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Foreigners living in Vietnam, who are they and how are they doing?

This is from my 4 years personal experiences of meeting, socializing, working and being friends with foreigners in Vietnam. In this post, I mostly indicate foreigners who are working and living rather than tourists. This may be applicable for expats in other countries, not only Vietnam.

There are nothing new for you here. I just want to summarize what you already know. And not enough yet, so you are welcome to contribute comments/thoughts/additional info.

1. Where do they come from:

I meet the most people from following countries: US, Germany, France, South Africa, South Korea, Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Nigeria, India, Italia, China, UK, Australia and Russia.

Beside, I do meet people from Angola, Modambique, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia, Myanmar, Fiji, Romania, Hongkong, Switzerland, Denmark, Brazil …

Most of people from South Africa I’ve met are white people, they said because some policies of South Africa are currently favor of black people more than white people, so many white people have been moving out of the country.

2. How long do they live here:

I’ve met people who had arrived just few days, to people have been living here for 25 years.

3. Why did they come to Vietnam:

- they came to travel/do internship, then like the country then come back to stay/live/work
- get to know the country by relatives, friends, acquaintances then come and work/study
- want to ‘escape’ from their home country/want something new/want to change, find out Vietnam then come to find a job/open a business
- being assigned by their company to work in Vietnam
- follow their spouse/children/parents/significant other to relocate
- get married to Vietnamese

4. What do they do here as work/business:

They work in various industries on various positions which need their talents, skills, experiences and/or languages: manufacturing, law, food & beverage, hospitality, IT, banking, healthcare, education, fashion & textile … or work remotely.

There are few nationalities would work in some specific industries more than the others. For examples:
- Filipino: English teachers, house helpers, singer & DJ.
- Indian: yoga teachers
- Korean: manufacturing

Those who follow their parents/children/spouse or come to retire don’t work.

5. How is their life here:

5.1. What’re their difficulties:

There are lots of things are new for them in comparison with what they experienced in their home country which either make them feel interesting and enjoy or annoying.

+ Traffic: not many of them were used with the way traffic works here

+ weather and pollution: few of them are easily getting sick because of  different weather and pollution.

+ language: majority of Vietnamese people don’t speak English and Vietnamese isn’t easy to learn. This hinder them in term of:
- many foreigners come to Vietnam want to find a job in their industry in their home country or their interest, but aren’t successful due to they don’t speak the language and understand common practice of the industry in Vietnam. Most of them would end up teaching English or in jobs using their foreign appearance and characteristic.
- daily life activities

+ visa & government policies

5.2. Pros and cons:

Their foreign appearance and their newness are sometime for them and sometime against them.

They make them become more desirable to approach by people who want to speak English, learn new thing. It’s also helpful for them to find work sometimes. But some of them also complaint being overcharged because of being foreigners.

5.3.  What’re they missing from their home country:

+ food: depend on where do they come from, there are certain foods they are missing, like: cheese

+ other things and conveniences aren’t available in Vietnam

5.4. How are they adapting with life here:
- many of them had learned to drive motorbike to commute
- many of them also try to learn Vietnamese

5.5. What do they usually compliment the most about Vietnam: food, friendliness of people, beautiful landscape, lots of things are cheaper than in their home country.

5.6. How do Vietnamese people treat them:

Generally speaking, Vietnamese people prefer white people more than other races and perhaps treat them better (One American one time asked me “Vietnamese people are friendly with foreigners, are they friendly with each other?”)

6. Differences between Vietnamese and foreigners:

+ Mostly foreigners don’t eat dogs, cats’ meat and are pity on them, many Vietnamese eat dog, cat’s meat.

+ We treat avocado as a fruit, I’ve met some foreigners said that they treat avocado as vegetable.

7. Significant foreigners in Vietnam (for me):

+ Lyra – Filipino – owner of her blog hello-saigon.com

+ Tim – Swiss – founder of Maison Chance – a place to help orphan children and disabled people (maison-chance.org)

(to be updated)

Khuyen,  Thank you for your perceptive and entertaining post.  I enjoyed reading it.  Ralph

Is it an examination and so is there a prize?

Thank for the tip on the blog, Hello-saigon,  Khuyen! Now I will plan to go on a boat tour.

Well, I've found your post a bit lame TBH. Enumerating general things instead of diving right in and saying something specific or controversial...

My own feelings are mixed. There is so much, good and bad.

Here some examples:

* after wandering through a strange city (as the motorcycle taxi driver neither knew how to shift gears nor to find a specific hotel within a mile's radius) and having asked 50 people for directions to the bus station... One young man gave me a lift on his motorcycle!

* at that bus station's public toilet, I caught a healthy young man standing 1 meter away from the urinal, peeing on the floor. WT-?!??? (I grabbed a big bucket filled with water and chucked it on the floor, then the walls etc. to clean up the filthy urinal. *** Seriously, what's going on?!?

