Sunday, July 22 2018


Culture shock helps enrich Viet Nam expat experience

Update: October, 18/2013 - 09:59

Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers on whether they experience any culture shock while working in the country.

Here are some responses:

Jos Langens, Dutch, Managing Director of Mind Work Training, HCM City

Our company provides soft skills trainings in which people learn to be more effective in their behavior in an organisation. Most of our participants are Vietnamese working in Western companies.

One of the main differences is that in Vietnamese culture, people act because of their position, ("I do this because I am a director" or "I do this because I am an accountant") while in western companies the motivation to do certain things is more based on the expected results of this behavior ("What will be the effects/results of my behaviour?").

Acting from the position comes from Confucianism in which everything has a clear order in society, an order that should be respected and acted from.

This philosophy creates a stable, orderly society, no uncertainty, but also not much dynamics or impulses for growth.

Every individual is part of a bigger collective with a clear order that is far more important than the individual and one's personal development.

Behaving based on the expected results goes as far back as ancient Greek culture, in which the people were traders, trading with many new and very different cultures all the time.

Each new encounter was a new challenge and brought uncertainty but also possible opportunities. Society was not stable but dynamic and had potential for growth.

What does this mean for the work place in Viet Nam? Let me give you an example: "Giving feedback to your boss."

In the Confucian/Vietnamese viewpoint, "you don't give feedback to your boss" because he is the boss and you are his staff (your behavior is based on your position). In western culture, you give feedback to your boss when you think it might be useful (your behavior is based on the expected outcomes of it).

In the Confucian/ Vietnamese viewpoint, you listen to the teacher, because he is the one who knows and you are the one who is learning, so you keep quiet and learn.

In the western way, you are encouraged to challenge and discuss with the teacher if you think you have valuable suggestions (or questions). Often you would be even rewarded for this by the teacher because you have shown that you are critical to what you hear, you question the knowledge which is a source for development.

The advantages of working with people who strongly act based on their position is that you know what you can expect, the people will act according to their position.

The downside is that they will not easily express their opinion (because that is not what they are supposed to do), they will not take initiatives (for example, to propose improvements or solutions), they will not question (your) wrong decisions and they are not focused on "thinking out of the box."

Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi

My biggest complaint is trying to get an honest answer. It's always maybe; maybe yes, maybe no. The next problem is that no matter what happens, the answer is always ‘sorry.' Only no one is sorry.

"Sorry, I don't know." "Sorry, the manager is not here." Unless you speak the language and are prepared to wait forever, that manager will rarely appear. If he does, it's always another ‘sorry.' "Can you order it? Maybe." Is that maybe yes, or maybe no? How about a real sorry with a discount, custom order or upgrade?

Around and around it goes. My landlord is not available to repair the window leak or the broken washing machine, but is never late in collecting the rent. My bicycle and motorcycle shop mechanics collect money but don't complete a safety check. They live in the now and for today's money, not for customer service and see you again next month.

Everyone says it's the Government's fault or the police's fault. I am actually surprised and pleased to report that the police, visa section, airport immigration and all my doctor/dentist/optometrists have been polite and professional.

I see efforts to improve and positive changes despite the daily chaos. Do I believe that one day I will get good service and an honest answer? Maybe.

John Kellas, Australian, Da Nang

As westerners living in Viet Nam, we shouldn't expect things to be the same as in our home country. There are going to be many issues which are different: food, religion, political system, clothing, traffic, population, education, health, services, accommodation, etc.

In our experience, work-wise, westerners tend to be far more upfront and possibly confrontational compared to the Vietnamese, wanting firm deadlines, clear instructions and the means of completing the task in hand.

The Vietnamese have a more reserved and respectful approach and time may not be as important, so long as the task is completed.

From the respectful perspective, the Vietnamese are keen to engage with westerners, especially to practice language, which disadvantages the visitor, who may be trying to master Vietnamese, but has limited opportunities as the locals want to expand their English skills.

The Vietnamese are very willing to share the features of their culture, for example the importance of the belief systems, offers of food, history, etc. We found these contacts a great experience.

One downside is the reserved nature of the Vietnamese, as being invited into a Vietnamese house was a rare experience, perhaps this is due to the belief that their homes may not be as comfortable or as well-equipped as in a western country. This is a pity, for to be invited into a home and eating with the family is a great honour.

Vietnamese have a directness in asking questions or enquiry that a westerner would not expect in an initial contact. Thus we found some aspects certainly different, but within weeks we accepted these as part of the normal culture of Viet Nam, and as we are the visitors, and in fact guests in the country, we appreciate the cultural differences and also the similarities.

So my advise to westerners suffering from cultural shock is to get over it and immerse yourself in Viet Nam, its culture, its people and its environment. Great place to work, great place for holiday.

David Endo, Canadian, Ha Noi

I have been working here since 1987 and living since 1993.

The expats that try and bring the Western way of living to Viet Nam are usually gone in 2-3 years, the ones that roll into this great culture can stay forever. — VNS

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