I have attended more meetings here than ever before. Private meetings, business meetings, meetings with the Ministry of Health, advisory sessions, workshops, you name it. All have been very interesting in a professional and a educative way. You see, behavior in the meetings reflects quite well some aspects of the Vietnamese culture.
One common factor for all meetings is tea. Always. The second factor - business cards. In the beginning of a meeting, everybody is presented and business cards are given. Even when I'm a mere observer, I usually walk out with at least 5 business cards.
Some bigger meetings have simultaneous translation (a translator translates a speech or a presentation at the same time the actual representative is talking. The translation can be listened to through headphones). Especially at ministry level, many speak good English and translation is not needed. But, interestingly enough, when a native English speaker is talking, almost everybody reach out for their headphones. In other words, it is easier for the locals to understand the English of a Frenchman, an Indian or a Spaniard and more difficult to understand the Americans, the Brits or the Australians.
With great effectiveness comes also great need for rest. Anywhere, anytime you can find a person sleeping in any position. Also in the meetings. If a topic does not directly concern the person, he is most likely napping in his seat. Sometimes some take a more standard position and rest half of the body on the table. No snoring can be heard though. To balance the one's sleeping, there are always only 1 or 2 people active in the discussion, everybody else seems to be minding their own business.
Different groups of people are quite easily distinguished. If the leader of the group agrees on something, everybody in the group start nodding their heads and saying quietly "Yes, yes, yes..". Actually repeating of phrases is quite funny here. Sometimes a person says something funny 3 times in a row and only after the third time people laugh (I could have a say about the complexity of the minds of the Vietnamese but I continue observing it for now).
Telephones play an active part in the meetings. Not in productive way, though. The nicer your phone is, the more you want to expose it. Touch screen seems to be the "it" in phones now. It doesn't really matter what they do with the phone. Like one of our drivers has a Blackberry. A Blackberry. In the meetings, some play quite openly Tetris etc. Also talking on the phone is the norm and it usually doesn't require for the person to leave the table. In more general terms we can say that, just like everywhere else, disrespect for the person talking is there. Several gossips are being told while the project manager is explaining about new important strategies. Especially women have problems controlling themselves. One colleague said that the women have such a long tradition of gossiping so it's difficult for them to refrain from that. Yes, I know you think that sounds ridiculous but actually, I don't think he's too far from the truth. The amount of gossiping taking place among the Vietnamese women regarding everybody is impressive. Hanoi is like a village, anybody interested can know everything about you. There are eyes everywhere. And what eyes can't see, money can buy.
Tomorrow I will attend a full day seminar at the Ministry of Health. There are great changes taking place with the different UN agencies in Vietnam and now we're mainly briefing the Ministry about those. I'm expecting a long day, lots of discussion and a nice buffet lunch. And all of what was mentioned above.