Living in Vietnam

8 Nov

Today, as it was planned, I will tell you about what it is like to live in Vietnam.

Being a foreigner in Vietnam:

First of all, you need to know that if you go a bit off the beaten track, people will stare at you. It is really impressive at the beginning, but then you just get used to it. With my friends, we have seen everything; from the taxi driver honking at his colleagues to show them he had White people inside, to the woman cycling who nearly crashed on the walls because she was staring at us instead of looking at where she was going. Then, you always have some men and children shouting an “hello!” at you, so when it is children, you’re answering, but what was funny, was that when it was men, my boyfriends were the only one answering, thinking it was a nice thing. As girls, we were used to ignoring them, as we do in Western countries.

When you’re Black, it is even worse; people are less used to see people with a skin colour, in Vietnam, they actually think that the whiter skin the better (for them, it means you’re not working in the fields). Even us, when we were seeing Black people were getting crazy, because we are used to it in France, but in Vietnam, we would see one Black guy per month, so it felt like we were catching up with a more Western life.

Being a stranger in Vietnam (and for sure in many other countries in development) also means being faced with particular behaviours. We were offered free stuffs many times because we were strangers in Bien Hoa (I have a pen from Papparoti, we were offered a piece of cake in a bakery…), and sometimes it has its counterparts, such as the sudden raise of prices (apparently, the local bread maker firstly sold her bread for 10 000 dongs to my friends, the day after, it was 8 000 and it then fell at 5 000 dongs, the regular price).



There is also a lot of corruption, so if you’re caught on a motorbike by a policeman (which should not happen, because you cannot drive in Vietnam unless you have a Vietnamese driving license, but hey, you can also buy this), you can give him money to let you go. But then, expect him to ask more money from you than a regular Vietnamese (although less than 200 000 dongs should do it).


Language and expression:

One thing you need to know, is that it always helps when you speak a bit of Vietnamese. A lot of Vietnamese started to speak to us normally in their language just because we had said a few words before. Vietnamese language is very particular and difficult to pronounce. But if you speak a bit of it, sellers will usually understand you’re not a tourists, so they will lower their prices, by nicer… It also really helps when people do not speak a word of English. If you’re planning to stay in Vietnam for more than 6 months, then you should definitely learn the language. We’ve seen so many expatriates not bothering with the language, it was silly of them.
If you’re staying for one week to 6 months, then you need, at least, to learn numbers and polite words such as thank you (“cam on”) or hello (“sin chao”).

Don’t be angry if you see that people don’t apologise for pushing you, or don’t say hello or sorry, they use less polite manners as we do. In their culture, there’s no need to apologise for everything or say thank you all the time. And then, never forget that even if they think about telling you a polite expression, they may not be able to say it.

You can express yourself with your hands, which is quite convenient. For instance, to say “no”, the Vietnamese way is to raise your hand near your shoulder, open your fingers and shake it from left to right. If you’re harassed by sellers, they will understand better this shaking than an English “no”. Then, for counting, you need to avoid using your thumb. If you want to say “2” with your hands, normally you would use your thumb and your forefinger, but in Vietnam, they will understand one, they use the thumb only for showing five.



Vietnamese people hate China. It is a fact, some of my friends there were even asking me “what do we do if there’s a war??”. I don’t think that Chinese people should expect to be assaulted if staying in Vietnam, but Vietnamese people may not be the nicest with them (however, I haven’t seen anything of this while I was there).

Last summer, a lot of things happened with China and the Paracels islands, which are deserted islands but Taiwan, China and Vietnam want to own them. So the relations between China and Vietnam are not at their top.

There are also trouble with human rights in Vietnam. According to Reporters sans Frontières, Vietnam is only ranked three places ahead of China.

Vietnam is not a dangerous country, it is more like a Western country, so obviously, you need to be careful with your personal belongings while visiting, but I have never seen anything that could not happen in Europe for instance. The only things to be noted is that I was stolen my mp3 player while coming inside a bus alone, but I was not really careful because it was so old that it has been years I hadn’t pay attention to it. One of my friends has been sexually assaulted, but it was “light”, only a guy on the street who slammed her buttocks (which was quite surprising, because even if Vietnam is not the best place for gender equality, men did not seem violent).


Contrarily to what people say, there is nothing to be worried about hygiene. In six months, I haven’t met anyone who had digesting troubles. I have eaten everyday in a street food stall and had never any problem.

Another thing to know, is that eating outside is cheaper than cooking (well, at least for Westerners). Western products usually cost the same price as in Europe, but eating outside costs 1€ per meal. So if you’re looking for a place to live, try to find it where there is a diversity of food stalls.




2 Responses to “Living in Vietnam”

  1. thecookingchook November 8, 2012 at 22:32 #

    Great post! The part about the staring is so true!!!! It has happened to me every time I’ve been to Vietnam, and I’m Vietnamese myself (although born in Australia, but apparently I don’t look very Vietnamese). You should see the funny looks I get when I start talking in my native tongue. It is all very funny. 🙂

    • eatingmodern November 9, 2012 at 09:09 #

      That must be funny too! I’m a 100% Italian, but Italians can say I’m French just by my way of wearing clothes, so that must be the same thing for you!

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