I’m on day 2 of my volunteer work assignment at Discovery Indochina, a sustainable tourism company that’s based here in Hanoi. From the moment you walk in the door, you can tell that Vietnamese work culture is very different from Canada…

My colleagues' sandals, which they leave at the door of the office

I actually really love this practice. With lockers outside the office door, everyone stores their street shoes and has special work sandals that they change into – but only for going down the hall. Otherwise, you are barefoot all day while you’re working! I find it relaxing and calming; maybe the earthing movement actually has some truth to it.

The second big thing you’ll notice is that the office is completely silent. I mean, people are breathing, typing, and alive, but talk is very, very rare. Definitely no office gossip, comments as you walk past to the water cooler, or mutterings that you just received a frustrating email. Nothing! I can’t believe the difference! I love my office environment back home in Canada, but it can be noisy with lots of interruptions. Some days I definitely wish for silence. But here it has come true – and while it’s peaceful, it definitely means you work more! My Canadian work ethic seems almost like a joke compared to this environment – where you work from 8 AM – 12 PM, 1.5 hours for lunch, then back at it from 1:30 – 5:30 PM.

That’s the third and final thing you notice: 1.5 hours for lunch may not seem like that much longer, but the difference here is that everyone naps during lunch! My colleague Rasha had told me about this, but I’ll admit I didn’t really believe her. Naps? In the office? Where? Well, she was right – every lunch, after a quick bite, my coworkers pull chairs together in the conference room, turn off the lights, and have this really adorable group nap. They even keep bags with their personal blankets and pillows in the lockers (which hold their shoes, if you remember). I wish I could capture this for you, but I won’t, don’t worry – talk about being rude, and taking pictures of people while they’re sleeping. I hope my description gives you an idea!

So, those are my first impressions of Vietnamese work culture. Though I realize it’s only day 2, and this is only one office, so I can’t assume it’s the same everywhere. I will ask around, perhaps of the other volunteers who are placed in different organizations, and let you know what I find out. Till next time…