1. An Emphasis On Learning A Second Language
I am eternally embarrassed of us Brits waltzing around the world using our mother tongue, expecting everyone to bow to us. I am as guilty of this, with barely passable French and absolutely no retention ability of a second language (one day though!)
It amazed me how vigilant Vietnamese parents are at ensuring their children excel at learning a second language. In fact, in remote parts of Vietnam local dialects are still found, so children learn Vietnamese as their second language!
Two of my favorite students – aged 2!
2. Strong Family Values & Ties
While I’m not sure if I’d want to live under the same roof as my grandparents and parents, there’s something really lovely about being so connected to your extended family. When I was working as a private tutor in people’s homes I really got to see what family life is like in Vietnam: the responsibilities of each family member, where they sleep, what they cook… the list goes on. But family doesn’t just stop when you leave a home, there is such a strong sense of community in little neighborhoods which I guess is kind of what Britain and American used to be like back in the 1950’s. Everyone knows everyone, everyone helps everyone, it’s safe for kids to play out on the street, you buy your food from the ladies selling on your street, there’s no need to travel far for anything and people just seem content. There’s definitely something to be learnt from that.
3. Willingness to say hello or to greet strangers (especially foreigners)
I’m working in London, and not once as anyone I’ve passed said ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ to me. I know that in Vietnam Westerns are somewhat of a novelty, but I loved how bold children were shouting ‘hello!’ from the back of their parent’s motorbike. The same goes for adults. It’s something I really miss.
4. That life is much easier when there’s less emphasis on health and safety
Everyone comments on how chaotic Hanoi seems: the traffic, the beeping, the motorbikes swarming around pedestrians… But returning to a society where health and safety has gone bonkers (where your aunt who cooks for the homeless is accused of contamination for tasting her food with the spoon shes stirring it with) it was refreshing to be in a place where there was less red tape and things were a little more lax. I mean don’t get me wrong, there are preventable fatalities and accidents all the time, but you never feel like you’re in a dangerous place.
5. You don’t need to drink alcohol to have a good time
In the Old Quarter at night you’ll see predominantly white faces guzzling the 5p Bia Hoi on yellow plastic chairs (like me, see below). Walk a few streets away and you’ll see the coffee shops full of Vietnamese teens drinking their bubble tea/coffee, taking selfies and catching up. While you do see Vietnamese people drinking, it’s no where near to the same extent us Brits binge.
Us pesky white faces drinking cheap beer
6. Buying you food from a market is the way forward
The journey from field to plate is far less in Vietnam. Turn down a side alley and the street will be teaming with market sellers, offering their fresh produce (sometimes a little too fresh, with fish in buckets half hacked up). Supermarkets are slowly being introduced to Vietnam as it slowly becomes more westernized, but having the option to shop from road-side sellers was always a plus.
The food market of Hoi An
7. Bum Guns
8. Respect for the elderly
I wouldn’t say our culture is disrespectful towards the elderly, but there is great pride in the elders in Vietnam. Perhaps because they lived through, or maybe even fought in the American war, or because there are visibly stronger family ties, but the elders definitely get looked after well. The pronoun structure in Vietnam reflects this – instead of I/He/She/We/They, the Vietnamese use a pronoun structure to reflects gender and age. Essentially as you get older your pronoun changes – but always ensure you’re not under estimating someone’s age as this denies them of the status they deserve!
9. The sentiment of giving spontaneous gifts
The Vietnamese are so forthright in offering gifts. Regardless of the occasion, you’ll always find a bunch of lychees thrust in your hand, or something like a little bracelet, a handmade card, flowers, the list goes on. It’s something us westerns only think to give to those closest to us, but it the sentiment really does touch.
10. Napping: without a care in the world where
God damn capitalism forcing us to work all day with no time to sleep in the middle of the afternoon. How my mood would be better if I could have a kip like the Vietnamese do!