We were fortunate enough to have our host organization give us a crash course on life in Vietnam…Of course, we had this orientation 3 days after we arrived, so we were forced to unknowingly dive right in.
Another thing I had to say goodbye to quickly was my standard 2 foot radius of personal space. Usually, if someone enters my bubble of personal space, I take two steps back – like an involuntary response. That doesn’t work in Vietnam, because when I took two steps back, I would just run into someone else! I also learned that there is no such thing as a line, or saying “excuse me” to get by. It was rush hour and we were packed in the bus without an inch of breathing space. At one point, I was standing with a death grip on both the leather strap above my head and the seat in front of me, and I felt someone slap the small of my back 3 times. Without releasing my hands for fear of flying to the front of the bus (literally), I turned my head slightly to peak out of the corner of my eye to see who did it. I suddenly felt the back of someone’s hand on my hip shoving me out of the way. It was a little older lady who wanted to see if the seat in front of me was available. I looked at her and thought “what the hell is your problem lady!?!”, and she just smiled and waved gently while turning back. I realized then that she meant no harm by the pushing, she just wanted a seat. Pushing people aside is very common here because no one waits in line. It’s not considered to be rude here….it’s just the way it is. Nothing is done maliciously.
There were a few other habits that I still had to get rid of. For example, it’s rude to point your finger. I know we learn this all the time at home, but everyone still does it anyway! The Vietnamese also speak very softly. Speaking loudly, especially on the bus, is considered very inappropriate.
I’m sure I will pick up more tips each and everyday. Hopefully I will fit right in before the end of my stay!