When in Rome, one should do as the Romans do

February 01, 2018 - 08:30

Daniel Hauer, an American English teacher in Hà Nội and a Youtuber with over 1 million subscribers, provoked outrage across the country last week for writing rude words about General Võ Nguyên Giáp. He was summoned to the Ministry of Information and Communications on Tuesday afternoon.

Viet Nam News

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

by Nguyễn Hằng

Daniel Hauer, an American English teacher in Hà Nội and a Youtuber with over 1 million subscribers, provoked outrage across the country last week for writing rude words about General Võ Nguyên Giáp. He was summoned to the Ministry of Information and Communications on Tuesday afternoon.

On January 25, two days after the Việt Nam U23 Football Team won an unbelievable victory in the semi-final round of the Asian Football Cup, a foreigner posted on Facebook that if the Vietnamese football team became the champion, he would tattoo a Vietnamese flag on chest, near his heart, to celebrate. Then, Hauer made a very vulgar comment, mentioning General Giáp.

Immediately, the comment caused a wave of anti-Daniel outcry, from intellectuals, parents, teachers, youngsters and even social experts, including Võ Trung, General Giáp’s grandson. Most of them were very disappointed and angry with Hauer and argued that he does not deserve to be called a teacher.

Trung said, “Daniel is working in Việt Nam by teaching English and he earns money in Việt Nam but shows the attitude of despising Việt Nam. Do we have so few English teachers that we have to send our children to learn with a man having that kind of attitude?”

Nguyễn Hoàng Mai, 33, a Hanoian, said Hauer was rude. As a teacher, he lacked of the proper attitude of a teacher. “How can we hire him to educate our children?”

But the story did not end there.

To deal with the wave of outrage, he posted a video clip on his Facebook account to make an apology. However, not long after he posted the video, he wrote a comment on a closed Facebook group that said, “Well, folks, if I do end up murdered in the street, at least I’ll be a martyr for sarcastic jokes and not being a crazy nationalist.”  

When a member of the group asked him about the sincerity of the apology he had just made, Hauer said, “Right, but my apology was directed toward reasonable people who thought that it was a joke in poor taste. There are some people, though, who evidently think that no apology is acceptable and I should either be deported or executed.”

Some concluded that this meant that his apology was useless.

Elsa Speak – a centre providing online English courses, based in Hà Nội—announced on January 26 that it had stopped all ad campaigns with Hauer due to his comments and the reaction.

Trần Trọng An, whose son is learning in a Hà Nội school, sent a letter to the city’s Education and Training Department to ask the agency to quickly ban Hauer from teaching in Hà Nội.

Many people even want to deport him from Việt Nam.

Nguyễn Tùng Lâm, chairman of Hà Nội Educational Psychology Association, said Vietnamese people are very hospitable but this case showed the limits of their willingness to welcome.

“Daniel’s words are unacceptable.”

 He lived and worked in Việt Nam but did not respect Vietnamese people as well as their culture, Lâm said.

Lawyer Nguyễn Anh Thơm of the Hà Nội Bar Association wrote in the Lao Động (Labour) newspaper that Hauer could be charged under article 288 of the 2015 Penal Code. He might be fined at least VNĐ30 million (US$1,320) and sent to prison for at least six months for causing bad publicity.

Bitter lesson, late apology

I have heard a few Vietnamese people say Hauer was just joking, or that what he did is acceptable in Western culture. They even said people who were angry at Hauer had overreacted.

I disagree. There is a simple rule: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". Even if you do not live in the country, but you visit the country or participate in its cultural and social life, you should respect the country’s culture and people.

I give you an example. Logan Paul, a famous Youtuber, faced a storm of outrage in early January after he uploaded a video showing a suicide victim in a forest near Mount Fuji, Japan on December 31, 2017. The video, which gained over 6 million views within the first 24 hours, was deleted on January 3 due to Japanese anger.

The video shows the 23-year-old discovering a body in Aokigahara, a dense woodland at the foot of Mount Fuji known as "the Japanese Suicide Forest", in a country that has long struggled with some of the highest suicide rates in the developed world. In the video, when one of Paul’s group members said he did not feel good after seeing the hanging body, Paul said “You never stand next to a dead guy?” and laughed. Logan Paul later apologised amid the backlash.

Personally, I think it is a bitter lesson for not only Daniel but also every person who lives or works in another country about how to respect the culture as well as the people of the country. You can make jokes, but you should know when and whether to make a joke. In Việt Nam, General Giáp is considered one of history’s greatest military strategists and was the architect of Việt Nam’s stunning battlefield victories during the wars against France and the United States. It is ridiculous when you live in Việt Nam and defend yourself by saying you were making an American-style joke. Every country has its own regulations and culture. In Thailand, you could be sent to prison for insulting the King. Additionally, when you apologise, it should be a sincere apology. Do not "speak one way and act another."

Hauer again apologised for his rude comments about General Võ Nguyên Giáp on Tuesday afternoon when he met with the ministry’s representative.  He said he would come to Giáp’s house and directly apologise to Giáp’s family. He apologised to all Vietnamese people. He hoped the public would give him a chance to continue teaching English in Việt Nam and correct his mistake.

Lê Quang Tự Do, deputy head of the ministry’s Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information, said he saw the sincerity in Hauer’s apology on Tuesday afternoon.

Do said according to item 5, article 65 of the Government Decree No 174, Hauer could receive a fine of VNĐ35 million ($1,540) for blaspheming national heroes. However, the fine could be lowered depending on the sincerity with which Hauer aims to fix his mistake. The final decision will be made soon.

I hope the late apology of Hauer this time was really sincere.—  VNS