Vietnam: Get used to it!  

Barbarians! Philistines! Savages! Well…not really..

Foreign tourists cheer while being carried on cyclos in Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

An article published just before Tet by a local contributor about eating dog meat stirred up quite a few feelings among the expats and foreigners who responded to the story on both Facebook and the Tuoi Tre news website. More than a few of my Vietnamese friends were upset and outraged by some of the reactions expressed by foreign readers.

There were demands for the story to be withdrawn and lots of derogatory, plain nasty generalizations about the Vietnamese thrown as well.

But do the Vietnamese also have the right to express their point of view without getting shouted at by the foreigners in text? And are they really such barbarians in the traffic, super polluters and insensitive noisy, smelly neighbors?

Now, there are no surprises that the issue of eating dog meat arouses such passions between locals who see it as part of their way of life and Westerners who see it as a horrible thing to do. Frequent culture shock when two groups rub up against each other’s lifestyles and habits is pretty normal. Problem is…no one is right…or wrong. It’s simply how life unfolds across our amazing planet.

Hindus in India don’t eat meat – it’s not banned, just part of the Hindu ideas of non-violence against living things – yet nearly two-thirds of the population do eat meat at some point. And they clash over this – usually under pressure from the higher caste elite groups to restrict meat consumption despite the economic and health benefits of getting more high quality protein into the diets of India’s poorest inhabitants.

The French eat frog legs, Japanese and Koreans sometimes eat live octopus, in Guam there’s fruit bat soup (really!) that can damage your brain (really!) and in Australia, I’ve eaten crocodile, tortoise, snake and kangaroo meat. And of course most people eat the embryos of chickens…eggs. We still boil lobsters alive too in some Western countries! 

Are Vietnamese the most dangerous in the traffic, of the world? Hmm… well, parts of Africa, the Middle East and South America rate higher than Vietnam in ‘deadliness’ – Thailand is well above Vietnam too. In a lot of those places, the traffic infrastructure is better and there’s more police dishing out traffic fines also. So again, the emotionally charged accusations against the Vietnamese might be saying more about the frame of mind of the complainers than the reality.

Finally, there’s the never-ending stream of abuse about karaoke, loudspeakers, rubbish and neighbors who drive you up the wall. Now, the loudspeakers are out of our hands although that antiquated news system is slowly becoming a thing of the past in the larger urban areas due to rising complaints and efforts to reduce urban stress. They won’t completely disappear in your lifetime but you could promise that to your kids!

Rubbish and pollution are becoming more economically sensitive across Vietnam and with so many foreign and local groups pressing for change; the Vietnamese authorities are beginning to address these issues. Not perfectly, not completely but things are happening. It’s worth acknowledging Vietnam’s progress more than cursing its faults. 

If you talk to the Vietnamese, read their social media comments and look at the actions taken by local community groups, you’ll find they are well aware of most problems and want change and action as much as we foreigners gripe about. So suppressing or shouting down local opinions in the media doesn’t encourage that. More importantly, just as we want to have our say about matters in Vietnam, in fairness, shouldn’t we extend and recognize their rights to be heard or read about as well?

Foreign cultures take a lot of getting used to – sometimes months if not years. And in the end, there are a million things you have to just accept as another human being’s right to their lifestyle. Not everything of course – religious violence, inequality, discrimination and injustice should be screamed about – but howling down the locals isn’t the way to go.

One thing that I do wonder about a lot is our own foreign perceptions that we do things better so everyone should follow our path. Not so sure about that. Arming teachers in America? Foreign tourists trashing Bali? Putting people in detention camps by Australians? Refusing to accept changes to our lifestyles to reduce climate change? Maybe we should shut up and think a little more before we speak in ginormous, sweeping generalizations about Vietnam?

Besides, if travel is supposed to broaden our minds, should we try a little harder not to be so narrow-minded? So…Vietnam is where you’re in! Get used to it!

Comment

Please type something to send.

Send