“Culture Shock”? Nonsense!
By: Dyanne KrugerHmmm... “Expat Culture Shock”? I suppose. But I honestly can't say much has shocked me in the year and a half I've now been living in Vietnam - if anything, I'm amazed at how easily life has unfolded here. I mean, if I expected everything here in Asia to be as it was back in Seattle, then... I might just as well have stayed there, yes? Truth is - I dumped everything I owned and bought a one-way ticket to Hanoi precisely to experience a bit of so-called “culture shock”. So naturally, little seems overly startling to me here - just (happily) D.I.F.F.E.R.E.N.T.
Sure, the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is undeniably nutso, with no fewer than 3 MILLION motorbikes perpetually whizzing to 'n fro with seemingly no rhyme nor reason to the bedlam. But even that insanity I've grown serenely accustomed to, and now think nothing of hopping on the back of a xe om (motorbike taxi, “ôm ” means “hug” in Vietnamese) or stepping blithely off the curb into the sea of motorbike chaos and... well whaddya know, they all simply divert gracefully around me - like a waltzing school of (noisy) fish.
And the street food. O.k. probably best that I don't look too very closely at the hygiene of the tiny kitchen tucked behind the tarp. And perhaps I'll politely pass on the fried grubs and grasshoppers. But not the crickets – turns out those honeys have a most uniquely “smokey” flavor all their own (well o.k. delish, but for the nuisance of picking those bitty legs out of one's teeth). But oh, the phở, and the crispy half-rounds of grilled “banh trang nuong” (Vietnamese “tacos” )! Nothing “shocking” there - just curbside cart after curbside cart offering all manner of deletable dishes for little more than the cost of a... come to think of it – is there ANYTHING you can buy in the States for under a buck? Each steamy, (Michelin-starred-NOT!) grill surrounded by the requisite jumble of elf-sized plastic red, blue, green and yellow plastic stools.
But yes, yes, of course the culture in Vietnam is arguably 180 degrees counter to that of my native U.S. of A. Everyone here living pretty much 24/7 along the edges of the streets, no privacy, everything and everybody one big diligent cooperative, busily bustling from dawn to dark.
Youngsters laugh openly as I lumber by – giggling at my gargantuan height, my blue eyes and my platinum hair. Nonetheless, I am not a freak, but rather, apparently a Rock Star – for they all clamor to my side to stammer the 8 words of English that every Vietnamese knows by heart: “Hello-how-are-you-I'm-fine-thank-you.” And don't even get me started on the language. Those insufferable 6 “tones” that utterly elude me. 18 months, and still all I can manage to mumble is the vocabulary of a 4 yr. old: “Xin chào ” (Hello) along with the remarkable feat of counting from “một ” to “mười ” (1 to 10).
Even after months of living closely among the locals (for I swiftly escaped the backpacker scene and the high-rise expat enclaves in Saigon, in favor of ascending into the cool, green highlands of the small mountain town of Dalat), I'm still an amusing novelty at best. Indeed, precious few “Nguoi tay” (Westerners) up here (one of the reasons I like it), and there's no hope in hell of snagging a Happy Meal in a fit of fast-food deprivation – sigh. Nonetheless, the dignity and playful spirit of the Vietnamese people continues to enchant me. And it is here that this expat shall blissfully call “home” for many days to come.
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Contest Comments » There are 4 comments
It sounds like you have the best attitude, knowing it is different and you're going to embrace it. Well done, it's so easy to get hung up on how things are different when of course they are, that is the whole point. Great perspective.
Lovely writing with great imagery. You've made me want to visit Vietnam!
Dyanne, I loved your post! It's so rare to find other single women near or past 60 who are taking the leap to live in another culture. You do it with gusto! Thanks for the inspiration and the lovely photos!
@Marybeth - glad you enjoyed the post here - there's lots more at my TravelnLass blog. And yes, it does seem that we solo lasses "of a certain age" (either travelers and/or expats) are a somewhat rare breed. But all I can say is: "This ain't a dress rehearsal, folks!" and moving to the other side of the globe was the bar-none BEST.THING.I'VE.EVER.DONE.