Culture Shock - Vietnam


Fraser Clarke

‘Culture Shock’ can be a major factor in preventing expats from getting the most out of their new life overseas. Defined as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”, it’s something that will have been experienced in some degree by anyone who has previously taken their career to a foreign environment.

In order to try and help you and your family work through the symptoms, we’ve taken a look at the most common factors likely to affect you in each country we work with, and how to combat them. After all, preparation can be the key.

In the first of our new ‘Culture Shock Cures’ series we’ll look at the newest country we are working with - Vietnam.

Inner City Chaos

Life in one of Vietnam’s major cities can be hectic, with millions of motorbikes taking to the street at the same time, causing what looks like traffic chaos.

This can make getting around, either on foot or in a vehicle, a hugely daunting prospect at first - especially if you’ve arrived in the country directly from the West. In reality however, things aren’t as disastrous as they initially appear. Although the rules of the road are, at best, loosely applied, most riders know what they’re doing - and they are surprisingly safe.

Cities themselves can come across as hugely crowded, and so certainly don’t suit everyone. Make sure you live further out of town, and take time to explore the country’s stunning natural beauty.

Top Tip: Take a few taxi rides round the city when you first arrive, in order to gradually build up your confidence before taking to the road.

A New Working Environment

Of course working anywhere new can bring with it a range of challenges, and that’s no different in Vietnam. The working week is Monday-Friday (unlike in the Middle East), and hours will be similar to those medics are used to elsewhere.

Vietnamese remains the official language, however in the high quality private medical facilities that employ Western trained medics, English will be widely spoken. The Vietnamese are commonly very polite, and often will be unwilling to disagree with any points made. As a result you should be sure to demonstrate confidence in your colleagues to build up trust, and allow them to discuss matters with you.

Whatever you do however, don’t mention the war. The Vietnam war remains a sensitive subject with natives, having lead to the deaths of between 600,000 and 2 million Vietnamese. Aside from this, most people in the country are incredibly open and hospitable to immigrants, and so you shouldn’t face any tension from locals.

Top Tip: Try and learn some of the language early on in your time in the country. The locals will really appreciate the effort, and it will help you to settle quicker

Keep an Eye out for Scams

Vietnam is now a hugely popular destination with tourists, and many expats might find themselves as the targets for conmen. It’s not uncommon for taxi drivers not to give you change, unless you ask for it, whilst keep an eye on the meters as many can be bugged. To avoid falling foul of a scam like that it’s best to only use a reputable Taxi firm, with Mai Linh, Vinasun or Taxi Group the most trusted

The streets can also be full of fake beggars, we’d recommend never donating to these individuals because you will continue to be heckled by them for money everytime you pass from then on. If you feel like you want to help the genuinely needy, it’s best to get in contact with a charity in the area to discover how you can assist.

Finally be aware that things are often not what they appear to be. Vietnamese marketplaces are packed full of fake ‘copycat’ items. These can range from knock off sunglasses and watches, to fake businesses claiming to represent international brands. Always be careful and inspect things very carefully prior to purchasing them - especially expensive items - as these fakes can sometimes be hard to spot.

Top Tip: Always be vigilant on the street, and visit the major cities with friends who know the area when you first arrive, they’ll be able to help you spot the cons.

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