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 when it comes 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 30 and living in Vietnam over new year. From the first day of Tết, you now give your age as 31. However…

2. At birth you start counting from 1.

Say your birthday is in September. So in the Western calendar you’d be turning 31 next month. However since Vietnamese count you as 1 when you’re born and you get older at Tết, you’d have been 32 years old since the last Tết anyway.

And next Tết you’ll be 33 in Vietnamese years. Sorry about that!

Honestly, though, it sounds more confusing than it is.

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

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