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Living in Vietnam changes you, and not always for the better. Foreigners who live in Vietnam all pick up at least a few of these habits and quirks eventually. Some of them are actually pretty helpful, while others are a form of collective insanity, which will get you killed back home. For good or ill, these are the habits you’ll pick up in Vietnam.
When newcomers to Vietnam start driving a motorbike, they often boil with rage at people who merge in front of them without even a glance. Then a month goes by and they’re doing the same thing. This is a habit you’d better lose fast when you get back home, though.
Want to say no? Twist of the wrist. Don’t know the answer? Twist of the wrist. Don’t understand something? Well, you get the point. People have described it many different ways, but we think it looks like somebody unscrewing a light bulb. This habit is probably the first one foreigners pick up in Vietnam. Some Vietnamese people can go an entire day without saying a word. All they need is the wrist twist.
This is a habit that doesn’t come easily to foreigners. It usually takes a long time before they’re ready to turn the volume up and belt out a hearty ‘Em ơi!’
In most parts of the world, people call for a taxi by simply holding their hand up in the air. It’ll work in Vietnam as well, but it’s not the authentic Vietnamese way to do it. Vietnamese people flap their hands like they’re patting the head of a ridiculously tall child, and once you start doing it, you’ll never revert.
After living in Vietnam for a while, going home can be a painful experience on your purse or wallet. You’ll go from spending 100,000VND ($5 USD) on a whole night’s worth of bia hơi (cheap beer), to spending the same amount on a single beer. While all your friends are ordering $20 USD meals, you’ll be settling for an appetizer and yearning for the days in Vietnam when getting the bill was one of the highlights of the whole night.
When Vietnamese people drink in groups, they always drink together. If somebody makes a good joke, or if there’s something to get excited about, the cheers come with a raucous call of ‘Mot, hai, ba, dzo!’ (One, two, three, cheers!) It’s communal and ensures everyone feels included. Well, it also makes sure everyone gets drunk, which we suspect is the real reason. When you leave Vietnam, you’ll flinch every time you take a drink because a small part of your brain still thinks it’s rude to drink alone.
This mostly applies to spoiled people with cleaners, which includes a good chunk of foreigners. The service is very cheap in Vietnam, so it’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking, ‘[Name of cleaner] will get that tomorrow.’ You’ll let awful messes build up because you know somebody will take care of it for you soon enough.
Dogs in Vietnam are a bit of a sad story. While we don’t need to dwell on specifics, anyone who’s lived in Vietnam for a while knows that most dogs do not want rubs from foreigners. But when a friendly dog appears, people get over-the-top excited, instantly going back to their childhood and speaking to the dog like a long lost friend. ‘Who’s the pretty girl? Look at that belly!’
Chopstick skills are necessary in Vietnam. You can use a spoon, but good luck with your bowl of noodles. After a while, you’ll feel as comfortable with chopsticks as you do with a fork. Then, when you find yourself with the choice between the two, you’ll surprise yourself and go for the chopsticks.
The first time a cockroach scurries over your foot in Vietnam is a harrowing experience. Initially for most people, it’ll involve a lot of shrieking and cursing, often with tossed chairs and airborne utensils. Then it happens again and again and again. Eventually, it doesn’t really bother you anymore. People who’ve lived in Vietnam for many years don’t even flinch when they see one.
Without a doubt, Vietnam has some of the best food in the world. There’s amazing street food and quality restaurants at every corner, so really there’s no excuse to order in. But you’ll do it, and you’ll do it a lot. With websites like Vietnammm.com and Eat.vn, you can go days without leaving your air-conditioned bubble.
If you’re uncomfortable with eye contact, then get ready for your own personal hell when you arrive in Vietnam. It’s not malicious, though. They’re just curious. Eventually you get used to it, and after a while, you’ll find yourself getting into staring contests with security guards.
Even though it’s completely unsafe to wear sandals while driving a motorbike, you’ll do it anyways because the rain is wild in Vietnam. It comes in fast and floods the streets in mere minutes, and nobody wants to walk around in shoes filled with water. That’s way worse than gruesome road rash, right? Right.
Pedestrians around the world usually cross with a wary kind of reassurance that motorists will almost always stop for them. You watch out from the corner of your eye, but you still look where you’re walking. This is definitely not the case in Vietnam. Here, you watch the traffic rather than where you’re walking. This is a good habit to have.
When you arrive in Vietnam, you’ll probably get a bit nervous when you see police. You’ll behave yourself, hopeful that your dutiful, law-abiding ways will keep you under the radar of law enforcement. A few months later and everything has changed. Now you don’t care who sees you driving down the sidewalk or weaving through the car lanes. Unfortunately, it’s a habit that makes people at home want to follow you for twelve blocks just so they can make damn well sure you see their middle finger. Back to reality.