Napping through noon, a very Vietnamese pastime

July, 14/2022 - 09:15
Even if you don’t partake yourself, it’s not hard to spot xe ôm drivers snoring by their bikes, shop clerks conked out behind a till, or security guards taking it in turns to catch forty winks.

Hanoians getting their heads down on public benches at lunchtime. — VNS Photo Seán Nolan

Seán Nolan

The word 'siesta' is known around the world as a byword for a lunchtime nap, conjuring up thoughts of hot, sleepy afternoons hiding from the sun.

In Việt Nam, it's ngủ trưa, and if you haven’t noticed (and I bet you have), it's a big deal here.

Even if you don’t partake yourself, it’s not hard to spot xe ôm drivers snoring by their bikes, shop clerks conked out behind a till, or security guards taking it in turns to catch forty winks.

Come lunchtime, even Hà Nôi’s bustling streets are empty as inhabitants get their heads down for an hour before taking on the afternoon.

When I asked a friend about how the lunchtime nap became so ingrained into Vietnamese society, his theory was as follows.

For a long time, Việt Nam was a mainly agricultural society. After a hard morning of toiling the land, farmers get out of the hot sun and have a big meal, ahead of the afternoon when they would have to do it all again.

What better way to recover while your food settles than to have a nap?

Since moving to Việt Nam, I’ve had an on-off relationship with naps – I can’t say love-hate, because it’s all love. What I struggle with is where; an office chair or corner of a room doesn’t do it for me.

If I’m going to get my head down at lunchtime, it needs to be on a sofa or a bed, which unfortunately makes nap-time a weekend-only luxury for me.

However, these same stipulations aren't shared by most in Việt Nam, and more power to them.

On my lunchtime walk to the coffee shop, I counted five people in as many minutes asleep, right there on the street.

Some were sprawled on benches, some on sun loungers under an umbrella, and one was balanced on his bike by the side of the road, oblivious to the traffic racing just past him.

I can’t help but make the comparison; fall asleep on a bench in the centre of London in the middle of the day, you’ll either be mugged or moved on by the police, or both.

Given the prevalence of this cultural phenomenon come lunchtime in Việt Nam, maybe 'siesta' shouldn't be the international byword at all. Maybe, due to the sheer audacity and commitment that many show to getting their head down, it should be ngủ trưa - viva la ngủ trưa! — VNS