* The other night was bad as there was smoke. Some man had walked to the house to burn TRASH (which would be collected for free if left by the side of the street). In NGA SON, a friend's neighbor makes extremely polluting fires, burning leaves. Leaves can be left to rot and degrade (compost) and they will become good fertilizer.

* "Management" - anyone having worked here might want to contribute something? Words, promises, mean little. Many people simply don't care nor do they actually listen. (Apologies for this generalization. Am trying to make a point, that's all).

* Hard-working go-getters. Folks often supporting a family on 6 million or less, working full-time.

* Most shops can't make it, can they? But pride keeps them struggling on?

* The food is usually bland due to lack of spices & sauces and the same thing gets cooked. Hope this doesn't offend anyone. // Wish, restaurants would serve desserts. Enough said.

Welcome to 🇻🇳🇻🇳🇻🇳 😂

Thanks for taking time to post. I just visited HSM, Nha Trang, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.
I'm Canadian nationality of Chinese race so VN ppl think I am VN from my appearence. I am planning to stay long term in VN and continue my Venture  and Corporate Finance  business in VN. Hope to meet u next trip :-)

Thanks again.


Jon

What gets me is that I've been told that anyone under 30 has learned (or is learning) English at school, yet no-one seems to speak it in shops, ticket offices, motorcycle repair shops, taxis, restaurants, low-level government offices etc. What about rudimentary vocabulary? Is there some sort of shame attached to not being fluent 'enough'?

Mind you, if they spoke English well enough, maybe they wouldn't be working in those jobs.

I'm ashamed to admit that after four years in Vietnam I've given up on learning Vietnamese. I tried several language courses but couldn't get my head around the tones. I mean, how many meanings are there to the word "nam" depending on the tone?

Before moving to VN, I spent fours years in Malaysia where in the end I was able to get by in basic Bahasa. But that's not a tonal language and I learned one or two new words a day with my little two-way pocket dictionary -- and people understood me. Not here. Get the tone wrong and there's embarrassed giggling.

An American friend who lives in Thailand, is married to a Thai and writes guidebooks to that country, said that Vietnam's Latin script is the culprit. At least in Thai (also tonal of course), you know that a particular character is pronounced a certain way. You'd think that once you get the hang of Vietnamese diacritical marks it would become second nature too, but unfortunately not in my case. And I like to think I have a head for languages :-(

Then again, having lived in several countries around the world and travelled to many more, I usually manage to get by with sign language, pointing, occasional drawings and lots of smiles. Plus of course a few rudimentary phrases like 1-10, hello, goodbye, thank you, sorry. There's a lot of tolerance here. Love the place and especially the people.

Sorry to disappoint you, but it is easier in Vietnamese to read the five written tone marks than to apply the 40-odd tone rules you must learn to pronounce tones correctly in Thai. And that is after you have learnt all 42 Thai consonants and learnt whether they are low, mid or high class. 

For example, the word 'elephant' in Thai: ช้าง chaang is written with an initial low class consonant 'chor', a second tone marker, a long vowel, and a sonorant final. So it is pronounced with a high tone.

It is much easier just to read 'con voi' in Vietnamese.

Thai also writes the vowels and diphthong before, after, above, below and around the consonants. It's the diphthongs that give me big trouble.  Thai also has no spaces between words; 'inherant vowels', which are not written, but are spoken; and letters which are written, but not spoken. 

Overall, it is infinitely easier to read and write Vietnamese than Thai.

A final point: Thai does not use characters, as you suggested. Chinese uses characters, and I agree it is not so difficult to learn which character is pronounced with which tone.  But you in Chinese you must remember tone sandhi, which changes the tone depending on the following character. Just to keep you on your toes.

Ha ha! Always happy to stand corrected. That's what civilised debate and scientific advancement are all about after all. But I still have to admit defeat on Vietnamese and it gives me the sh*ts.

Rob,  don't be disappointed.  As we get older, if we have not already learnt a tonal language we cannot even hear the tones. So without hearing them, we cannot reproduce them.  Fear not, a foreign friend in his 70s gets by in Vietnamese without using any tones at all. He just does his best and most people understand him, even me

Is this a Question or answer??? I cannot find summaries and didn't get any point.

ralphnhatrang :

Rob,  don't be disappointed.  As we get older, if we have not already learnt a tonal language we cannot even hear the tones. So without hearing them, we cannot reproduce them.  Fear not, a foreign friend in his 70s gets by in Vietnamese without using any tones at all. He just does his best and most people understand him, even me

The problem I find is the street talk and the abbreviated messages, my wife is always correcting me saying "that's how people speak day to day,it's different."

