How Vietnamese are You?
How Vietnamese are you? There comes a point when every foreigner living abroad realizes that they’ve truly gone local. Especially in scenarios when a person of ‘Western’ origin goes ‘East’. The differences between culture and lifestyle are significant. Not that the populations of the ‘East’ or ‘West’ are by any means homogeneous. But there are some shared cultural features within Asia that those who have been in the region long enough have definitely adopted. Such as removing your shoes before entering a home. Or having the expert ability to use that hose and faucet next to the toilet (known colloquially as the “bum gun”) without squirting water all over your clothes and the floor. Or (this may cause a ‘tsk tsk’ from many a reader) when you drink your beer with ice. Actually it’s the point when you can no longer drink a glass of beer without adding ice that you’ve properly tipped over the local threshold – homeland friends will possibly dismiss you altogether at this stage. But what traits are distinctly Vietnamese? How do you know if you’re turning Vietnamese-ah?
In order to answer that question, I asked several locals of foreign-origin to send me their feedback. Their replies resulted in this rather amusing list. Before you read the list, however, I’d like to remind you that this is done in good humor and is not meant to cause any offence. If the coin was flipped there would no doubt be many intricacies that Vietnamese living abroad would find strange (if not a little crazy) at first – and then, slowly but surely, adapt and confirm to the local norm. That is the premise of this column. So, to answer the question: “How Vietnamese are you?”, read on.
- When you keep your motorcycle helmet on when entering a shop, office or bank.
- When a red light is just a suggestion.
- When you use all sides of the road no matter which way you are going.
- When you no longer flinch at total strangers asking for your age, marital status and income in the first 30 seconds of a conversation.
- When you start referring to waiters outside of Vietnam as “em oi”.
- When you use the expression “troi oi” (which can be an expression of surprise, disgust, disappointment or irritation) many times throughout the day.
- When you transport furniture, a refrigerator or a large flatscreen TV home by motorbike.
- When you consider flip flops a suitable shoe for every occasion.
- When you would rather use disintegrating strips of toilet paper rather than pay 2000 dong (10 cents) for a wet wipe on the table.
- When you ignore the horns of other vehicles wanting to pass you on the road.
- When the market vendor thinks you’ve ripped them off.
- When you consider beer to be expensive at 20,000 dong ($1).
- When you can no longer drink coffee without condensed milk.
- When you won’t touch any food in the market that comes from China.
- When you think the most dangerous people on the road are tourists.
- When you start to believe there is nothing you can’t carry on your bike.
- When you wipe your chopsticks in 5 star restaurants.
- When you drink ice in your beer or worse, prefer ice in your beer
- When taking 2 kids, your wife and a table on your scooter seems perfectly normal.
- When you start to feel quite affable towards rats.
- When you throw your rubbish on the ground even though you’ve got a plate.
- When you barge through a crowd at the counter and wave your money at the attendant and get served first.
- When you scrutinize your bill for five minutes
- When you take your shoes off before entering a house in Australia
- When you constantly say ‘cam ơn’ instead of thank you outside of Vietnam
- When you eat a salad with your chopsticks.
- When you start making a left or right-hand turn 200 metres before the road ends. And then to avoid stopping altogether at the intersection, you ride against the ongoing traffic until the coast is clear to cross over.
- When you start swearing in Vietnamese. It just comes naturally to me now
- When you cannot go more than 2 days without a mi quang, cao lau or pho.
- When your kids have to work harder than you do.
- When you wear a face mask while riding your motorbike.
- When you happily eat your food in one of the red children’s sized seats.
- When you blame the Sharks and the Chinese when the internet doesn’t work. (*In recent times the internet has had problems with a faulty cable. The story in the papers oscillated between blaming sharks biting through the cable and rumors of Chinese sabotage.)
- When you think it’s quite normal for the spa masseur to stare blatantly while you undress.
- When you have a casual conversation with another person or three whilst riding your bike on the road – and continue this conversation despite the incessant honking from the vehicle behind who wants to pass.
- When someone almost runs you off the road and you smile and keep going.
- When mold is your perfume
- When you pick a hair out of your food and continue eating as normal
- When you can wear other people’s flip flops and not be grossed out
- When breakfast without a banh mi is no breakfast at all.
- When you start wearing a beanie in 21 degrees (celcius) weather
When you start to think the Chinese are out to kill you.
By Amy Morison and updated by Sharon Guest