Dark suits and ties are the norm in Vietnam; avoid bright colours. A shirt and tie in warmer months (or the southern part of the country) are acceptable. Women should have high necklines and below-the-knee hemlines.
A letter of introduction or a personal introduction is best. Handshakes generally occur between people of the same gender. Two-handed handshakes are common – reciprocate by using the left hand on their right wrist. The Dead Fish handshake is more common than the Crusher.
Make appointments well in advance and confirm them beforehand once you have arrived. Always be punctual; if you will be late (traffic can be atrocious), notify your counterparty. First meetings are for getting to know each other. Translate all documents into Vietnamese and bring plenty of copies.
Don’t touch people (especially children) on the head. Male friends hold hands – deal with it and don’t make it out to be a big deal. Public rebukes or displays of anger are highly offensive. Avoid politics when making conversation and be sensitive about historical events.
Always use both hands to give and receive cards, and make sure to read over a card someone gives you; treat a card respectfully as an extension of the person. A bilingual card is very useful, and shows that you respect the language and culture.
Desmond So is the founder of the East-West Institute of Applied Etiquette