Blog Archives

Vietnamese age and birthdays

birthday

Your Vietnamese age isn’t what you think it is.

In Vietnam, it’s common to be asked your age. Though Westerners may be shocked by this at first, it is an important question to choose the correct way to address someone for example – chị for a woman a little older than you or em for a woman a bit younger.

But before you go about answering that question, there are two important differences to counting age in Vietnam.

1. Your age is based on the year you were born, and changes at new year.

So say you’re 31 and living in Vietnam over new year. From the first day of Tết, you now give your age as 32. However…

2. At birth you start counting from 1.

Say your birthday is in September. So in the Western calendar you’d be turning 32 next month. However since Vietnamese count you as 1 when you’re born and you get older at Tết, you’d have been 33 years old since the last Tết anyway.

And next Tết you’ll be 34 in Vietnamese years. Sorry about that!

3. A quick way to work out your age

If you’ve already had your birthday this year,

Vietnamese age = Western age + 1

If you haven’t had your birthday yet,

Vietnamese age = Western age + 2

Birthdays

Birthdays are not usually celebrated in Vietnam. While children do receive lì xì (lucky money) at Tết, my students were quick to tell me this isn’t in celebration of their increase in age per se.

As Vietnam is modernising some people in the cities are adapting the Western concept of age, or least birthday celebrations, but whenever I’m asked “bao nhiều tuổi?”, I always give my Vietnamese age.

Over to you: Bạn bao nhiều tuổi? 😉

Photo credit: ngould

FYI, I’m leaving

If you’re visiting a Vietnamese person’s house, when you leave you must tell you host this. Even if it’s obvious, it’s necessary to actually say “I’m leaving” – especially to those older than you.

It might be obvious but you should still tell your host you’re leaving.

Usually this is with the verb “về” (as in, I’m going home). For example:

Chị, em về.
Chú, con về.

But there are times when đi (to go) is used, for example if you’re heading to the bus station to leave town.

Bà, con đi.
Anh chị, em đi.

In my experience, Vietnamese people love it when you follow this custom. Next time you’re visiting someone’s house or leaving a party, try it and see.

Drinking beer in Vietnam

Whether attending a wedding or eating snails, the Vietnamese are fond of a beer. Here’s some vocab that might come in handy if you find yourself drinking beer in Vietnam.

Drinking beer in Vietnam

Every time you take a sip of your beer, you must clink glasses with your companions.

Sometimes you just clink and drink, but often you’ll hear one of the following.

How to toast in Southern Vietnam:

một, hai, ba, vô! (always pronounce vô as /yo/)
= 1, 2, 3, cheers!

Northerners have adapted this toast into their own:

một, hai, ba, /zo/! (often written as dô)
hai, ba, /zo/
hai, ba, uống
= 1, 2, 3, cheers!
2, 3, cheers
2, 3, drink!

Somebody may well clink glasses (cạn ly) with you and say:

một trăm phần trăm
= 100% (they want you to down the glass)

You may be able to get away with:

năm mười phần trăm (= năm mười)
= 50% (they want you to drink half of your glass)

If you can’t or don’t want to drink:

[Anh/Chị/Em/…] không uống bia được.
= I can’t drink beer.

Eating goes hand in hand with food and snacks vary from peanuts to seafood. You’ll be encouraged to eat, or you can invite others’ to eat with:

ăn đi!
= eat!, please eat

Or if you spend too much time eating, you may be told to: uống đi!

Edited 8/3/14

Over to you: Have you ever drunk beer with Vietnamese people? Share your experiences in the comments!

Photo credit: dantri website