Vietnamese siesta culture opens foreigners' eyes

By Duc Trung   May 21, 2023 | 10:54 pm PT
Vietnamese siesta culture opens foreigners' eyes
A man takes a nap after lunch break in a Hanoi office. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Trung
Tomomi from Japan was surprised to see her colleagues in Vietnam getting mattresses and pillows out after lunch for a snooze.

"When I first came to Hanoi for work earlier last year, what I saw during lunch break was the lights going out in the office, and everyone going to sleep," said Tomomi, 27, an employee at a Japanese construction company in Vietnam.

It was a surprise for Tomomi, who said people in Japan often make use of the one-hour long lunch break to prepare their afternoon work.

Foreigners who come to Vietnam for work are often surprised when their colleagues take out blankets and pillows to nap on the office floor, until they try it themselves.

"To a Westerner, it's just a very strange sight, to be honest, so it does look a bit funny. If you were to work in an American office and you took a nap during lunch break, people would think you're strange or even very lazy," said Mark, a 31-year-old American who works as an English teacher in HCMC.

Mark said taking naps at noon could be a "very bad look" with many bosses in the U.S.

For Tomomi, however, after spending over a year in Hanoi and seeing how Japanese managers also get some shut-eye at noon, she began to understand that siestas are commonplace in Vietnamese culture. So, she decided to try it out herself after having pulled an all-nighter the night before.

"One day in July, I decided to skip lunch and take a 30-minute nap. That afternoon, I was surprised to feel so alert after waking up, as if I had coffee," said Tomomi after her first-ever siesta.

As for Mark, after six years of teaching in HCMC, he also takes a 30-minute nap at noon now.

"The only issue I see with it is when teenage students don't sleep enough at night because they stay up late, and then they use the afternoon nap to make up for it," he said, adding that students often become groggier after naps.

Siestas are not something unique to Vietnam. Other cultures with hot climates, and even some in Southern Europe countries like Spain and Italy, also make use of afternoon nap-time.

In these countries, working hours are often scheduled around the hottest hours of the day. For example, in Spain, people often work from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for their morning shifts and then take a two-hour siesta before coming back to work from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Alberto, from Barcelona, said it’s often too hot during breaks in Spain to do anything. That’s why they resort to naps, and it’s also a way for them to stay alert for work in the evening.

Mark and Tomomi both said that Vietnamese companies should not ban their employees from taking naps at the office out of fear that the culture may "shock foreign partners and affect company image." The most important thing is for people to wake up on time and maintain their productivity in the afternoon, they agreed.

Scott, a 50-year-old manager from the U.S., said Western working culture focuses too much on maximizing working time and cutting noon breaks."I love the work culture here," he said, adding that he can always take quick naps without fear of judgement in Vietnam.

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