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Westerners either placed on a pedestal or just demand more

Update: June, 19/2015 - 09:33
Last week, Viet Nam News asked its readers whether Vietnamese people treat expats better than their compatriots, especially in the service sector.

Here are some of the comments.

Alok Upadhyay, Indian, Ha Noi

As far I know, the inferiority complex is the same in other developing Eastern countries. Viet Nam is not the only one. I am from India and there we also treat Western people like they are superior to us. Many Westerners who do not have a good life in their countries come to India and enjoy it a lot.

First, Eastern people always think Westerners are are better than us so they deserve better treatment in terms of service. Second, we like to show off that we are very nice and good so Westerners will give us respect, which we somehow do not want nor expect from our own people.

I really do not like this because we never respect what we have and try to be happy with it. This might be the biggest reason that we (the Eastern countries) are still developing and they (the Western) are developed.

Luke Digweed, British, Da Nang

Even if it's not consistent, I suggest the possibility of it being a sign of a racial inferiority complex. I'm no expert on this kind of stuff, but it does fascinate me. Cultural colonialism (through Hollywood films for example) conveys that Westerners come from utopic societies where everything is ‘much better'.

A Vietnamese friend (who is a great thinker) visited Europe recently and expressed his surprise that he saw poor people and people struggling to make a living.

"It made me realize that white people are just like Vietnamese; essentially care for the same things and live with the same problems," he said.

This is sometimes why some people treat Westerners with extreme hospitality, but I think most of the time it's just a fantastic gesture.

These are just my observations.

Nicole Martine Letang, Australian, Ha Noi

I notice I am often treated preferentially, I assume it is because I am Caucasian. Frankly, I find it weird and it makes me uncomfortable. I always try to use my (‘Western'?) manners to point out that maybe this lady has been waiting longer, or whatever... for what it's worth.

Nguyen Huyen, Vietnamese, Texas

It's a mix of internalised racism driven by both white-centric media and the western-global hegemony, right now. Unsurprisingly, being told by international organisations that your country is poor, leeching on aid and causing overpopulation, (as if here we consume nearly as much resources as the west does), generally does not do anything good for our self-esteem.

Mark Barlow, New Zealander, Seoul

Personally, I think better service may be because Westerners complain more vocally about service at restaurants. So, to keep the tourists coming in and happy, they raise the level of service. I've been apologised to so profusely that I've wondered what the hell one of us did to the poor girl, or the last time she had to ask someone to wait longer for their fries.

I mean, maybe it is an inferiority complex, but I think it could also be that some of us are real jerks and complain about the most trivial things. It could be fear of potential loss of business.

Lukas Hofer, German

I don't think Vietnamese people feel inferior. They just think we are richer so we give more tips. If you go into a restaurant in the West with a nice suit you will also get better service than the guy in shorts. The white skin is similar to the suit. Appearing rich means better service sometimes, but it also means you have to pay higher prices here-and-there. So, it is not always beneficial. The bottom line is, it has nothing to do with feeling inferior.

Pham Minh Anh, Vietnamese, Erfurt, Germany

It can be easily seen that Vietnamese waiters in restaurants favour Westerners while their countrymen complain about being treated in a less welcoming manner.

Let me first share my experience observing waiters' service in so-called advanced countries.

It is noticeable that most waiters I met, since I've been abroad, always appear nice and friendly. The coffee or the meal you ordered is not the only thing you are purchasing. You are purchasing the intangible service, the comfort gained from the service adds to how much you value the "over-all product". Customers are then not coffee buyers but service buyers.

In Western countries, the service industry has developed for a long time. A service mindset has therefore been built up for so long that it is instinct for a waiter to treat customers in such a way.

Therefore, I do not call Western countries advanced, but rather the senior player in the service industry. Viet Nam, as a newbie in the field (as short as 15 years), will need time for its industry workers to learn this service mindset, which is a new skill. This can explain why service is much better in Western countries.

The last time I visited home after two years of being away, I could see and feel the service in Ha Noi was much better. Sometimes, it felt unfamiliar to be treated in such a "respected" manner. I did not feel any lack of respect or ignored.

There is one more thing I want to note that further explains why waiters seem to be much nicer in Western countries. It is tipping culture that really motivates the service of the waiter.

Tips can be as big as 10 to 20 per cent of the bill. In some restaurants in the US, waiters' wages are solely dependent on tips. Many of my friends working part-time in restaurants said that their earnings from tips was much higher than the total earnings they got for official working days.

So, if earnings are dependent on customers' feelings, why not make them happy? If the same tradition is common in Viet Nam, I believe there would be no distinction between Vietnamese or foreigners. ‘The Westerner bias' should be renamed as ‘tipping culture'. — VNS

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