I just keep trying, it is a difficult language. Ralph is a good speaker of VN as I have met him and heard him speak.If only I could replicate his language skills. :dumbom:

colinoscapee :

The problem I find is the street talk and the abbreviated messages, my wife is always correcting me saying "that's how people speak day to day,it's different."

I actually don't see any difference between day-to-day talk and book talk.  The vast number of Vietnamese, young and old, educated and uneducated, with whom I'm in contact daily still use correct grammar.  The deviation is found only in text messages and casual conversation among young people.  The former is universal, but the latter is never used in cross generational communication, for respecting elders is still the foundation of Vietnamese culture.

With that being said, I've learned quite a few slang this year, but none of them is essential to anyone's understanding of the language.  For instance, instead of using the slang "điện thoại cùi bắp", I always use the correct term "điện thoại giá rẻ".  They both mean "cheap cell phone", but one is more colourful (cùi bắp is corn cob; điện thoại cùi bắp is a cell phone that you could easily discard as you would an eaten cob.)  Not one person has yet looked askance at me when I used the correct term for everything.

Street talk is basically slang, that was my point. Words like" lớn," my wife said some people use this when talking about a vagina, go figure, I thought it just meant big.

colinoscapee :

Street talk is basically slang, that was my point. Words like" lớn," my wife said some people use this when talking about a vagina, go figure, I thought it just meant big.

:dumbom:

colinoscapee :

Street talk is basically slang, that was my point. Words like" lớn," my wife said some people use this when talking about a vagina, go figure, I thought it just meant big.

It's not actually lớn.  The diacritical marks and pronunciation are different.  It's also not a slang, just a very impolite word that has been around for more than a century (my mother's time), but it's not appropriate for me to explain on a public forum.

Well you get my point?

Being a tonal language makes it difficult, what I said was " coca chai lớn." If someone can get vagina from that Im really amazed.

I asked spouse to say what you said, and I sort of understand why it might give you trouble.   It's true that the diacritical marks are not the same and the pronunciation is very much different between the two words, but if you learned the language from someone who was born in the South and you tried to imitate their accent, the outcome might be pretty close to an embarrassment.

After 20+ years of marriage, spouse has finally decided to learn Vietnamese from me.   I'm a strict teacher so any word he learns, the pronunciation has to be clear, precise, and up to my expectations.  No woman is going to knock on my door complaining that my husband (unintentionally) insults her with a mispronounced word.

Thats why I now say "coca chai to".

:top:

Ha ha. Keep it up. This thread is enterting.

In the area where I live 9 km outside Nha Trang, all three 'o's in Vietnamese are interchangeable, so, like Colin,  the locals use other words to avoid misunderstandings.

The locals' tones are appalling, too. They would fail all your tests, Ciambella. And they use a lot of local words not found in dictionaries.  Yes, I do have to ask for explainations.

KruChris :

* Hard-working go-getters. Folks often supporting a family on 6 million or less, working full-time.

Full-time being 6-7 days a week. I also observe 1 or 2 hard-working family members supporting households of lay-abouts.

* Most shops can't make it, can they? But pride keeps them struggling on?

I don't get that either, overhead (shop or market stall rent) must be really low. Shops/cafes with 4 workers and sparse customers, how much can they gross a day?

* The food is usually bland due to lack of spices & sauces and the same thing gets cooked. Hope this doesn't offend anyone. // Wish, restaurants would serve desserts. Enough said.

Curious about your point of reference on 'bland'. I am surprised about the range of dishes. Bland compared to Indian or Szechuan, sure. I find chiles in most everything, and fish sauce w/ chiles is always on the table.

http://pixen.netlify.com/pix/fishsauce.jpg

ralphnhatrang :

Ha ha. Keep it up. This thread is enterting.

In the area where I live 9 km outside Nha Trang, all three 'o's in Vietnamese are interchangeable, so, like Colin,  the locals use other words to avoid misunderstandings.

The locals' tones are appalling, too. They would fail all your tests, Ciambella. And they use a lot of local words not found in dictionaries.  Yes, I do have to ask for explainations.

My wife sometimes gives her mother a hard time for talking what she calls "monkey language", or using "local words".

I suppose it's not much different from the way local dialects are used in the UK and elsewhere. Of course the fact that Vietnamese is a tonal language coupled with the fact that most locals can't agree on whether there are 4, 5, or 7 tones, doesn't help.

eodmatt :

My wife sometimes gives her mother a hard time for talking what she calls "monkey language", or using "local words".

In which part of Central VN did your mother in law live? 

Tiếng địa phương or local words are what make Vietnamese language so rich.  Just between Thanh Hoá and Quảng Ngãi alone, there are at last a dozen dialects and uncountable tiếng địa phương. 

