|Twist and shout: I'm not sure how big a monetary incentive I'd need to offer my own mother to get her to bump and grind in the middle of a public park, but the Vietnamese need no encouragement. — VNS Photo Doan Tung
by David Mann
Faced with Viet Nam's chaotic streets, mind-numbing bureaucracy and appetite for strange delicacies (dog, anyone?), it is easy for somewhat uptight foreigners such as myself to underestimate the value of spending time in this vibrant corner of Southeast Asia.
And while many things about Viet Nam may seem confusing or illogical to those bred in the western world, there are important lessons to be learnt from this bold and sassy race of people.
I was reassured of this fact one afternoon, when driving down Kim Ma Street where I saw a middle-aged woman "krumping" and "twerking" (dance moves originating in the US) her way up a pedestrian island in the midst of peak hour traffic.
She was alone, wearing a bedazzling two piece pyjamas set and completely unphased by those around her. It was at this point I realised - there's a lot to be admired about the Vietnamese.
Here is a short cross-cultural crash course of some things you may encounter in Viet Nam.
I wasn't quite sure how to handle it when a Vietnamese friend seemed completely unabashed telling me I had gained a few kilos since arriving in Ha Noi. I'll admit a hasty supply of Vietnamese food had (quite literally) cushioned my anxiety of living in a new country, but even then, I was confused that such a brazen statement hadn't been perceived as offensive.
When I shaved my head, my Vietnamese friends showed the same level of restraint (zero) in conveying their distaste for this particular style, especially when compared with the more guarded responses from my western friends: "Yeah, you just look so different...It's so...yeah."
After one meltdown and much over analysis, I realised there was a valuable lesson here: back home, I had become so accustomed to people sheltering my feelings that now, faced with unbridled and unfiltered opinions, I couldn't stomach it.
But that's one thing you can appreciate about the Vietnamese: they aren't afraid to tell you when they like something or when they hate it.
To the average westerner, this might seem abnormal or offensive and rest assured it can be ("David why do you look so terrible today?"). But in fact, this famous approach for being blunt or ‘direct' is mostly, despite appearances, driven by a genuine desire to help.
Don't take it personally and have a sense of humour.
An active mentality
Come five o'clock and Ha Noi's lakes are lined with people eager to get in their daily dose of exercise. From the young to the elderly, everyone is out and about. Matriarchs walk in pairs trading gossip, young parents stroll beside their youngsters, while young topless men engage in fierce bouts of badminton.
As foreigners, we can probably agree that the only time we see this many people outside is in the month before summer when society wages a furious battle against dimpled surfaces in the lead up to swimsuit season.
For the Vietnamese, it's a way of life, a community institution.
A mean krump
I'm not sure how big a monetary incentive I'd need to offer my own mother to get her to bump and grind in the middle of a public park, but the Vietnamese need no encouragement.
Call it our tabloid obsession with celebrity or the social media steroids that have injected us full of self-conscious paranoia, but watching middle aged ladies macarena in Lenin Park or gyrate their hips suggestively in time to a Enrique Iglesia's song can certainly make you feel like a right old fuddy duddy.
At the Botanic Gardens, an Aussie friend pointed out that back home "only the bronzed and beautiful would be brave enough for that". At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Vietnamese will krump, twerk and dance like nobody's watching. And why shouldn't they? In fact, the bigger question should be, why aren't we all?
Sitting on a park bench watching 60-somethings drawing round-of-eight's with their hips, it occurred to me just how much the occasional twerk might help make us a little less uptight. (No, I am not vouching for Miley Cyrus at the VMAs).
There are no hard and fast rules here, but there's something to be said for channelling that little Vietnamese person in all of us, from time to time. — VNS