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Vietnamese bugbears

Sunday, March 17, 2019, 10:18 GMT+7
Vietnamese bugbears
People park their motorbikes in the roadway in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hong Ly / Tuoi Tre

All those tiny, hard to ignore, incommodious, pestiferous, vexatious actions that people commit in Vietnam stay in your mind long after the event – like earworms, hard to forget – and keep coming back and horribly haunting.

Bugbears are for most of us are personal, where you put your toothbrush, body odors – all those ‘I hate when people… (do something)’ moments that trip up your day. The stuff that sometimes gets you called ‘small-minded’.

Here’s an example; I go to my morning coffee shop early around sixish only to find two Vietnamese motorbikes parked diagonally next to the front steps. This covers the space of four motorbikes and prevents me parking my bike facing the street so I can make a quick, smooth getaway. It’s the same two guys each time, sniggering and pointing at me as I enter muttering insults at them. 

I hate the parking inconsideration towards others however the parking area is not crowded at that time in the morning so from their point of view; so what?

Have I become a nit-picking, picayune, vile jaded expat? Possibly…

But what can I do? Start an argument and end up in a fight? Escalate the problem? Attempt revenge? I had many ideas about the last one!

One of my more far-out bear-bugs is when confronted with a jumbled pile of shoes blocking the pathway into a restaurant. This used to annoy me in that way mosquitos don’t give up trying to land on your arm – it’s out of my control. I would gingerly step over this Vietnamese version of Trump’s wall but these days I tromp, stomp and stamp my way over the mess without a second thought about the gunk I leave on unsuspecting patron’s shoes. Block my way? Serves you right!

When Vietnamese refuse to stop hammering on stuff after 9:00 pm, I go a bit feral. Stomping up to them, I shout all the swear words I know they don’t understand in English while tapping the invisible watch on my wrist. They do the Jazz hands, I step a foot closer, and they get it that I’m serious and mutter in English, ‘ok, ok’. Sometimes it works.

A friend of mine moved to Da Nang only to be confronted by near-constant noise surrounding him and he’s now scouting out a new domicile. Around my place I can have up to four sources of seriously demented noise. Wearing headphones and closing the front doors reduce the noise like tissue paper. Where’s the freckin’ shark with a laser, when you need one?

Another aggravation is getting my food at the local restaurant but waiting a few minutes for my cutlery or even worse, salt and pepper. These days I just stroll into the kitchen or behind the bar and get them myself. I love the startled looks on the staff. Late with my beer – I’ll grab it from the fridge. That gets howls of protest as it confuses their accounting system – you know the one with the school exercise book, pen and calculator?

The true horror, for me, is the Vietnamese who stuff their fingers in every orifice in their heads and then offer a handshake. Again, I do what they do. I mimic putting my fingers all over my face and then offer my hand in return. Disrupting this form of unhygienic table manners is one of my favorites.

Yet, there’s a surprising upside to all this. One of my neighbors has that inescapable high-pitched whinge tone that activates in the presence of friends coming over with beer. He also uses it to berate his wife in the front garden late at night.

Our neighborhood has construction fever with three houses all being built at the same time. The noise is deafening and I’m pretty deaf! Yet, the neighbor has quietened down finding part-time work up and down the street, fetching and clearing and storing stuff as well as supplying snacks and water to the work crews. So some rebarbative grievances come to a happy end… for now.

I can’t deal with most of this, hence my habitual use of socially accepted addictions such as drinking, smoking and kicking things in my garden as therapeutic tools. 

Maybe I should learn from my dog. He pees on the shoes, barks at the neighbors and chews the local motorbike wheels…

Sure, I can’t deal with a lot of things but it is fun to add to the chaos. I can turn up my music late in the evening, beep my horn on empty streets like everyone else and lift my T-shirt to expose my tummy too! I can park my bike diagonally to block the walkway and shout in a shop. Sneezing over people is great too – I rarely see Vietnamese use a nose tissue. And I never have to be on time again, ever!

It’s one of the things I love about Vietnam – you can get away with a lot!

Stivi Cooke / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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