8 American Habits That Saved Me in Vietnam
1. Being OK with driving insanely long hours
This commute across the city on a motorbike with a light breeze and headphones on is nothing compared to being stuck on the 5 at rush hour. Sure, you’re sweating a little and there seems to be an inordinate amount of shops playing techno and flashing blinding strobe lights at motorists to get their attention (and the temporary use of their retinas), but at least you can people watch to your destination. For example, how many chickens can you see? What’s the highest number of people on one bike? Any good Chinglish t-shirts to commit to memory?
2. Never carrying cash
Bartering tip #1: Claim you don’t have that much cash on you, tell them you live there, and you’re golden. The amount of things you can buy at insanely cheap rates because you’re “out of cash” — but you’ll definitely come back because you had such a good experience, obviously — will almost feel like highway robbery. And if you’re from America, you won’t even have to lie — because you actually don’t have the cash on you anyway.
3. Speaking your mind
“No, I will not give you 100,000 VND for these bananas. No, please don’t try to sell me any cocaine. Yes, I see you staring at me. Would you like anything? Do you want me to pluck that hair out of your mole? No? Okay, then let’s move on, shall we?”
4. The compulsive need to bake
Sometimes flan and sticky rice just ain’t gonna cut it, and that’s okay because your will to bake something sweet yourself is through the roof. You’ll scout out four different expat shops along Ham Nghi before you even contemplate giving up on finding pink turbinado sugar. And that’s not even including the battle you had with your landlord over getting a decent-sized toaster oven. But you will get it done. You will. And it will be wonderful.
5. Loving butter and sugar
That red bottle they put on the table? It’s not ketchup. They say it’s ketchup, but it’s not. It’s a tomato-like paste at best. But what they do give you with French fries is butter and sugar. If you’re anything like me, you’ll try it once in front of your friends, say it’s kinda gross and unhealthy, and then sneak as much as you can when they’re not looking.
6. That can-do spirit and relentless optimism
When that man on the side of the road patches your tire with an old piece of rubber and a lit cigarette, you don’t even bat an eye. Crazier things have happened, like, say, Kim Kardashian being taken seriously, and you feel good about handing over that 50 cents because it was totally worth it. Will you drive on this tire for the next six months? You bet. 50 cents for a tire and a story — not bad.
7. Showering probably more than necessary
If it’s October through April, you’re sweaty. If it’s April through October, you’re wet and sweaty. Good thing you’ve got this hygiene thing down to an art.
8. Watching your six
You’ve watched too many episodes of The X-Files, and no matter where you go, you “trust no one.” So when that motorbike pulled a U-turn and is driving up to you a little too slowly, you take that extra second to summon your ninja skills and BAM! You’re wrestling for your bag and a few karate chops later (or so you’ll tell your friends) they drive off empty-handed.