Language & Culture

Vietnamese age and birthdays

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 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

11 replies on “Vietnamese age and birthdays”

If I am born on March 28th, what is my birthday in Vietnam? My mom’s American Birthday is April 5 and her Vietnamese birthday is July 4th. ???

Your date of birth doesn’t change. Your age does, as this article explains.

Unless you are referring to the lunar calendar? In my experience, those dates are not really used in the cities expect for perhaps things like choosing a wedding date. Again, as the article explains most Vietnamese people don’t celebrate their birth day anyway.

Idk where your mom got that from bc there is no such thing of a western birthday date and Vietnamese birthday date not being on the same day, they’re still the same date.

It might be because of the change in age and of the remembrance. My father and mother changed their age on papers, because of their older siblings who had to change their age to be able to come over here. So, their older siblings decreased their age to under 18 and the rest of the closest siblings had to change. Also, my grandmother says my mom true birthday is June, not August. Though, she does not remember exactly. All she knew was that it was in the summer and the year of birth. Both side have 7-8 children, which is a lot to remember for a busy 1st grade level of education mother/grandma.

My Vietnamese wife has five sisters. Three older, two younger. My wife refers to the older ones as “Chi” and the younger ones as “Em” as you have mentioned. I am older than all of the sisters and as I married into the family I am supposed to use the same naming convention that she does. The sisters that are older than her but younger than me are “Chi” to me regardless of the fact I am older than them.

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