10 Culture Shocks I Had When I Moved to Vietnam

I think the phrase "culture shock" is a bit dramatic, but it pretty much means something that surprised you about a different culture. I'm not necessarily "shocked" by these things since I saw a lot of them in China, but they are definitely super different from America and western culture in general.


1. Skin whitening

Yes, you read that correctly. In a lot of Asian cultures, including Vietnam, they see whiter skin as more beautiful. My Chinese and Vietnamese friends have told me this is because for centuries it's always been believed that the tanner your skin is, the poorer you are because typically this means you work outside as a farmer or laborer. So if you have whiter skin it's a sign of wealth because you have an inside job and aren't outside all the time. So besides covering up their skin with long sleeves and hats all the time, they have a lot of skin products for whitening- think of it as all of our tanning products back home, but the opposite!

2. No driving rules

Vietnam is filled with motorbikes- I'm getting mixed numbers online about where it actually lies in the rankings for most motorbikes per country, but it's somewhere between 2-4 out of the ENTIRE world. With this insane amount of motorbikes comes crazy traffic and literally no rules. You will see them driving on the sidewalk, on the opposite side of the road, or making a left turn directly into oncoming traffic. This makes starting to drive a motorbike here quite intimidating to say the least. But once you're driving in it, you realize it's actually not as scary as it looks!


3. Napping culture

There is a HUGE napping culture here. I'm not sure if it's because of the heat or because they tend to wake up very early here- maybe it's combination of both! But in the afternoon EVERYONE naps. When you're at work, you'll see them face down on their desk, laying back in their chair, or even laying completely on the floor to take a nap. If you're walking around the streets you'll see people taking naps ON TOP OF their motorbikes (I still don't understand how they do it!) or in hammocks. Even in schools ALL students take at least a 1-2 hour nap during lunch from kindergarten to 5th grade.


4. Markets

Not only are markets in general kind of a culture shock since we don't really have markets like this back home. But they don't have prices! It's all about haggling prices down with the shop owner, which can make a lot of foreigners uncomfortable. I always love to shop by looking at prices and deciding if I really want it based on how expensive it is, so when there aren't any prices it makes it so hard for me to shop. I always feel bad when they tell me a number and it's higher than I wanted to spend so I put it back and then they chase me in the market to get me to haggle with them!


5. Breakfast

Their breakfast foods are the same as their lunch and dinner, which for Americans can seem very strange because we have such distinct breakfast foods. But it is very common to eat a bowl of noodles or rice for breakfast with soup!


6. Talking loud

Vietnamese tend to talk really loud- both on the phone and in person. And it sounds really angry and aggressive most of the time. Sometimes I witness conversations and I feel like they're angry and yelling at each other, but they're simply having a normal conversation. It always throws me off.


7. Coffee culture

I thought Americans were addicted to caffeine...but boy it is NOTHING compared to the caffeine intake here in Vietnam. There is literally a coffee shop every other building, and it will have people in it at any time of day. On top of that, their coffee is EXTREMELY strong. They use a Robusta bean and dark roast which makes it stronger than any coffee I've ever tasted. My boyfriend typically drinks a cup of black coffee every morning back home, but he can't even drink a cup here because it makes him shake and gives him a horrible headache! It's crazy.


8. Drinking water

You can't drink water out of the tap here, so everyone orders these large purified drinking water jugs. This means that when you go out to eat at a restaurant, you won't get water for free. If you ask for water, they will give you bottled water and it will be extremely expensive. I remember one time at dinner my boyfriend got a beer and I got a water- the bill showed the beer was 25k VND ($1 USD) and my water was 70k VND ($3 USD). I couldn't believe it!


9. Honking

In America it's EXTREMELY rude to honk at someone while driving- it's basically telling that person "F YOU!" But here it is so normal. You will literally hear a consistent sound of honking if you just stand by any road. They honk to let people know they're driving next to them or going through an intersection or when the light turns green. Nobody gets offended, it's not rude- it's actually quite helpful.


10. Bidets

Now these aren't the fancy bidets like the Japanese toilets have. They're merely a water hose- we call it a "bum gun." But literally every single bathroom I've been to (even the super dirty and sketch ones at rest stops) have them! It's really nice because not a lot of places have toilet paper, so at least you can clean yourself after going to the bathroom in some way. In America I don't know anyone that has a bidet or "bum gun"- I had never used one until I started traveling abroad!


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