I have had a lot of comments on my Hanoi post of a few days ago; some disagreeing strongly with my analysis, some more understanding of our perspective. One of those comments recently submitted deserves highlighting as a post of its own. So with many thanks for his courtesy and insight, here is the unedited comment:

Dear Steve, dear Pam,

Your opinion of Vietnam is shared by many, including Asians who move to Vietnam for some time. The usual comment is “Vietnamese people are so uneducated”. I think it’s true. Vietnamese education is based on being obedient and following the rules, rather than being creative and thinking by themselves; hence some aggressive behaviour, heavy use of lies and some tendency to swindle everyone -and not only foreigners. It often creates a love/hate relationship between expats and Vietnam, since they meet every day an equal amount of nice educated people and lousy bastards.

I think that foreigners who visit Vietnam are eager to spend money, eager to help the locals. Some (like me) don’t even mind the double pricing. After all, I don’t mind paying my meal 50.000 VND instead of 30.000: it’s still 5 times cheaper than in Europe, 10 times tastier and then I help someone earning a bit more than they’re allowed to. But their annoying lies and pushy attitude make many foreigners keeping their money in their pocket, tired of being taken for fools. Why sellers still don’t understand that being pushy make customers run away, it’s a mystery. Or just the consequence of the bad education system? Have you been to a shop where there’s a queue? No one respects it, they cut the line as if there would be a nuclear war the day after.

I remember a foreigner who arrived in HN and finally reached the bus stop near the airport (quite far away and hard to find). He climbs in the bus and the driver grumpily asks him to step out because he has a big luggage. The bus was not crowded; the driver could have asked to pay an extra fee for the luggage. But no, he just chased the poor guy without any explanation.

Hanoi is also the place where customers have the greatest trouble with hotels. Some staff are extremely rude and stupid. On the other hand, I happened to stay in a nice cheap hotel where the staff was nice and helpful. And I’ve met horribly grumpy restaurant owners there. On the other hand, Hanoi is the only place in Vietnam where a staff girl kindly refused my tip. And her restaurant was small and poor. So you see, love/hate is what I felt there.

I agree with your strong disappointment. I’ve also been to some parts of Asia and never ever felt such an annoying attitude. And to end my loooong comment, there’s a place in Vietnam where people are really nice, smiling and eager to talk with foreigners without trying to sell anything, although they live more poorly than in Hanoi: Buon Ma Thuot, in the Highlands. There’s a Coffee Fair in March and it’s really worth visiting.

Glad to know of your blog.