Living in Vietnam as a European

A 24-year-old German settling in the midst of Vietnamese chaos.

It was no other than after a 7-months student exchange in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that I, a 24-year-old German, decided to realize my upcoming 5-months internship in Vietnam. And so it was that in the midst of the Carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro I took a plane to the other side of the world to jump in at the deep end in Hanoi, capital of Vietnam. I wanted the cultural punch in the face – and I got it.

Having arrived at Hanoi Airport and mastered my first extensive linguistic difficulties, I finally managed to get myself into a taxi and to be dropped off at my new temporary home, in the middle of a chaotic suburb of Hanoi. I found myself in one of the most dynamic places I had ever seen, next to a pig being roasted on the pavement and an entire street staring at me. “Welcome to Vietnam” I mumbled and almost got killed by a herd of scooters.

I was invited to spend the first couple of weeks in the house of my internship boss. Within the first 48 hours in the house literally everyone from son to grandmother asked me to stay for the entire five months, during which I could be taught Vietnamese and in return give the family a better understanding of Western culture.

The family would at all times do its utmost best to make me feel as comfortable as somehow possible. It was sheer impossible to skip one of their many daily meals or to prevent the refill of my drink. I have rarely ever experienced such warm-hearted hospitality – and for that I didn’t even need to understand a word of what they were saying.

Affection continued as soon as I got to work. Every colleague would individually offer me his or her help and consider each of my minor issues his or her own. Amazing!

During lunch break I was taken to the most authentic places and given the most exotic food - food as good as food can get, in seemingly infinite variations, healthy, nutritious and for an absurdly low price.

The most striking observation of all surely was the incredible number of scooters and the apparent non-existence of traffic rules. There is no such thing as giving way to oncoming traffic, no considering of the one behind you – you hunk, go first and try not to be crashed into. On day 2, my host family liberally decided I was ready to ride a motorbike myself. “You don’t know how to drive here? Naah, you’ll be fine!”

My experience in Vietnam so far has been both impressive and instructive. Without doubt, it takes some time and a certain degree of adaptability to get used to things, especially if you’re from a Western country where pretty much everything is fundamentally different. Nevertheless, I am amazed by the kindness and openness of the Vietnamese people. Be it the way they share whatever is in their hands, the open-heartedness with which they welcome you to their society or their respect for your own ethnos – I would advise any other society to take a leaf out of Vietnam’s book. And even though I have only touched upon the surface of an unimaginably complex culture, I hold that many people could learn from the Vietnamese values and attitudes - I did for sure!