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Reverse Culture Shock 6 June 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Life, only in Vietnam, Travelling.

A wonderful friend of mine, who recently returned to Australia after 10 months of living in Hanoi just wrote an email to me. She’s back in Brisbane, noticing things about Australia and Australians that she’s never noticed before.

Her time in Amsterdam, also about 10 months, did not have the same affect, maybe because she had left the Netherlands frustrated with the bureaucracy and the never ending “niet mogelijk” (not possible) that she was met with all the time. But partially, of course, because the Dutch are not that different from the Australians, culturally.

But this time, returning after Vietnam, has left her a bit shaken.

How strange that is, the notion of culture shock. Isn’t it funny that we adjust to norms of society (albeit slowly). Things that astounded and perhaps even bugged you when you first arrived, have become normal.

Instead of walking around with wide eyes, I walk with confidence into traffic, knowing full well that I will (most likely) not be hit. I’ve noticed that reading back through my initial posts from Vietnam in 2008, I am smiling at the marvel that comes through. There is just so many things to learn, too many to understand at first.

And people always tell you different things – the sage advice from an expat who has been in Vietnam for four years is completely different from that of an expat of 6 months or that of a local.

Granted, sometimes being from the outside may mean that you have a better view of certain situations. For example, a Vietnamese person who has been to Thailand might give you a better explanation of something that puzzles you in Vietnam than someone who has never had the chance to go abroad, and can’t imagine doing things differently.

Cultural differences can be funny:

I once asked a group of Vietnamese who had been to Thailand what was different culturally about Thailand, and one of them said “In Thailand, people wait in line. Even to use the toilet.” Another straight away piped up saying “that’s because they don’t all have diarrhoea.”

Frighteningly, some expats seem to become experts on Vietnam by merit of having been in Vietnam for “the long haul.” Never mind “I have no Vietnamese friends, I speak hardly any Vietnamese, and I don’t enjoy any things the Vietnamese enjoy”; I am an expert.

I am not absolving myself in saying this. I do not know nearly enough Vietnamese people or language to claim I understand living here in the slightest. I am still baffled all the time. And just as you start getting one aspect of life here, you are completely wobbled over by another. But I am also sure that some things that used to confound me are now starting to make sense.

And there will be things that I will find strange going back, including traffic rules and issues of personal space. Paradoxically, perhaps my experience in Vietnam has not made me an expert on Vietnam, but it will give me a chance to understand Australia and Australians better.



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