- Think the colour red – give watermelon or dragon fruit, for example
- For children, money inside a red envelope or lì xì. Make sure the notes are brand-new.
- Orange or gold-coloured gifts are also great – two easy ideas are mandarins and pomegranates.
- Wrap gifts in red or gold paper, or with red or gold ribbon
- Scarves are an old favorite – you can’t go wrong, but don’t choose anything in white or black
- A cumquat tree or a peach tree branch covered in blossom – everyone will love you for this
- For old people, you can give a Dong Ho painting
- Wine – a winning idea, especially if it’s imported
- Preserved fruit is hugely popular – candied coconut & ginger are definitely good choices
- Nuts – peanuts are a bit lowbrow; instead choose cashews or pistachios. The more expensive, the better
If you have mastered”Chúc mừng năm mới” (Happy New Year), you may like to try these faves:
“Tiền vô như nước” (Hope money flows in like water)
“Sống lâu trăm tuổi” (Hope you live 100 years)
“Vạn sự như ý” (Hoping all your wishes come true)
“Hay ăn chóng lớn (Eat more, grow rapidly – only say this to children!)
“Năm mới, thắng lợi mới” (New year, new triumphs)
If you’ve ever seen these colourful bottles and wondered about their purpose, here’s the answer. Translated as “cereal bottles”, it’s a common practise in Buddhist families to place these bottles on the altar, especially at Tet time. The decorative bottles contain 6 kinds of commonly-eaten beans and cereals that bring luck into the household. If one of these bottles graces your altar, you will not have to worry about feeding your family in the new year. We bought our bottle at the Buddhist supermarket on Quan Su St in the Old Quarter. It’s a Tet gift that shows you understand Vietnamese culture.
Never give watches or clocks as Tet gifts, as they are reminders of our mortality. Mirrors are also a bad idea, as they can attract malicious ghosts, and they’re easily broken and this can lead to bad luck. Knives and scissors, in fact anything sharp and pointy, are taboo as gifts as they symbolise cutting off a friendship.
Cats should never be given as gifts during Tet, for the noise they make sounds similar to the Vietnamese word for poor, ngheo. Engagement rings and marriage proposals are also not a popular ‘gift’ at Tet, because if the woman turns down the man’s offer, he may be plagued by bad luck in the coming year. While we’re on the topic of rings, don’t buy a ring for a Vietnamese woman during Tet because it’s bad luck for her to come into contact with metal – you guessed it – because it brings bad luck.
Finally, never make a gift of pepper during the Lunar New Year because the word for pepper (hạt TIÊU) sounds like the word for dissipate (TIÊU tan).
You know that Autumn has finally arrived when you see cốm for sale on the streets of Hanoi’s old quarter. Cốm is young rice, harvested early, pounded within an inch of its life, and served in a lotus leaf. Much tastier, sweeter and chewier than conventional rice, cốm is best eaten slowly and, believe it or not, tastes great when eaten with ripe bananas.
1. After having a baby, many Vietnamese women will not bathe their own bodies or even wash their hair for the first month. There is a belief that contact with water could endanger the mother’s health, and this could result in the baby’s death.
2. As in western culture the number 13 is unlucky in Vietnam, and is called a ‘dead number’. Business people in particular will not buy a house bearing the street number 13. If they have no other choice, the house will be renamed 12A or 14A. You can see this practice on many streets in Hanoi.
3. While we’re on the topic of business, people in trade must Thắp Hương or light incense and pray in front of an altar twice every month. If they don’t, the three gods on the altar will feel neglected and will punish them by reducing sales.
4. Marriage during the Year of the Dog (the current lunar year) should not be arranged between people born in the Year of the Buffalo, Goat or Dog. If people decide to ignore this superstition, they will be cursed with poverty and an unhappy relationship with their spouse.
5. If you’re the first customer of the day in a Vietnamese shop, there’s a good chance you can successfully bargain with the shop owner. Many traders believe that the first customer to cross the threshold of their shop each morning sets the tone for the day, so they really want you to make a purchase. You can turn this into an opportunity to settle on a nice price!