This guest post comes courtesy of my esteemed colleague and formidable account manager. Vietnamese readers especially: Please add in the comments any additional expat “types”, in animal form or otherwise.
Vietnam’s tourism industry’s looking up! I read recently on euromonitor.com about Vietnam’s plans to improve its infrastructure and to increase marketing for tourism. Finally, our government realizes the value of getting our foreign neighbors to pay us a visit. But rolling out the welcome mats to Westerners is nothing new for us locals. I’ve done so instinctively since the first time I ever saw a straight coconut nose and pair of blue eyes. I would smile and nod my head, saying “Yeah” all the time, as if I understood everything said to me.
From a young age, I knew I was in a third world country. I instinctively looked up to white people as visitors from the first world. They were better educated, benefitted from better nutrition (at times a surplus of nutrition…) and came with nice, healthy wallets. In general, this is how many regular locals view expats – and it’s not a bad thing!
Through my profession, friends and through the years, I’ve come to know more nuanced groupings of expats. I’d like to lend insight on how a more sophisticated local – a colleague perhaps – might view you at first glance.
If Vietnam is a zoo, we have four main groups of foreign animals: deer, wolves, owls and tigers.
Deer First-time visitors; curious and innocent. (Definitely Susan during her first few weeks!) Everything’s a shock: from a motorbike being used like a minivan, to carry a 5-member family to our money being called “dong”. (Laugh it up. Some of your words sound funny in Vietnamese as well.)
My Dutch friend was a very dear deer when she asked me if the gum she bought from the street kid had really helped him, or if the money would go to some gang leader, leaving the kid with empty stomach. Such a beautiful soul reminds me of a tulip!
Sadly, life is never fair to these people. Morons known as “cab drivers” drive their own cars around, hunt these deer and take them for a 5-minute drive and charge them $50 USD. A vendor will sell them a coconut 10 times the actual price. A greedy, fat lady will gladly sell them a crappy tour with no chance for refund.
These deer aren’t stupid, but I feel I need to protect them. I do what I can to help them enjoy their visit without incident. If they return, I always hope it’s not as the 2nd animal: the wolf.
Wolves (often old fat men) For whatever reason, wolves couldn’t make it in their country (professionally or personally) but have enough experience in their field for a senior role here in Vietnam. Their #1 pastime: picking up local Vietnamese girls and imagining they’re hooking up with teenagers. They clearly think they’re smarter than everyone else. Nearly everything they say oozes of, “Back in [big city], it works this way, which is amazing. You guys could really learn a thing or two.”
Come on, Mr. Wolf. If you’re that smart and everything in your country is that perfect, why are you here?! It’s curious to hear you constantly complain about the country where you’re earning twice what you can in your own country.
Indeed, Vietnam is a developing country with lots of work to be done. That’s why there’s a place for you here. I only ask that you patiently observe it first, before diving in and criticizing everything. Like Bob Dylan sang: “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.”
A little added respect will take you far. Obviously we locals also want to improve things here in Vietnam. Why else would we go to the trouble of learning English and investing so much for our children to learn it as well? We’re eager to learn from you, but we can’t hear you from the tall pedestal you’re standing on.
Owls These intellectuals come here to spread goodness, even if many of them are not aware of that. Extremely talented, humble and worthy of respect. Owls come here with no baggage and in return, get the most out of Vietnam. Many are deer at first but are smart enough to quickly morph into owls.
Just like superheroes in the movies, in their own countries they’re regular, everyday people. Then they land in Asia and rise up like these phoenixes of effectiveness –er, owls. Owls of effectiveness. I wouldn’t be surprised if some even found worldwide recognition. Surely their own country would be left scratching its head, wondering “Why didn’t we spot such a grand talent?”
Tigers Always looking for a fight. These types never close the restroom doors at the local food places, for some reason. (Are their home countries just an endless series of open bathroom doors?!) I’m sure everyone is grateful that these tigers only come to Vietnam for short visits. They come here to briefly pounce on our cheap food, beautiful girls and nice beaches and then they’re gone. I think some tigers see Vietnam as a free-for-all arena where the police don’t speak enough English to arrest them for every pub brawl that spills out into the street.
Conclusion Here’s the part where I apologize to anyone I’ve offended. We Vietnamese are great and all, but we’re not like the Thai, automatically meeting you with wide, warm smiles. I see us as more raw, straight, and aggressive; but genuinely good people, especially if you’re willing to venture beyond the surface.