Photo: Ondřej Samohel
1. A man carrying 200 goldfish is trying to run you over.
You’re in a tiny gray alleyway covered in 10-digit phone numbers stenciled all over in red, green, and blue. Across from you emerges a man carrying a tree of goldfish. It’s either you or him for the crossing rights win, and he’s acting like it’s not gonna be you. He comes closer and closer until it’s a standoff: Just you, him, and 200 sad, bagged-up-and-lonely goldfish. He looks at you blankly as if you’re a microwave about to ding. But ding you won’t. Ding. You. Won’t.
2. The man who lost an eye in the Vietnam War tells you, “America, #1!”
You tell him you’re American and he’s just over the moon. He’s basically, “Isn’t that just kick-you-in-the-crotch, spit-on-your-neck fantastic?” Or in his case, take-out-your-eye superb. What do you say to that? “Uhh, yeah, sorry about your hanging orbital nerve, by the way. We appreciate your service?” But on a more serious note, even some people who have more than adequate reason to showcase disdain to Americans feel anything but. Vans are plastered with American flag decals and kids study abroad in Minnesota.
3. You get into a motorbike accident due to being distracted by a stranger’s mole.
And the hair coming out of it.
Or his one ridiculously, uncomfortably, there’s-gotta-be-rice-stored-underneath-it pinky fingernail.
4. The cops play Angry Birds, text, or watch videos between pulling people over.
You just gotta hit ‘em at the right time. Drive the same route long enough, and you’ll get to know their schedules. But who are we kidding? Even if you do get “pulled over,” it’s really just a 90-lb. soaking wet 19-year-old waving a stick at you and hoping you listen. Pretend you speak Czech — or actually speak Czech — and your problems are solved.
5. The bánh mì lady slathers pâté all over your chay sandwich.
You told her, “Cho em một ổ bánh mì ốp la hai trứng, không thịt. Nhiều nước tương.” If you could ask for the whole bottle, you would (or maybe that’s just me). For good measure, you told her, “Em ăn chay.” Unfortunately, she’s just like those people in the states that, upon hearing you’re a vegetarian, say, “Oh, but don’t worry, this is a turkey burger!” Only this is worse, because it’s a meaty spread. A meat-like spread ruining your soy-sauce high. Again.
6. The kids know Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga…and every word to Hotel California?
The Americana that has seeped into the Vietnamese culture is strange. Mariah Carey, Adam Lambert, and, surprisingly, every word to Hotel California. They don’t know how to bake a cake and they get sugar headaches from s’mores, but they know that beasts can’t be killed with steely knives. Huh.
7. You oversleep because the neighbor’s rooster must’ve wandered away.
Goddangit. You knew one of these days you were bound to have to set an alarm, but you figured with a six-hour cockadoodledoo window (until 11 AM, approximately), you’d wake up at some reasonable point. Now he’s wandered off, been eaten, or maybe just killed — and now you’re late to class. Somehow, you understand though. If your rooster blathered on till 11 AM every day without fail, you know you might figure something out, too.
8. You pass puppies on the street and actually manage to feel sad.
Let’s just…I don’t want to talk about it.
9. You can get ice, coffee, and condensed milk, but you can’t get a sinh tố cà phê.
Any good expat goes through a long-standing sinh tố obsession (that may never dissipate). One day, you find yourself craving a sinh tố along with a good caffeine buzz and you think to yourself, “Hey! I’ll get a coffee sinh tố!” You trot down to your local hole-in-the-wall and request your brilliant idea, pleased as punch with yourself. Only instead of “sure,” you get a “Không có.” You tilt your head perplexedly. Every. Single. Time.