February 3 2018

A cultural situation with Uber in Hanoi | Cross Cultural Communication


Each country, each region in the world has different cultures, some of them contradict each other, which made us really confused and embarrassed. In fact, I have never been in any foreign countries, and have not had any opportunities to integrate myself into a new culture. During part-time work, however, I have encountered a cultural situation that made me embarrassed right in Hanoi, and now I will share that extraordinary story.

2.      CONTENT

In the second year at university, Because I just did not want to be dependent on my parents and brother’s grant, I had to find a part-time job to make a living in the expensive city, Hanoi. Thinking about my situation and all things I had, I decided to work as an UberMOTO driver. Uber is an application that allows riders move easily by booking nearest motorbikes or various cars just a few touches on their mobile phone. The most favorite thing made me choose this kind of job was because I could work in flexible time with high income and also have chances to make conversations with strangers, especially with foreigners.

Like many other universities in Vietnam, I had a day off on Sunday every week, this was the best time for me to work and make my bread for the following weeks. On the first Sunday of October, 2017. To take advance of having a good health condition and spare time all day, I prepared all the demands for the job then turned on Uber Driver app in my phone to ready for the job right at my home.

Sample Photo

A few moment later, there was a ting-ting sound coming from my phone, it was the sign of a rider’s demand in the Uber Driver app. I accepted the trip and called the rider, an English speaker answered from another side. After confirming the rider’s place, I drove my motorbike on the way to there. At the destination, there was a black man standing alone, I speedily reached that person and asked him whether he was my rider or not. We communicated completely in English: “Hello, did you take UberMOTO?” I asked, “Yes, I did” He answered. Then, He slowly reconfirmed the driver in his app again then rode on my motorbike, wore the helmet, and we started the trip.

During the trip, he talked with me as a close friend which made me feel closer to him. He told the story of his wonderful journey from Brazil to Vietnam. Although he was a Brazilian, he really admired heroic Vietnamese people through Vietnam war films from a long time ago and considered Vietnam as his second hometown. “In two years living here, I have absolutely appreciated the way of life in Hanoi. People here are really open-minded and friendly” He added.

A half hour later, we reached rider’s destination and I carefully stopped driving my motorbike, swept on the screen to finish the trip but the rider was really uncommon. He also got off my motorbike, gave me the helmet, then looked at his mobile phone and informed me that the trip was paid by credit card. In response to his words, I also made an “Ok sign” by my hand to let him know that it was fine, this action performed by connecting the thumb and index finger into a circle O, and holding the other fingers straight or relaxed in the air. After that, he completely changed his look, it was like something terrible just happened to him, he suddenly went away without saying goodbye to me. Then, I continued my job in curious thoughts.

After having dinner at a restaurant, I was really angry and irritated when opening Uber Driver app and checking the ratings from riders’ tab. There was one-star showed up together with a report said that the driver was unprofessional and impolite. At that moment, how confused I was! I wondered whether I did something wrong or not. All the riders were really pleased with the trips. I quickly thought about the trip with the Brazilian, about his weird action.

3.      ANALYSIS

In this part, I would like to analyze three possible reasons that came across in my mind about this remarkable situation at that time.

  • Rider encountered bad news at the end of the trip

Probably, he wanted to throw things he got in my face. Although he looked really friendly and open-minded before the trip as well as during and at the end of the trip, he was really impolite. This might happen on the phone showed up a bad message that he saw but did not want to share with me.

  • High fare and skeptical rider

Uber computed flexibly fare each trip. The price of the trip depends on the distance route which driver has chosen. Therefore, it is normal if rider’s app showed up at different prices compared with driver’s app. In this situation, the rider did not know this method and thought that driver was cheated.

  • Lack of knowledge about hand gesture in Brazil and other countries.

That happened in differences of the “Ok gesture” between Brazil and other countries. The hand gesture is like the shape of the word “OK” widely used to mean “all is well” or satisfactory in English language. It is commonly understood as a signal of approval and sometimes used synonymously with the Western “thumbs up” gesture in America, Britain, and Vietnam as well. In Brazil, Ok sign is the same as calling someone an “asshole”. It is considered a rude gesture and offensive insult. Brazilians think that it is used to depict a private bodily orifice.


In the previous part, I was analyzed three possible reasons could happen in this situation. Now I will show the most reasonable one and the result of this situation.

Through the information, I searched on the internet along with hand gesture “Ok sign” to the rider. There should not be any doubt anymore, the third reason is the most accurate explanation.

One of the main reasons led to this cross-culture misunderstanding that I did not know well the cultures among Brazil and other countries beforehand. I’m a Vietnamese specializing in English, so all I know is a small part of the culture in oriental countries and English-speaking countries. In above situation, I thought “Ok gesture” was a normal one like other western countries that I have been learning before.

As a result, not until that time did I know this information, I felt ashamed of my mistake. On that day, I wrote a message of apology and said it was because of my ignorance. In a feedback message on the same day, he sympathized and forgave me. At the end, he also changed his ratings from one-star to five-star and removed the report. This was the most unforgettable trip with Uber until now. 


We often think using our hands to communicate helps break down language barriers when traveling around the world. However, sometimes those gestures get lost in translation and depend on where you are, mean the exact opposite of what you’re trying to say. Previously, I have explained the accurate reason why I got confused with culture. In this part, I will give some advice and tips to deal with this issue.

5.1.   Learn more about the culture before and make sure it is right

Remember that all knowledge we have accumulated just being a grain of sand in the vast ocean. If we are not sure about a specific culture, just verify it again by searching on the internet, or ask someone who had been experienced it for a long time.

5.2.  Do not promptly judge foreigners just through their weird actions

People in different countries have their own cultural rules. It is undeniable that there are some conflicts in culture among countries in the world. If someone shows his or her strange actions, we need to keep calm and politely ask him or her what does it mean.

5.3.  Be friendly, try to make friends with people around the world

The more friends we made, the wider knowledge we get. If we build up relationships with foreigners in different countries, we will understand more not only their culture but also the people in the country where our friend comes from.


As a student studying in the faculty of foreign languages at university, I have to acknowledge that all things we are studying are not completely abundant. Knowledge is not only in books, on the internet but also many real experiences. Hopefully, this assignment would help people learn from my mistakes, understand about the “Ok gesture” in Brazil, as well as some advice to minimize the unexpected situation when encountering Brazil gesture in particular, and other cultures in general.

(Word count: 1472 words)

Le Huynh

Many thanks to:

 Nguyen Mai, Minh Hanh, Xuan Cuong, My Le

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Posted 03/02/2018 by HuynhICT in category "Stories

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