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South-East Asia: Vietnam

Some little quirks a foreign tourist may encounter in Vietnam

by Dzung Nguyen (a little nomad)

No matter the impetus that prompts you to visit Vietnam, there are plenty of Vietnamese foibles which might just take you by surprise!

“Tây” (Tay) – How the Vietnamese call the foreigner!

It is a long-lasting habit. “Tây” (Tay) /Tei/ means “West” or “Western”. It implies the western tourists. However, nowadays it is commonly used to call anyone who looks like a foreigner, regardless of the fact that they may not be western. For example, the Vietnamese might equate an American guy with a French one or even a Spanish one. It is aptly true. Because from Vietnamese’s point of view, people called “Tây” are all extremely tall, they are perhaps blonde or of different hair colour. Their skins must be white. That is not a signal of discrimination, but just a familiar naming.

Hi! Hello! Bonjour! – What’s next?

When roaming around in Vietnam, you will be greeted by a lot of people. Some say “Hi! Hello! Bonjour!” to you, some ask you to take photographs with them, others may only smile at you. My foreign friends have told me that they have encountered a lot of people saying Hello to them while walking along the streets; however, if they tried to ask the locals something, they immediately pretend not to hear anything. This is not unusual at all. The fact is that they all try to express their hospitality however the only word in the foreign language that they know is how to say “Hello! Hi!…”

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You may be taken aback by Vietnamese’s hospitality.

I’d like to share my own hosting experience here. This is when I hosted a friend from Switzerland; she was a bit disabled as she could not use her hands appropriately, especially when using chopsticks as we do. My grandmother felt sorry for her, and tried to help her by removing the fish’s bones. She was a bit shocked, and said that in her country they do not normally do that. They all use forks, knives and absolutely avoid using hands. I had to explain to her in order for there not to be any misunderstanding of my grandmother’s action. She was a bit emotional and before leaving my home for Da Nang, she told me that she would miss my grandmother very much. Even though she could not understand what my grandmother said, she knew that my grandmother treated her like one of her own. That made her happy and made her feel at home.

How to get cheap purchases

You cannot be sure that you can buy something cheap when you are foreigners. It is absolutely true. However I will show you the way to get things as cheap as possible. First of all, never buy souvenirs from souvenir shops, even though you like them a lot. Because they are available in other places with surprising prices you will see. Never get into dealing with sellers in Old Quarter, Hanoi. You can find similar products in the markets that are of a cheaper price. Of course you can bargain with the seller in the market. Remember that because your currency is always more valuable than VND, then you can try to buy something which are cheap in term of your currency. However, please pay attention to the fact that you are now in Vietnam, you should compare the products with the living cost in Vietnam, then you will know what should be a reasonable price. (Tip: In most markets, you can get the item at 1/2 price as compared to what the sellers are quoting you. Good luck!)

Pros and Cons as a foreign tourist in Vietnam

–         Relatively easy to find hosts

As long as you are a foreigner, speak English or any popular foreign language, you will find that it is relatively easy to get free hosting. The Vietnamese, especially the youth always seek chances to practice or improve their English. Speaking, chatting with English-native speakers are the most effective ways to achieve that.

–         Be treated as rich people

The Vietnamese may think that all “Tây” (foreign tourists) have a great deal of money. That is why every vendor, every seller always set an extremely high price if the buyer is a foreigner.

To read more from Dzung (a little nomad) check out her excellent blog.