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Vietnamese-style objection

Sunday, April 01, 2018, 09:51 GMT+7

Vietnamese’s reactions to situations they object to can be fascinating; particularly when it turns violent in a ridiculous manner

I’ve never been beaten up in a restaurant with a selfie stick but I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Vietnamese’s reactions to situations they object to can be fascinating; particularly when it turns violent in a ridiculous manner. Recently reported incidents of a customer beaten upin a restaurant for writing an imagined but unproven negative review of the place while still in the eatery and a handful of locals attacking the police over a daytime karaoke party noise complaint might give you the impression that life is slightly bonkers here.

Indeed, the Vietnamese may go down in history as the first nationality to use selfie sticks as weapons in a commercial food outlet.

My introduction to this almost comical silent movie form of fracas occurred less than an hour after getting off the plane on my first visit to Vietnam in 2006. Two gaudily dressed nouveau rich middle-aged Vietnamese women were fighting over who got the taxi, screaming at the taxi driver to throw their pile of flashy luggage in the cab. He leaned against the driver’s door like a weary war veteran waiting for them to sort it out. Suddenly one of the otherwise sophisticated ladies threw a slap and it turned into a UFC match. Add to the mind-boggling scene terrified airport security guys unwilling to intervene in a catfight, and I couldn’t stop laughing all the way to the hotel.

Less than two weeks later, freshly arriving in Hoi An, I joined a local crowd watching two street vendors (lovely street stalls with miniature chairs and beach umbrellas) arguing over who stole a customer from the other. I’d never before witnessed kitchen equipment being hurled four meters across the street with the venomousness of a jilted woman. Fortunately, no pots or pans were harmed during the incident and the green bombers calmed them down after half an hour of keeping them apart.

What was it, I wondered, about the Vietnamese that they can seem so peaceful and basically self-regulating and yet go completely off the handle when a dispute arises?

Confucian values teach the Vietnamese to restrain their feelings in public for the benefit of social stability and keeping the peace. That’s a lot of stress bottled up inside and it does spill over during drink-sessions, someone stealing another’s business space in a market or beach stall, traffic foul-ups and domestic pressures. When they snap – it’s spectacular.

In the case of the restaurant violence incident, the current state of affairs is the eatery is suspended from business whereas from a Western perspective, we’d expect the place to be closed permanently as a strict warning not to tarnish Vietnam’s reputation as a tourist destination – a billion-dollar industry that has to be protected for the economy’s sake.

As for the daytime karaoke party, attacking the authorities for trying to impose some reasonable restrictions on noise pollution was unnecessary. I hope they get a big penalty as everyone, locals and foreigners suffer from the mind-bogglingly stressful and annoying noise intrusions that are arrogant, selfish and inconsiderate.

So what to do when things get ugly? Firstly, get the hell out of there. Vietnamese conflicts attract crowds quickly which soon become judge, jury and executioner. Vietnamese are aware of the power of social media so taking photos as evidence should be done at a distance and with some caution. Any physical violence should be reported to the police asap and if a hospital visit is needed, get a doctor’s report if possible. Don’t be discouraged by police dis-interest – there are just as many good police officers as bad. 

If it’s a case of verbal abuse, poor service and so on, take the time to calm down and think out what to do. If you live here, your landlord and local People’s Committees are the people to talk to. Getting the Vietnamese to talk to each other is often effective enough as they become aware that other locals know what is going on and that’s embarrassing.

Finally, some incidents just have to be written off as unsolvable or unresolvable. Your ability to move on quickly from bad problems does impress the locals and you’ll find many supportive locals if you remain calm. That’s one of the lovely aspects of the Vietnamese people.

But if all else fails, I’m running selfie stick self-defense classes in the evenings. Bookings are essential! Peace, man…





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