from

Pharm, D. (2014). Understanding Vietnamese Culture (1st ed.). Retrieved from

White, P.M. 2002. Crossing the river: Khmer women’s perceptions of pregnancy and postpartum. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 47(4), 239-246.

World Atlas,. (2016). Largest Ethnic Groups In Vietnam. World Atlas. Retrieved from

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