I’ve learned a lot about the Central Vietnamese culture in just the week that I’ve lived here! Here are the ten facts that surprised me most:
- There are no coins in Vietnam! The country switched over to using only paper bills in 1948. The only coins you see are “lucky” coins in the gift shops which are often sold as jewelry pieces. The bills of the smaller increments are physically smaller, and look different.
- Vietnamese people take a siesta each afternoon, similar to the Spaniards. It typically happens during the hottest time of the day, in the early afternoon. What surprised me most is that employees don’t go home to nap; they go to sleep right there in the shops! It’s pretty interesting (and quiet) walking around the market at 2 PM.
- Unlike other Asian countries, Vietnam does not have a character-based writing system. They actually use the Latin alphabet, adding in digraphs and accent marks that indicate the tone and pronunciation. So while the tonality makes it difficult to speak, at least you can read the signs! (Apparently there are a lot of typos, however.)
- Traffic. There is so. much. traffic. Despite what you may have seen on YouTube, the roads are super stressful and not safe… and if you “just cross” the road, the motorists will NOT “go around” you! I have witnessed motorcycle accidents on a daily basis since arriving. About half the scooter/motorcycle riders wear helmets, but the bicyclists do not; in fact, when I asked for one with my bicycle rental, I was laughed at. I’ve witnessed lots of motorists staring at their cell phones while driving. And I saw one driver holding a baby in one arm(!!) – no harness or anything… the baby just dangled in the air!
- Gender roles. Only women work in restaurants, salons, and hotels. Men work in… the other more manly jobs, I guess. After work, the men hang out with their male buddies until midnight, when they go home. Women spend their time with other women and with the children. I wonder when couples spend any time together, because you just don’t see many couples walking around.
- The locals don’t use (or sell) beach towels. Wanting their skin to be white, they don’t sun tan, so you will see no beach towels. Some people sit directly on the sand, some go straight into the water. Sunset is the most crowded time at the beach, since the sun is weak.
- Tourists separate based on nationality. These are generalizations, so don’t get offended. But for the most part, the Chinese and Korean tourists go to Da Nang; Europeans, Australians, and Americans go to Hoi An; and Russians go to Nha Trang. The locals that live in these cities learn the language of their patrons, and gear their services to that nationality.
- Vegetarian and vegan food is really easy to come by, even in the coastal cities that traditionally specialize in seafood. In one of my tours, everyone was served tofu and vegetables – not as a special option, just as the standard fare. The cool part was, nobody complained and everyone loved it.
And while we’re on the topic… the food here is SO GOOD! I knew from having been told, but I really didn’t know until I tried it!
- Homestays lock you out/in when the owners go to bed… and they don’t always tell you what time that will be. Make sure to ask when you check in, to avoid nasty surprises. I had to hop the fence one night!
- Asian mattresses are so, so hard… like sleeping directly on a wooden table. My hips are bruised every morning!
For those of you who have been to Vietnam, what surprised you?