For Westerners traveling through Asia, it is always a surprise to discover countries based largely on homogenous cultures. In many countries throughout the world, development has been associated with population movements and integration resulting in systems and attitudes reflecting the multicultural nature of its citizens.
Vietnam’s history is mainly the story of one ethnic group – the Kinh – still representing nowadays 85 percent of the population. You can integrate in Vietnam as a foreigner … but you will never become Vietnamese if you weren’t born Vietnamese. Just look in the mirror if you aren’t convinced!
DO remember that Vietnam was specifically fashioned for the Vietnamese, not for foreigners. It’s their country and – for the most part – they are extremely proud of it and fiercely nationalistic.
DON’T fall for the stereotype that all Asian countries are alike. Vietnam has its own identity and characteristics, quite different from its neighbors, including China…If you were a Swede, you wouldn’t consider yourself the same as a German or even a Norwegian, would you? Similarly, Vietnamese like to think they are unique…because that’s what they are!
DO accept that you are a guest in Vietnam and always will be. You will experience what it feels like to be part of a visible minority. Fortunately however, you are part of a rather privileged one.
DO reflect that guests enjoy special status but also have special responsibilities. DO try to learn as much as you can about the culture, to integrate as much as possible into the life of the people around you, even knowing that you will never become one of them. The Vietnamese will highly appreciate your efforts to understand them, their culture and their language. And you’ll benefit from better treatment, better prices and wider smiles.