Birthday Gift For A Vietnamese Friend

Gifts are the universal response to invitations. The present is, naturally, an expression of gratitude and an obligation of politeness from the attendees to the host, as much as it is an expectation of the larger social context; in other words, the relationship seen here is a reciprocal mentality.

As simple as aforementioned, gift-giving is still an art that transcends geographical boundaries and varies across cultures. Take Vietnam and birthday parties as an example. With its rich culture history and high frequency of acculturation, the gift etiquette in this Southeast Asian country is slightly more complicated than its Western counterpart. Vietnamese sincerity, consequently, does not equal to a carelessly chosen last-minute resort: being an art in itself, buying a gift, as usual, means paying attention to the recipient's taste and hobby.


Flowers, additionally, are not a substitute: they are more of an appetizer of sort, a companion that adorns the birthday present. A Vietnamese-manufactured souvenir is out of the question, no matter how it amazes you; however one from your native country is always appreciated, providing that there is sufficient guide about it. Likewise, a too expensive gift for a new acquaintance is not necessarily a taboo, but creates an awkward situation, especially with female friends.

Photo: @sientobonito

Moreover, a birthday gift should be covered in colorful papers. It is best to avoid black: trendy in Western cultures, perhaps, but the signal of death in most Asian countries including Vietnam. So is plain white; even though an ivory-shaded wrapper with some elegant patterns on it is unlikely to be rejected. Also, the option of opening the gift in your presence is better left open.   

Therefore, choosing a birthday present in Vietnam is just as difficult as choosing one in your own country, with expectations specific to cultures. And generally speaking, money is not an issue: Vietnamese people honor a phrase that goes as follow: “Plenty of money does not count; the heart does” (Cua nhieu khong quan trong, quan trong la tam long).

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