While there is a Chinese imprint on Vietnam, it’s reductive to suggest that Vietnam owes its culture wholly to its neighbor. Instead, the country has a rich tapestry of unique and curious traits that make up the national identity, which is wonderful to discover.

People making the foundations

Vietnam’s unique culture is best demonstrated through its people. As outlined by travel experts Culture Trip, Vietnamese people are collectivist, yet reserved. Saving face is a huge thing in Vietnamese culture, and people are generally keen to ensure that they aren’t seen to lose face – or cause you embarrassment, either. However, once trust is secured, the culture is welcoming and almost endlessly optimistic. Vietnamese people tend towards the INTP personality type, which focuses on people introverted yet intuitive and perceptive. This general culture, of reservedness but willingness to learn and trust, underpins the wider society. The values and way that Vietnamese people treat others ultimately influences the unique parts of their country and cultural events.

The festivals

This culture trickles down into the cultural events and Tet is a great example of this. The Feast of the Morning of the First Day, it takes many of the key cultural indicators of Vietnam and expands on them further. Preparations including thoroughly cleaning the home, called ‘sweeping away the luck’; preparing baskets of fruit; and spending time with family. Given the largely collectivist nature of Vietnam, this is an especially important rite. Perhaps more important is the fact that Tet is a specific way of celebrating New Year in Vietnam. Whereas New Year celebrations in their current form have been a fixture since Chinese rule in the second century, Tet is a very clear and unique move away from Chinese tradition and into Vietnamese ones.

Collectivism and the martial art

This collectivism is what feeds into another proud tradition of Vietnam: martial arts. To understand this, consider that it’s still not unusual to find three generations of Vietnamese people under one roof, or entire familial ties within the same village. This collectivism, and the spirituality that comes with it, is the foundation for increasingly popular Vietnamese martial arts, which, according to World Atlas, have an intense tie to the spiritualism of Buddhism and the philosophy of Confucianism. Considered part of the overall culture and attitude of Vietnamese people and families, the martial arts are another unique aspect of the Vietnamese society which has sought to define itself on its own away from the attentions of neighboring countries.

Vietnam is a hotspot of unique culture in its corner of Asia. Defined by its own history and rituals, it embodies a collectivist people, reserved but open to new friends, family and trust. An optimistic society, it manifests its brightest points in beautiful festivals and martial arts, for many the ultimate expression of society.

By Cassie Steele for Vietnam Insider