HCMC Dining Guide

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Expat Mind

I recently came across a YouTube video called "Shit Expats in Hanoi Say" in which an American woman hilariously parodies the most common statements and thoughts of expats in Vietnam's capital. With the exception of a few Hanoi-specific comments, nearly everything said in the video is common in Saigon's expat community as well, and I would venture to guess expat communities the world over. The video is obviously intended to be funny, but it also provides a good look into the mind of an expat. Below are a few of my favorite quotes that do a great job of illustrating how we think:

"I love Vietnamese food" - Immediately after saying this the woman is shown shoveling sushi, pizza, and a hamburger into her mouth. Every expat here claims to like Vietnamese food (and why not, it's an amazing cuisine), but many indulge in more expensive Western-style meals multiple times per week. Why? Most of us have spent the majority of our lives eating Western food, so it would be difficult to completely give it up. And in cosmopolitan cities like Hanoi and Saigon where such fare is readily available, it's hard to pass up.

"I'VE GOT TERRIBLE DIARRHEA!" - I'm not sure if this is true in every country, but for some reason living in Vietnam removes all inhibitions people have when it comes to discussing bodily functions. Back in the U.S. I never really discussed bowel movements in much detail, but I'm pretty sure there's been days where, instead of greeting my roommates with a 'hello' in the morning, I've said "Oh my god, I shit my brains out last night after eating that mystery meat." All expat roommates are pretty well attuned to when their friends are vomiting all over the bathroom or splattering a toilet with brown rain. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we see many locals gleefully taking part in public urination, spitting, and blowing snot rockets, thus deleting our normal sensibilities on the subject.

"Oh...you've only been here for six months. That's cute." - Expats are a competitive bunch, and seeing who has been in-country the longest is the equivalent of seeing who has the longest dick. Six months has become an arbitrary cut-off point: you can't really be taken seriously until you pass that mark. You don't know the city, you don't know what's going on, you're still fresh off the boat. This can make life difficult for newcomers, since experienced expats often can't be bothered to explain where Phu My Hung is or talk about how horrible traffic is for the 7,000,000th time or wonder why address numbers sometimes restart on the same street.

"Where are you from? What do you do?" - The first two lines in ANY conversation between two expats that are meeting for the first time. I'm not alone in being hesitant to meet new people at times because you can basically rehearse how the first five minutes of talking will go.

"Too many tourists."
"God, you're such a tourist." - These two go together. Expats hold tourists in disdain for wearing sandals and fanny packs and hats and generally looking clueless, holding their Lonely Planet guide next to a city map trying to figure out where the hell the Caravelle is. We don't like going to restaurants frequented by tourists, and we take serious offense if anyone thinks we are a tourist - we live here, damnit! Maybe I'm the only person who does this, but when Vietnamese people ask me where I'm from I say 'Saigon'...which confuses the hell out of them. We also enjoy accusing each other of looking like a tourist. This usually occurs when someone takes pictures of food or street scenes or wears a piece of clothing that says 'Vietnam' anywhere on it while in the country. Even when we travel to other countries we don't consider ourselves tourists.

"Backpackers. Pfft." - Among expats this word is almost a curse, something to be scoffed at. Perhaps even worse than tourists are backpackers, the unshaven, deeply tanned, unwashed and barefoot cretins who gather en masse on Bui Vien. They are even worse skinflints than us expats, and they boast of their aptitude in getting things for absurdly cheap prices: "I stayed in a room in Thailand for $1. Makes this $2 bowl of pho seem fucking expensive!" Most aren't even worth talking to, since they know nothing of the culture we've been immersing ourselves in (at least that's what we tell people back home we're doing) and only want to know where to get the cheapest bottle of beer.

"PEOPLE CANNOT DRIVE HERE!" - Actually, expats love talking about traffic, always in the form of intense bitching and moaning. Expats are obviously superior drivers to all locals. Our driver's ed programs back home are far more thorough and comprehensive, and parents don't allow 12 year-olds to tear through the streets on motorbikes. With three 5-year olds sitting behind him. We use turn signals, don't run red lights, and DON'T FREAKING TURN LEFT FROM THE FAR RIGHT SIDE OF AN INTERSECTION. SERIOUSLY. STOP. We are never to blame for any accidents we may get in, no matter how minor or serious. We know how to drive!

Here's the video:

8 comments:

  1. Thanks Michael for this post. Very nice analysis. Greetings from Hanoi to Saigon
    Anemi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Greetings! Thanks for making the video, I obviously enjoyed it a lot!

      Delete
  2. Hang on a minute, don't blame locals public urinating to your diarrhea talk :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. haha, I'm just trying to come up with excuses

      Delete
  3. Loved that!! I found it interesting that expats are competitive in how long they've been in Vietnam. Usually people that have stayed in Korea for 4+ years are looked at as weirdos around here and often said people will underestimate how long they've been here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Really? How strange...I wonder why that is.

      Delete
  4. I had a weird experience with an expat in Hanoi. I grew up in Vietnam for the first 15 years of my life and then came back at 25 and did work at an telecommunications company while my girlfriend taught English. This was in 1999 and I was at a dinner that her private college was holding wearing what I wore to work which was basically a suit but with sandals and an expat woman snarled at me that I couldn't wear sandals.

    I replied that this is what Vietnamese do and she snarled back "Well you aren't Vietnamese! And you haven't been here long enough to know what's what!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! That is an odd one. Some people sure get snippy when it comes to stuff like that.

      Delete