In Vietnam, the “V” Isn’t for Victory

Ever wonder why so many of the smiling girls in the picture at the top of this blog are holding up two fingers?  Americans usually assume the gesture is a sign of peace or victory.  But it’s not, and it’s worth knowing the body language of Vietnamese if you want to work with them.

The young women, students in a tourism college, were attending a class picnic in Ho Chi Minh City when they flashed the salute that Vietnamese people typically display as westerners click their cameras.

Why?  Because the fingers represent the number two — or hai in Vietnamese. Which is pronounced like what you would say to your neighbor in Chicago when you are feeling friendly.  Friendliness is exactly what Vietnamese people want to convey.

The gesture also makes a subtle statement about Vietnamese pride.  It’s an invitation to learn about not just the language but all that is Vietnamese, an appreciation of American culture, and an effort to bridge the two — by expressing friendship in English and Vietnamese simultaneously.

The Vietnamese “Hi” is just one example of how Americans can misinterpret the  intentions of their associates and customers, and sometimes it costs them.  So when in doubt, it pays to ask.

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