Vietnamese Proverbs and How They Relate to Us

Proverbs are unique phrases usually used to teach an important value or explain a particular moral concept. Regardless of where you’re from, you may have heard some of them as you were growing up, and some of these words may even stick with you throughout your life. In this article, we address the Vietnamese culture and proverbs, and how they relate to us.


Vietnamese culture and proverbs are plentiful

However, it’s quite interesting to note that proverbs can originate from anywhere in the world, and yet they can still be universally applicable. This is the idea behind this article: highlighting some common ones used in Vietnam and how they can apply to you too.


Most of these proverbs have unknown origins or authors and some were imported into Vietnam and mostly spread by word of mouth. Hence, it’s interesting that they have survived the test of time and are still used today.


Một con én không làm nên mùa xuân (A swallow doesn’t make a spring)

One swallow does not make a spring, only an entire flock does. Just like swallows that typically fly in flocks to signal the beginning of spring, one swallow is not enough to indicate spring’s arrival. This proverb highlights the collectivist ideology of Vietnam, where it takes an entire flock, in solidarity, to achieve something instead of just one bird trying to run the show.


Vietnamese proverbs


Ăn quả nhớ kẻ trồng cây (When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the three)  

When you are being presented with something good, think of the process that came behind the presentation too. This proverb highlights gratefulness: that everything you experience, it’s the result of the little things that came together. For example, your lunch today was made possible because the vendor woke up at 4 a.m. in the morning, while you were still asleep, to prepare it.


Vietnamese culture and proverbs


Đi một ngày đàng học một sàng khôn (A day of traveling will bring a basket full of learning)

To be able to think out of the box, you need to get out of your comfort zone and experience a new environment. This internationally popular proverb originated in Vietnam and is a relevant one for entrepreneurs worldwide. To be able to stand out from the norm and think outside the box, one must experience a new environment and culture to truly view things from a different perspective.


Vietnamese culture and proverbs


Cái khó ló cái khôn (Adversity is the mother of wisdom)

Most problems can be viewed as a lesson to make one wiser. This proverb originated in Wales and it’s not clear when or how it made it to Vietnam. The message, however, is clear: the problems you face are just lessons to wisen you up.


Vietnamese culture and proverbs


Con sâu làm rầu nồi canh (One drop of poison infects the whole tun of wine) 

All it takes is one small toxic addition and it will affect the entire item. This proverb highlights how a negative influence on a neutral or positive situation can tilt the balance toward negativity. For example, in a group project, all it takes is one troublesome member to affect the general morale and performance of the entire group.


Vietnamese culture and proverbs


Múa rìu qua mắt thợ (Never offer to teach fish to swim)

You’ve probably experienced a situation like this before: someone trying to teach you something that you’re already well-versed in. This proverb refers to the act of arrogance and ignorance of trying to teach a skill to someone who clearly knows more than you, and even more so when the person offering to teach isn’t necessarily good at it. Sounds familiar now?


Vietnamese culture and proverbs


Sai một ly đi một dặm (A miss is as good as a smile)

In what would probably rank #2 in a list of “things you remember your parents always yelling while spanking you (especially if you’re Asian)”: a failure is a failure. It doesn’t matter if your favorite football team lost 0-1 or 0-5, and it doesn’t matter if you scored 49/100 or 4/100 on your test. The fact is that you still failed. Pretty harsh.


Vietnamese culture and proverbs


Khẩu phật tâm xà (A fair face may hide a fool’s heart)

Related to the famous proverb “never judge a book by its cover”. An attractive person may not necessarily be a good person. We’ve heard stories of how good-looking men and women have often tried to charm and seduce people, only for them to end up scamming the victim.


Vietnam proverbs and culture


Việc hôm nay chớ để ngày mai (Make hay while the sun shines)

A direct reference to procrastination: do it while it’s the best time to do so. This is meant for all of us. How many times have we come across situations when we have a task to complete and somehow we just put it off until much later, only to realize we may not have enough time? Get that task done now… or maybe in five minutes.


Vietnam proverbs and culture


Có chí làm quan có gan làm giàu (Fortune favors the brave)

You will have good luck if you carry your plans out boldly. This Latin proverb is certainly relatable to those of you who took huge risks or made a significant change in your life, like moving to a new country. With the right amount of courage, nothing is going to stop you from succeeding.


Vietnam proverbs and culture


Dục tốc bất đạt (Haste makes waste)

Acting on something too quickly may actually slow things down. A more relatable example would be when you’re tasked with something at work which you want to finish as soon as possible and by rushing it, you miss crucial details which means you have to either redo it or waste time making those changes. Compare this to getting the details right at your own pace. The latter involves less hassle and you actually get it done much faster in the end.


Vietnam proverbs and culture


Lắm mối tối nằm không (If you run after two hares, you’ll catch neither)  

Contrary to what your boss might think, it’s actually close to impossible to do two things successfully at the same time (at least according to this proverb). The art of multitasking can be quite a draining process, and often people make crucial mistakes when they don’t focus on one specific task at a time. Whether this proverb is applicable to all is still debatable, especially in this day and age when most people are chasing up to five hares at the same time.


Vietnam proverbs and culture


Nước chảy đá mòn (Constant dripping hollows out the stone)

What might seem like a slow, futile, and repetitive attempt at something might actually achieve its results in the long term. This proverb is an ode to dedication. By dedicating your time and energy to something, even if others may view it as ridiculous or useless, it might actually turn out the way you want it to: provided you have the patience to wait for years.


Vietnamese culture and proverbs


Ngọt mật chết ruồi (You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar)  

This proverb about approaching your day with a smile is known around the world, but in Vietnam, it has a slightly different context. Honey is sweet and vinegar is sour and, yes, those condiments are metaphors for the words you use to get something done – also known as manipulation. By honey-coating your words, you can easily deceive someone into doing something they’re not supposed to, which could get them into trouble. The same could happen in reverse: don’t always trust people who are too nice to you; they may have an agenda.


Vietnamese culture and proverbs


Here are 100’s more Vietnamese proverbs, have a look, it is fun!


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