One great thing about living in a new country is the ability to experience a new culture. And that new culture can teach you lots of things about yourself, about new ways of looking at the world, and, I believe, make you a better person. It can also drive you crazy. I’m not really into culture-bashing; I think the whole ‘my way is better, your way sucks’ doesn’t really get anywhere. But I am into making a deal in the spirit of mutual learning: I’m more than happy to adopt some cultural rules from Vietnam, but in exchange, I’d like Vietnamese people to make a few concessions as well. I know that’s unfair, because I’m choosing to live here, but I think these are good ideas that maybe everyone could benefit from.
What I want Americans (Westerners?) to learn from Vietnamese people
- No shoes in the house. Especially on the coffee table. Gross!
- Don’t ask to borrow a lighter. If it’s sitting on the table, it’s fair game. What’s the point in interrupting someone’s conversation? Who’s gonna say no?
- You invite, you pay. Takes the guesswork and awkwardness out of the bill-sorting-out later. And if you wanna suggest somewhere expensive, you’re not putting the financial burden on the other person.
- Speaking of bills, don’t bring me the bill till I ask for it. I hate the feeling of ‘if you’re not gonna spend more money, you should probably just leave’. I’ve already spent my money, can’t I just sit here a sec and relax?
- Use two hands to show respect. Especially for giving and receiving money. It’s just nicer.
What I want Vietnamese people to learn from Americans (OK fine, any foreigner)
- No answering your phone in the cinema. Or in a meeting. Or during my English class.
- It’s OK to drink beer when you want. Everyone doesn’t have to always drink at the same time. A little independence is a good thing.
- No unsolicited advice. This includes where to move my piece in Chinese Chess, how to hold my chopsticks and what time of day to swim.
- Don’t talk about other people in front of them, even if you think they don’t understand you. If you want to know something about me, don’t ask the stranger next to me. Ask me. I’m an expert.
- If there’s two of us in the coffee shop, bring two menus. And don’t hover over me, breathing in my hair, while I’m trying to decide what to drink. Who actually knows what they want the second they open the menu?
For more insight on Vietnamese culture and important cultural differences, why not go on a food tour?