1) Motorbike drivers who spit
A rare but horrifying experience. For a split second I thought I was going to be drenched by a wayward greenie as a gentleman decided to unleash his saliva-bomb roadside instead of in the traditional kerbside direction. With no time to react properly I just had to brace and wait for impact - face, shirt, hand? Thankfully my morning surprise splattered the front of the motorbike. Very rare, but not the first time. The most disgusting, unthoughtful thing you can do on a motorbike apart from crashing into someone, driving whilst drunk, driving down a one way street the wrong way, constantly blowing your horn or street racing in the middle of the night through residential areas.
2) Expats who feel the need to declare the beginning/end of the rainy season or who are surprised by rain in the dry season
Listen, I'm from England where we talk about the weather in every second conversation (because by that time it's probably gotten worse), however this one aspect of weather conversation I dread. Expats here act like Apache native Americans. A cloudless day at the end of October and they clasp their hands together and look solemnly at the horizon. "Mmm, wind changing. Rain finished now. Big dry come". Then, a week later, it pisses down for 4 days solid. There is no glory from predicting the end/beginning of the dry/wet season. It won't seal your non-existent reputation as a guru of Mekong weather-forecasting, you won't be seen as a denizen of the region with an intimate connection to this mystical land. You'll just look stupid, because 98% of the time you'll be wrong.
Also, people who are amazed by rain in December or January. Or EVEN February Yes, it happens. Get over it. Yes, it rained all night and this morning. So?
3) Having this conversation
A) So how long have you been here?
Me) About 7 years
A) Oh! So you can speak Vietnamese?
Me) Not really. A little. Enough to get by. Order a beer, directions, family stuff, the Catholic Church and its attitude to communist rule and property ownership....haha. Not the last one.
4) Righteous expats who think Vietnam's shit doesn't stink
From virulent, widespread corruption to cockroach infestations to Tan Son Nhat, there's a lot to not like about Vietnam. Some expats willingly ignore all of it to create a land of shimmering tropical waters, merry bustling markets and smiling girls in Ao Dais. The expat who says 'well you know where the airport is' - that old chestnut - has no more right to be here just because their rose tinted glasses are still on. It is ok, you know, to live here and also have some complaints*. Hell, we all do it at home. In fact our entire lives are often based around moaning. Perhaps that's what it is, personalities clashing. But please, expat who constantly defends Vietnam, my wife and every Vietnamese person I've ever known has bad things to say about the place (roads, governance, pollution etc), so just stop. It's not a downer on Vietnam, it's a fact of life, wherever you are, society is messed up (in capitals). Some of the stories I hear about what people do to each other for money in this country, including their own close family, are more shocking than a Japanese game show involving testicles, ice and a set of weights.
(* if you are a gentleman in his 60s who is having numerous unsuccessful relationships with the working girls of this town, have suffered robbery by prostitutes late at night when drunk, or think that every Vietnamese is out to rip you off but you live on Bui Vien and/or are a backpacker, and this is the source of your complaints, you know where the airport is don't you?)
5) People who press the up AND down button at the lift
This may or may not happen in other countries of the world, I would like to think that most civilizations apart from those still uncontactable in the Amazon basin have a basic grasp of how lifts work. Press down and you will end up going down. Up, you will be going...yes, up. Pressing both does not make the lift arrive any quicker, and almost always ends up in a wasted journey for someone. I suggest a polite notice explaining this.
6) Shit Photographs/Photographers
Probably the bain of South East Asia, 'freelancers'. All you need is a posh camera, a college course and a website and hey presto - you're shooting family albums in An Phu. (Hey, I'm a teacher, I get enough stereotyping so I can take it out on another profession ok?). I've always thought Saigon and Vietnam in general is a photographers dream, which makes it all the more unforgivable to be crap at it yet call yourself professional.
7) A population that doesn't know how to turn left
I never took a 'cycling proficiency test' but its a popular course in the UK - popular for paranoid and overbearing parents to bore their children with learning the rudimentary basics of cycling on the street. In the course they teach you how to turn against the traffic....hover in the middle of the road letting traffic pass on both sides of you - and stick your your arm out. In Vietnam, turning against the traffic is the opposite. We've all been belting it along and then seen someone on the outside slow down, pull over even more to the outside and then look for all intent and purposes like they are going to swing right across the road in front of you. The front wheel wobble and glance over the shoulder usually follows. Even better is the people who sit in the right hand lane at traffic lights and then proceed to turn left. Perhaps aligning the bike prior to stopping at the light would have been advisable? No, too easy.
8) The experts
After three months, everyone's an expert. Be it holiday locations, the best restaurants, the best hotels, traditions, history, culture. They think they know it all. What they actually have is an in-depth knowledge of the overpriced, pretentious venues that an absolute tiny majority of the population (themselves and their friends) can afford to frequent. Also, let's not even mention objectivity. Some restaurants/locations seem to be engrained in expat folklore and retain legendary status despite only serving mountains of fried crap and insanely expensive wine. The same goes for holiday locations. 'Oh yeah, xxxxxx is amazing'. If you can ignore the 50,000 Russian tourists. I learnt long ago to just stay out of these conversation and only respond reluctantly if it's based on 'Jon's been here a while, ask him'. Then I'll shrug my shoulders and mumble something about Mui Ne.
9) Pseudo-intellectual conversations about Vietnam
A lesson to be learned in Vietnam, especially when passing 'social commentary' is summed up by saying 'the greatest wisdom is knowing you know nothing at all'. Reading this there will be Vietnam/Saigon based expats whose deluded minds are screaming 'I know plenty about Vietnam's customs and society!', therefore denying the truth even to themselves because they can't give up the thrill of telling a newbie in a bar 'what the traffic is like at TET' or 'that you'll get ripped off at the market'. Just leave it. Unless you are phd of Vietnamese history, society and culture at Vietnam National University, speak fluent Vietnamese, have spent 20 odd years in the field and have accepted Vietnamese citizenship, just leave it. Having a girlfriend and visiting the in-laws for TET doesn't count.
No, I wouldn't miss those pseudo-intellectual conversations about Vietnam either.