War of the worlds

February 16, 2024 - 11:17
Aside from the hearth of the local pub or the embrace of family, there’s only one winner here and I can’t wait to be back next week.


Home is where the heart is: It’s impossible not to miss the human touch that comes with life in Việt Nam. Photo courtesy of Alex Reeves

By Alex Reeves - @afreeves23 

It’s said that H.G. Wells' novel of the very same name as this week's article was a seminal piece of work in the niche area of sci-fi that is ‘invasion literature’. Reflective of Victorian era superstitions and prejudices and written as a commentary on the impacts of colonialism and the morality of imperialism in the waning of the 19th century. 

These questions and concepts are far from new in our beloved Việt Nam, in fact they have been and still are woven into the historical fabric of the previous and current century. Questions of past, present and future are still pertinent on the impact of foreign influence in Việt Nam and the growing changes prevalent in modern society. 

They say that we shouldn’t compare cultures, that we should embrace them and triumph the distinctions which provide us a richness of diversity in both practice and perspective. While I warmly agree with this notion, after half a decade in which Hà Nội has become ‘home’, it is somewhat impossible not to notice a few things. 

Far from being a warning letter, academic insight or even a social commentary into UK or Vietnamese culture (I’ll leave that to those eminently more qualified to do so), this is but an observation that I know is shared by many fellow ‘expatriated’ friends, though I personally prefer to consider myself a migrant. 

Sat here from my writing space in northern England towards the end of the short break back home I take every two years, I notice a shift in small social differences that make me pine for Việt Nam despite such a short period of time. As the UK begins to embrace the age of technology, a country that prides itself on decorum, seems to be losing its grip on matters of manners. 

When I first moved to Việt Nam I was warned of the bureaucratic nightmares which awaited me and encountered firsthand a seeming fear in workers of the service industry to do anything out of their specific remit. Using logic to streamline a process or even substituting an ingredient in a meal or drink seemed a step too far, a risk one wasn’t willing to take in the name of enhancing customer experience. 

That now seems to have came full-circle, while in recent years I have noticed a growth in the bespoke and a desire to tailor service to customers in Việt Nam, a slight more human touch is also noticeable in everyday moments such as shopping, making appointments and the myriad of cafe and cocktail bars spread across the capital. 

Whereas back here in good ol’ blighty it appears that our commitment to common sense has all but gone out of the window. The computer really does say no and there’s no humanity left to resolve such basic dilemmas as getting a new bank card, sim card or an alteration to a reservation. Staff are now standing representatives of what the machine or policy in front of them says, powerless to evoke a sense of discretion, let alone use it. 

While I might be a world away from home, wherever that is these days, there’s certainly no war when it comes to warmth, in temperature, spirit or mind. Aside from the hearth of the local pub or the embrace of family, there’s only one winner here and I can’t wait to be back next week. VNS