The USA, Canada and UK are famously over-sensitive to personal questions: inquiries about your marital status, weight, or skin-colour are not only regarded as too personal for polite company, but some workplaces and universities have gone so far as to label them as “micro-aggressions” (aka, a fireable offense).
Fortunately, the Vietnamese are much more frank and honest about their cross-cultural curiosity, and spare little feelings for things that are obvious in plain sight (e.g. see our post on fat-shaming in Vietnam). Some questions about age and key to normal functioning in society.
In this post, we discuss some of the more common questions that tourists in Vietnam are asked, and some tips to deflect the more awkward questions. Be prepared ahead of time to not be offended, so you can enjoy your trip in this fantastic country.
“How old are you?” in Vietnamese
Age differences are incredibly important in Vietnam: Vietnamese people must know each others’ age for the normal functioning of communication, such as knowing which vocabulary and pronouns to use.
Therefore, when you are asked how old you are in Vietnam, do not attempt some sassy urban refrain like “none of yo bi’ness”. Rather, your age is their business (see our posts on the proper age-specific pronouns in Vietnamese).
Here are some example exchanges:
- Bạn bao nhiêu tuổi? – How old are you?
- Tôi ba mươi tuổi – I’m thirty years old (see our post on Vietnamese numbers).
Alternatively, if you want to be discrete and give them enough information so they can address you properly, you should say something like:
- Tầm tuổi bạn – Same as your age.
- Già hơn bạn một chút – A little older than you
- Cùng tuổi mẹ – Same age as your mother
“Are you married (yet)?” in Vietnamese
- Bạn đã lập gia đình chưa? – Are you married yet?
Notice that the chưa is used to signify a question and it also translates to “yet?”, implying that of course you will strive to be married. Here are some example answers:
- Rồi, tôi đã có chồng – Yes, I have a husband (literally, “I already have a husband”)
- Rồi, tôi đã có vợ – Yes, I have a wife
- Chưa, tôi độc thân – No, I am single (literally, “Not yet, I am still single”)
- Chưa, tôi chỉ có bạn trai thôi – No, I have a boyfriend
- Chưa, tôi chỉ có bạn gái thôi – No, I have a girlfriend
Notice that Chưa, when placed at the beginning of a phrase, means something in between “No” and “Not yet”. Whereas, if you were to use the usual word for “No” in Vietnamese (không), it wouldn’t really make sense.
The opposite to chưa is “Rồi” (pronounced like zoi with a down-tone) which means “Yes, I already have”. To these questions about marriage, you can also just answer either “Rồi” or “Chưa” for yes or no.
“Do you have a husband/wife?” in Vietnamese
- Có chồng chưa? – Do you have a husband? (literally: “Do you have a husband yet?”)
- Có vợ chưa? – Do you have a wife?
“Do you have any kids?” in Vietnamese
- Có con chưa? – Do you have any children (yet)?
Here are some example answers to questions about children:
- Rồi, tôi đã có con – Yes, I have children.
- Tôi chưa có con – No, I don’t have children yet.
- Tôi không có con – No, I don’t have children (and never will).
Notice the difference between the negatives chưa (“Not yet”) and không (generic “no”) — the common answer chưa implies that you want to have children, while không is very strong and sort of implies that you never want to have children.
This is very different from English, where answering “no” doesn’t imply whether or not that you want to have children.
How much you earn a month? in Vietnamese
Asking about salary is taboo in Canada and the USA, even among friends. But not in Vietnam!
- Lương tháng bao nhiêu? – How much do you earn?
However, this question is usually only asked among friends and family, not random strangers — but it could happen! Here are some example answers about salary, including some ways to deflect the question altogether.
- Lương 10 triệu 1 tháng – My salary is 10 million per month.
- Chuyện riêng, hỏi làm gì? – It’s my business why you ask?
- Vừa đủ – Just enough.
The later Vừa đủ is a neutral and nice way to deflect the question, without sounding belligerent.
TIP: Before you answer truthfully about your salary, learn about how you compare to the average salary in Vietnam
“How tall are you?” in Vietnamese
If you drank milk growing-up or had access to proper baby-formula, there is a good chance you will be taller than the majority of Vietnamese people, so prepare yourself for this question.
- Bạn cao bao nhiêu? – How tall are you?
Learn how to answer by reading our post on Vietnamese numbers.
“How much do you weigh?” – Not a Personal Question in Vietnamese
- Bạn nặng bao nhiêu cân? – How much do you weigh?
Personal-weight questions are natural between family members, but we’ve also heard them asked publicly in offices in Vietnam. The target is usually someone a little plumb.
Why do the Vietnamese want to know? Aside from personal curiosity with abnormal people (something which has likely been self-censored and suppressed in West), often the Vietnamese inquisitor is just concerned about the other person’s health: they can’t see the person’s mental attributes or hidden circumstance, but they can at least inquiry about their external physique.
In any case, asking about someone’s weight is common and not mockery or so-called fat-shaming.
“Why do you look fat recently?” – Not a Micro-Aggression in Vietnam
If you gain some weight, Vietnamese people will notice and will comment, even if you are a woman. This is not fat-shaming, it part of everyday Vietnamese culture. In fact, it is so common, it is almost like asking “Hey how are you?”
- Sao dạo này béo thế? – Why do you look so fat recently?
The question is so unimaginable rude for an American or Canadian, that we can’t even begin to know how to answer. Here are some common answers.
- Tôi bỏ tập thể dục – I quit doing exercise
- Tôi bị ốm nên sau đó tôi đã ăn rất nhiều – I was sick so I ate a lot afterwards
- Tôi mới cưới nên vợ nấu đồ ăn kỳ công nên tôi béo lên – I just got married so my wife is cooking amazing food so I got fat
- Tại lười thôi – I am just lazy
Westerners may struggle not to lash-out at innocent Vietnamese for asking these questions that, in the West, would be grounds for being fired or ostracization. When pressed about the appropriateness of such questions, a Vietnamese person may reply something like “I am just telling you the truth — it is good for you to know!”
“Why are you so black?” in Vietnamese
Why are you so white? Why are you so black? Why are you so tanned? Why are you so freckled?
All of these questions are fair-game in Vietnam. People are curious about ethnic differences in a country where the 54 different ethnic groups basically look the same (from an outsider’s perspective). Such questions are not meant as mockery or (gasp) racism — the Vietnam are just perplexed by such variation in human skin colour.
- Sao bạn trắng / đen / rám / tàn nhang thế? – Why are you so white / black / tanned / freckled?
How do you dodge this invasive question without getting into ancestral movements? Just say something like “it is normal in my country” or “I was born this way”.
- Chuyện bình thường mà – It’s normal (in my country)
- Đẻ ra đã thế rồi- I was born this way
“Where are you from?” in Vietnamese
Asking where you are from shouldn’t be too personal or surprising as a tourist in a foreign land. However, in Canada and the USA, there is a strange trend of considering such questions as “micro-aggression”: a hysteria which has persuaded young-people that merely asking where they are from is somehow rude. Fortunately, it isn’t considered rude in Vietnam…
- Bạn đến từ đâu? – Where are you from?
- Tôi đến từ Canada / Mỹ / Ý – I am from Canada / USA / Italy
Tell us your experience — what kind of question were you asked in Vietnam that seemed in appropriate or too personal? Let us know in the comments below.