In the following article we report on some Vietnamese features that have attracted our attention during our journey through Vietnam. On the one hand they are very interesting and on the other hand they may also help to behave appropriately and politely as a tourist in Vietnam.
First something about the greeting as it is probably only practiced by older Vietnamese people: Our first encounter with an older Vietnamese woman was very irritating, because she seemed to smell audibly at our neck in the embrace. Especially in view of the fact that we were completely sweaty from our tour through the city at about 40 degrees, we hoped that the first olfactory impression was not that negative.;-).
Another interesting aspect are the typical straw hats that Vietnamese often wear at work. A very nice Vietnamese gave to me such a straw hat. Initially I found it quite silly, but during the trip it turned out as more useful when walking around in the sun at temperatures around 30 degrees and a humidity of 100%. When purchasing a hat it is paid very close attention to what images were woven in during the preparation. On my hat you see a symbol of love, a poem and a bridge.
Overall, we experience Vietnam as a very hospitable country. Not only the vendors, service staff, or simply people you get to know are usually very open and cordial from the beginning. First we had to free ourselves from the idea that we are asked for our condition not only to sell us more. A beautiful experience was, for example, that a group of Vietnamese men gave us two cans of beer, just because they were in a good mood at the weekend and were happy to meet two Germans, since two of them had studied in Germany. Vietnamese seem legitimately to be very proud of their hospitality, because you will often be asked how you experience the country and its people.
We could see many times how happy and with how much emotional involvement Vietnamese watch flatly films like “Gone with the Wind” on television. Even young men seem to be under the spell of romantic series. Overall they watch TV a lot. So it is no exception if the television is running during work at the reception in a hotel or at dinner with guests. They also love karaoke – Vietnamese are quite openly and recite their favorite songs with full dedication despite a number of false notes, such as the employees of our hotel on Cat Ba Iceland. The joy at her full bar brought us a performance of the Titanic theme song “My Heart Will Go On” recited with fervor by the restaurant owner. Even for hard-boiled American Idol fans vicarious embarrassment was announced.
Not uncommonly, you also hear that you are visiting a place or temple which is traditionally attended by future married couples. Or it is pointed out friendly that it’s actually the Vietnamese faith visiting a certain place as a couple brings misfortune.
The light penchant for kitsch and a lot of jewelry is also reflected in the small altars, which are found virtually everywhere. Both in homes and in hotels and restaurants incense sticks are lighted at the small altars, food is offered (mostly fruits) and lights are turned on in all possible colors.
Besides singing sentimental songs and watching tearjerkers, motorbikes seem to be the second great love of the Vietnamese. Almost like in a second home everything necessary is done here. They eat, sleep and telephone on “Motobikes” (as it is usually called here). Of course, an incredible number of things are transported as well. If you include children who are also partly fed on motorcycles, up to four persons can go with it – a practical and flexible family car substitute.
Although we have already written an entry about the tasty Vietnamese food, some interesting aspects are still missing. It will be very irritating for most Europeans that in many smaller non-tourist restaurants it is a custom to drop leftovers, such as pieces of bone, on the floor. According to this you have to imagine the ground. Diverging from Ha Noi you will found napkins in more and more restaurants that are more small pieces of writing paper. This is also somewhat strange at the beginning. As we learned from a Vietnamese, rice bowls should be hold only on their soil, at least in the former Knigge. After a meal chopsticks should never been left in a V-formation – in Vietnam a kind of symbol for death – or stucked vertically into the rice, because that reminds of the incense sticks which are put in sandboxes before the altars.
Funnily enough, we have met many young men with long fingernails. As one can observe this in Germany extremely rare, we wondered how it could come to this fashion. Our guide who accompanied us to Ha Long Bay told us that long fingernails in men make it clear that one does not need to do hard work with his hands. Therefore you can interpret it as a kind of status symbol.
The fashion of Vietnamese women is also very funny. They seem to prefer Mickey Mouse motifs. Probably due to the heat the two-parter always worn by women are similar to our pajamas in all variations.
We also experienced the cemeteries differently to Germany. On the one hand, almost all the graves are colorfully painted, which stands in contrast to our gray colored tombs. In addition, we have already seen several cemeteries where cows graze. This is probably due to the fact that they are simply placed near each village and they don’t use barriers. Nevertheless, a very confusing sight for a European.
A truly negative aspect must be mentioned, unfortunately, since he already struck us several times. In Vietnam, yet no attention is placed to waste disposal in nature or in other places. Often serves just the roadside as rubbish dump, but you frequently find also wonderful places that are littered with garbage.
The fact that the Vietnamese have to hand over money automatically besides their statements in police checks is probably to be expected in a country like Vietnam. But it was new for us that you must ask the police whether you are allowed to accommodate foreign guests overnight. In our case it was not allowed. While we were very surprised about that, our potential hosts reacted very calmly and understandingly.
translated by Caterina