I was introduced to "giọng Quảng"  (the accent of Quảng Nam and Quảng Ngãi) in grade school when mother hired a cook/housekeeper from that area -- a young man of 17 years who didn't know how to cook or clean.  I think she simply felt bad for him looking forlorn at Bến Thành Market (the place where lost souls were wandering back then) so she took him home and gave him a job.  Overnight, the world became so vast when I realized that there were more to Vietnamese language than just tiếng Bắc and tiếng Nam (Northern and Southern dialects.)  It's a great fascination every time I learned a brand new word or unique sentence that could not come from anywhere but that area.  Then a decade later, I "discovered" tiếng Huế and tiếng Đà Nẵng!  I fell in love with languages at that point and have never stopped.

KruChris :

The food is usually bland due to lack of spices & sauces and the same thing gets cooked. Hope this doesn't offend anyone. // Wish, restaurants would serve desserts. Enough said.

I wish you would stop repeating the same erroneous statement over and over again.  As I've said in one of my old replies to you (can't find it now, so this is a recap), you must have not eaten many Vietnamese dishes if you continue to think that way.

Yes, a few Vietnamese dishes are bland (bánh cuốn, phở, bún, mì, hủ tiếu) but many are not.  Food from Trung Bộ (Central) and Tây Nam Bộ (Southwestern) are full of spices even before nước chấm (dipping sauce) is added.   The dishes below are not the only tasty ones, just the ones that I have a hankering for recently:

-  Lẩu mắm (fish hotpot) is the stew made with fermented cá linh and cá sặc (the must have duo), bacon, shrimp and squid, cooked in coconut juice or pork broth, eaten with Vietnamese spinach, Okinawan spinach, eggplant, pumpkin flowers, waterlilies, arrowleaf pickerelweed, winged beans, Asiatic dayflowers, and bitter greens.  Anyone who says lẩu mắm is bland is either an outright fibber or a person without taste buds.

- Cá lóc nướng trui (grilled snakehead fish wrapped in straw) eaten with starfruit and unripe banana.  The aroma of this dish would make a Buddhist monk weak in the knees.

- Lẩu riêu cua đồng (steam crab pot) is made with freshwater crab, spider crab, crab eggs, and shrimp.  This dish is the star of summer in the 13 cities that made up the Mekong Delta (Long An, Tiền Giang, Vĩnh Long, Bến Tre, Đồng Tháp, Trà Vinh, An Giang, Cần Thơ, Hậu Giang, Bạc Liêu, Sóc Trăng, Kiên Giang, and Cà Mau).

- Bò gác chéo is beef stuffed with lemongrass, perilla, Vietnamese balm, and oregano, grilled outdoor from two large bamboo tied together to make an X (hence the name of the dish) over an open fire, then eaten with fermented bean paste dipping sauce.  Does it sound bland to you?

- Kho quẹt is the most simple food of the poor, with salt, fish sauce, sugar, pepper, and purple onions being simmered for hours until everything that can be evaporated has, and only a concentration of intensely flavoured salt is left behind.  Bland? You're kidding, right? Any dish that massacres your kidney, arteries, and brain in one swoop is anything but bland.

- Any kind of ô mai: American women indulge in Häagen-Dazs or Ben and Jerry while Vietnamese women munch on ô mai (guess who have weight problem?)  I will not describe the taste of ô mai to you because you have to put it on your tongue, not read about it on the Internet.  One thing for certain, bland it is not.

- Mắm cà (tomarillo pickled in fermented sauce): another staple for poor folks, especially folks in the Central.  Again, nothing is bland about it.

- Mắm tôm chua (sour shrimp sauce), mắm sò (salty scallops), tóp mỡ xóc muối tỏi (pork skin shaken in garlic salt),  sườn tẩm sa tế xóc tỏi (garlic seasoned ribs satay), and gỏi trứng cá chuồn (salad of flying fish's eggs).  All great stuff.

I think your very limited knowledge of Vietnamese food is the product of your unfortunately limited exposure to this country cuisine.  All you have to do is venturing from the safely constraint of the usual expat paths, and go where the locals do, and eat what the locals eat.  I bet your preconception will be blown out of the water quicker than you can imagine.

As far as desserts go, restaurants do serve them.  They're called chè, and there are dozens different versions (there's a place in Huế where 16 different kinds of chè were offered; I've tried them all, though not in one sitting).  Perhaps once of these days, you'll ask for them when you decide to try a tasty Vietnamese dish.






-

KruChris :

* The food is usually bland due to lack of spices & sauces and the same thing gets cooked. Hope this doesn't offend anyone. // Wish, restaurants would serve desserts. Enough said.

This reminds me of these two threads:
http://www.expat.com/forum/viewtopic.ph … 82#3191166

http://www.expat.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=576733

Although I don't see this with KruChris, the OP in the above links was eventually revealed as having a vested interest in selling his own sausage products.

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