The view from the window of the house where I’m staying
I haven’t stepped outside California or been in an airport until this trip, so there have been many new experiences! I’m staying with relatives who live near Saigon. They say I am người mỹ, gốc Việt which translates to an American with roots in Vietnam. They acknowledge that my mom died when I was young, that I don’t speak Vietnamese fluently, and that I’m not from around here. People are pretty patient and understanding. I don’t take offense when others laugh. I know they don’t laugh at me, they laugh at my behavior, speech, and actions.
Culture Change: From U.S.A to Vietnam. Specifically, middle class suburban 2nd generation Californian to middle class suburban South Vietnam.
One key thing I have done to be able to feel at home is to leave behind attachments to the culture I was normalized in. We create constructs of what is “good”, “bad”, “rude”, or “polite”
I rarely hear “hello”, “see you later”, “goodbye” or “good night”. When somebody says “chao *title*”, its pretty formal and seems to be reserved for the elders. Saying “goodbye” is also pretty formal rather than casual unless its on the phone. I think this is because it is perceived that at some point, you’ll see them again. I now find myself walking away from small talk without saying good bye.
People eat and talk about food pretty often. O_o. While we’re eating lunch, we’ll talk about dinner. While we’re eating dinner, we’ll talk about what smoothie, milk tea, or dessert to get. While we’re eating dessert, we’ll compare the dessert we’re eating to some other dessert or fruit. When you visit a home, they offer food. While you’re eating, they offer food. When you’re full, food is offered. While you’re eating food, you’ll talk about how the food tastes and compare to other times you have had the same kind of food. Hahahaha!
Dinner at aunt’s house after pick up from the airport
Families eat together. I have experienced a sit down meal with my family only a handful of times in my life and those times were memorable. Preparing a meal, eating together, and cleaning together feels makes you feel “at home”, “welcome”, and that people care about you. It’s quite hard to describe in words. =)
People slap or nudge each other when they play. For example, when friends talk smack to each other’s faces. Good instances would be, “Pshhh, the hell you talking bout?!”, “get oouta here!”, “Oh shiiiit!”, “Oh no you di’nt!”.
Elders show their love by telling their kids what to do. They will make food without your permission, give it to you then say “Eat this!”, they will stuff your face, hehe. They will tell you what clothes to wear and how to wear it. They will do things they think is good for you.
Family = friends. There isn’t a strong divide between relatives close to your age and friends. You may hang out with your cousins like you would your friends. Also, your friends may call your mom, mom.
There is less awkwardness regarding the “payback” of money. If a friend or relative buys you something, it is not expected that you return it. When friends go out together, one person will pay and the next time another person pays.
Nap time does not mean laziness. In fact, relatives tell me to rest, sleep, or lay down. The offer is almost as often as food. “Come! Lay down and rest a bit!”
It’s nap time after lunch in Vietnam! Even for dogs
Individual privacy is not as strong. People want to know what you’re doing and will come in and check up on you. Bedroom doors are not locked for the most part.
Family sleepovers. It isn’t awkward to use your relative’s shower, bed, food, or clothes.
Word spreads fast. What you say to someone, they will be telling to someone else. Whether you have a job, what kind of food you like to eat, how you look. My aunt told me that the more you talk with others and share, the smarter you are because you don’t just have your own perspective. You have the wisdom of a lot of people when you listen to them.
Signs of globalization is everywhere and is spreading. From language, to clothes, to music, to little cultural practices. Kids know about Gangnam Style and Lady Gaga and you can find images of them on shirts or websites.
People will say crap about you, if not in front of your face, then in the next room where you can hear it, if its some serious crap, its reserved to more private setting. It ain’t too big a deal if you don’t take it personally. Kids talk crap to each other, adults talk crap to each other, kids sometimes talk crap to parents if they’re brave or foolish.
Know your family. Family is a big deal. It is expected that you marry and have children. It’s also important to know your maternal and paternal grandparents and even great grandparents.
Alter to offer fruit to deceased relatives
I have so much more to say but there’s so many things to do, I must write more later. Other topics I hope to cover include: How coming here has changed my relationship with my dad and relatives in the USA, tips to understanding a different culture, how traveling is a journey of the mind more than the body, gender norms and expectations, simple versus complicated lifestyles, consumerism and the middle class, and more comparing and contrasting. Toodles!