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On the ‘white culture critic’ syndrome in Vietnam

Saturday, January 27, 2018, 20:00 GMT+7

Editor’s note: Bao Huynh, a non-native teacher of English based in Ho Chi Minh City, shares his thoughts after a U.S. citizen residing in Hanoi was summoned by Vietnam’s online information watchdog over his offensive remarks on Facebook about a late Vietnamese war hero.

The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Tuoi Tre News.

As an English teacher, not a social commentor, I do not feel like it’s my job to jump on every ongoing controversy and offer my unwanted opinion.

However, as an English teacher who works in the same field with many expatriates living in Vietnam, the problem which I’m addressing is pretty close to heart.

As everybody may have learned, Mr. Dan Hauer, the man who last year came to the spotlight for criticizing the pronunciation of Vietnamese teachers of English, has stirred yet another media storm, this time with himself right at its eye. For those of you not in the know, Google is just one tab away.

Initially, I had much respect for Dan because unlike most expat teachers that I’ve known or worked with, the guy actually cared to become proficient at Vietnamese, which he has evidently succeeded in, being one of the most fluent non-native Vietnamese users I’ve seen, and any foreigner who even bothers to do this gets two thumbs up from me.

I had thought that these efforts would have meant being familiarized to the Vietnamese norms and taboos and understanding that this country is the furthest thing away from the U.S, socially, politically and culturally.

I was wrong apparently, because he suffers from the same syndrome that a majority of white expatriates share: the ‘white culture critic’ syndrome.

Being a non-native teacher of English, I have to live with the knowledge that no matter what I do, I will always earn less than a native speaker at the same or even lower level of qualifications, a fact which I’ve long come to terms with.

While it is true that a majority of expats are working as English teachers, the pay gap is not limited to this one profession. I do not have time to collect facts to back this up, but ,understandably, working in a developing country with lower living costs as someone from a developed country will yield you a higher income.

Perhaps it is from this fact that many white expats I encounter tend to display superiority complex toward local people and our way of life.

Supremacist colors

Those that have been living here for a while start to complain about almost everything.

These complaints range from sympathizable ones like those about traffic and crimes, but once they touch the realms of tradition, history and politics, expats start to show their supremacist colors.

I have heard expats questioned the existence of Tet, ridiculed the overly complex nature of Vietnamese wedding ceremonies and how Vietnamese people spend their time lazing away at street cafes.

All the above lamentations have been expressed by Vietnamese people as well, some of them by me. Yet, you know how it is acceptable for people of one kind to criticize each other, but god forbids if an outsider does it? That’s the golden rule, as with everything.

You may be completely baffled or even disgusted by something of our culture. Sure, no one expects you to embrace the entirety of it, but criticizing it as an outsider who may lack serious understanding as to why things became that way, all the while standing on our land breathing our air is something we will not tolerate.

Regarding the ‘outsider’ thing, you, as an expat, may try to integrate into our culture as much as you want, but you will always be considered an outsider.

Yes, we will treat you differently and this is a double-edged sword.

Local people may always laugh and nod at every stupid thing you say, vendors may try to double price or rip you off, but you get to earn double or triple the rates of the average worker at similar positions and qualifications, which brings me to my next point: the hipocrisy of these expats.

If Vietnam is such a dangerous, terrible, oppressive country where harmless jokes are retaliated with death threats, then why are so many of you still here?

Why do you have to huddle with your expat friends on Facebook to whine about the place when a one way ticket back to your country would solve everything? Except it doesn’t.

You know you came here for a reason, a big fat worth thousands of dollars one. Has your entitlement mentality been inflated to a point where you must have everything rolled up in one well-paying, comforting Western-normative package?

The next time you are about to be smothered by our un-Western lack of freedom of speech, our conservativeness and backwardness, close your eyes and imagine that next resort getaway in Phuket or Bali you can pay for by just speaking your native tongue for a few months, then keep it to yourself.

Strangely enough, I have never seen or experienced an Asia originated expatriate express their distaste of any Vietnamese cultural aspects during their stay in the country, granted I have had way more experience with the Western lot. (Noted I say ‘during their stay’, these people can rip the Vietnam flag to shreds once they went back to their country for all I care)

The mindset that less developed nations need your criticism to become more civilized is a dangerous one that was shared by pretty much every imperialist and colonist.

You are not a tourist

Hey Dan, many people have started comparing you to Logan Paul. In my eyes, what Logan Paul did in Japan is despicable to anything that breathes and has a working brain, regardless of nationality or culture.

So, regarding cultural misstep, yours is still small in relation to his.

However, you know what excuse that guy had, albeit a pathetic one, that you don’t? He was a tourist, and tourists have been ignorant since tourism started to be a thing. They came and they left, being stupid is still stupid, but they can always say ‘Hey, I didn’t know that’.

But for someone like you, who has spent years living in this country, studied the language and married a local woman, to show absolute disregard for the most basic of Vietnamese taboos, and then clapped back with cultural criticism, gives me an idea of how less locally involved expats see Vietnamese people and culture: literally zero thoughts given, am I right?

Finally, I do not think you deserve all the toxicity à la death threats and deportation threats, but I feel like something like this needs to happen eventually just so the expats know where they stand in this country.

Respect is a two-way street. For now, you’re not getting any.

U.S. national Daniel Hauer is expected to present himself at the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information headquarters in Hanoi on the morning of January 30, where he is expected to make a statement about his comment on Facebook that had “violated laws” on posting information online.

Hauer gave the comment under a post in a Facebook group of expats in Hanoi, where another member said he would get a tattoo of the Vietnam flag on his chest if his post got over 1,000 likes and Vietnam’s football team defeated Uzbekistan at this Saturday’s final game of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in China.

Hauer’s comment made innuendos about genital piercing that many found to be offensive toward General Vo Nguyen Giap, a late and well-respected Vietnamese war hero whose death in 2013 was followed by days of national mourning.

Bao Huynh / Tuoi Tre News Contributor


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