This opinion piece does not necessarily reflect Tuoi Tre News‘s stance.

For more than ten years, I have been living in Ho Chi Minh City as part of the expat community. Throughout this time, my main focus has been to truly understand the essence and spirit of Vietnam. However, there has always been a small group of expats that has been a nuisance and has acted foolishly, causing trouble for everyone else.

Although the number of expats has started to stabilize after the mass exodus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, a small subsection has emerged that lacks respect for Vietnam, its people, and the other expats in the community.

One positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic was that many of these “fringe expats” disappeared from the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. This made going to bars and shops a pleasant experience, for the most part.

The reason being, some of these individuals don’t work at all, so during difficult times, they retreated to their home countries.

In a recent article titled “Eight Things I Hate about Vietnam”, I pointed out some of the frustrations expats may encounter while living in Vietnam. However, I unintentionally omitted a significant point that my friends at the local bar brought up — the small group of expats that makes living in Vietnam a dreadful experience for the “good” expats who genuinely appreciate this country.

Based on conversations with my expat friends and associates, I have compiled a list of the worst things about these “fringe expats” that make it challenging for all the good people who view Vietnam as an incredible place to explore.

Refusing to wear a helmet while riding a motorbike

A foreigner rides a motorbike without wearing a crash helmet in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ngoc Duong / Tuoi Tre

If you’ve ever been to Thao Dien, you’ve probably seen foreigners racing around the streets on motorbikes without helmets. In Vietnam, it is mandated by law that anyone riding a motorbike, starting from the age of six, must wear a helmet. However, there are some who consider themselves above the law, which creates the perception that all foreigners disregard Vietnam’s road rules.

Verbally abusing bar/cafe staff for no reason

They say if you have a problem with alcohol, then you shouldn’t drink. In most Western countries, if you were to mistreat an employee at a bar or shop, you would be immediately kicked out or even arrested. However, a small number of expats in Vietnam believe that it is acceptable to mistreat staff, particularly young female bar employees. It angers me to witness these girls being berated by intoxicated individuals who are unable to control their behavior after consuming alcohol.

Recently, I witnessed a man at my favorite bar consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. He asked the waitress for another drink, but she couldn’t hear him due to the busy environment. In response, he slammed his glass on the table and began verbally attacking the poor woman. Eventually, he was told to calm down, but the damage was already done as the employee was left in tears. I was livid at the man’s disrespect towards the woman, so I apologized to her and left the bar.

Expats living in “The Bubble”

In most major cities, there is usually an area known as “The Bubble,” where a majority (or a large number) of expats reside. Consequently, “The Bubble” tends to have medical facilities, food options, and entertainment services catered towards expats. Unfortunately, many expats who live in “The Bubble” rarely step out of it.

The people who confine themselves within “The Bubble” embody everything that is wrong with the “fringe expats” residing in Vietnam. They often refuse to learn Vietnamese, abstain from consuming Vietnamese food, and only prefer dishes from their home country. Additionally, they tend to disregard traffic regulations and believe that they are superior or entitled compared to the locals in the community.

If you choose to live in a foreign country, it is important, in my opinion, to become a part of the community. This entails assimilating into the community by embracing the culture and adopting the customs of the country. Unfortunately, the “bubble community” seldom does this.

People walk by a restaurant in Thao Dien Ward, an expat hub in Thu Duc City, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

Refusing to learn any Vietnamese

Many foreign teachers in Vietnam are notorious for thinking that they can live in the country without bothering to learn even the most basic words, which is incredibly disrespectful. Similar to the “bubble community,” they often believe that they are superior to the Vietnamese community, and it is the Vietnamese people who should learn English in order to communicate with them.

Learning the language, even if it’s just a few words, demonstrates respect for the country. It shows that you are humble and appreciate being accepted as part of the community. In my home country, individuals who refuse to learn English are frowned upon. Perhaps, it is the same here with foreigners who refuse to learn any Vietnamese?

Disrespecting Vietnam’s culture

Recently, I asked a colleague, “What are you doing for Tet?”

The response I received was unspeakable. It mainly revolved around the inconvenience of living for a week because their regular shops and bars would be closed, and they wouldn’t receive payment for not working during that time. This clearly showed me that they had no respect for or understanding of Vietnamese culture.

Through my experiences of living in Vietnam, I have learned that all people are the same. In this case, Tet, or Lunar New Year, is no different from Christmas or Thanksgiving. It brings with it cultural traditions that hold significant importance for the Vietnamese people.

A Bulgarian visitor takes a picture of a traditional Vietnamese Tet meal displayed at the Tet Festival 2020 at Le Van Tam Park in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 on January 3, 2020. Photo: Bao Anh / Tuoi Tre News

As a foreigner, I have come to understand the importance of respecting cultures and traditions. Doing so reflects respect and appreciation for the community that has welcomed me. During this time, I will be visiting at least nine homes and giving lucky money to individuals of all ages as a gesture of my gratitude.

However, respect should not only be demonstrated during Tet. It should also be reflected in our attire when going out, our behavior when visiting pagodas or a local family’s home, and even in how we address the elderly. Displaying respect towards the culture of the country we choose to live in demonstrates humility and gratitude for the opportunity to experience life in Vietnam.

Online abuse from foreigners

Social media can be an awful platform at times. If you have ever voiced your opinion on one of the social media groups dedicated to expats in Vietnam, you are likely aware that receiving offensive responses is to be expected.

Indeed, once this opinion piece is published on social media, I am certain that the “fringe expats” will take advantage of the opportunity to unleash vile abuse. It seems that expressing negative opinions about them is a trigger for such behavior.

However, this does not reflect a respectful and appreciative attitude towards the community. Such behavior fails to acknowledge and appreciate the gift of being able to call Vietnam “home.” Instead, it portrays the entire expat community, including myself, as disrespectful and ungrateful.

Street beggars

Nothing angers me more than seeing foreigners with signs in Vietnamese asking for money because they claim to have lost their passports.

We all know the truth. These individuals are taking advantage of the local community’s naivety to travel around the country for free and obtain money from others.

This is wrong.

While there are certainly aspects of Vietnam that I dislike, there are also many expats whom I admire and consider friends. Expats from various nations contribute greatly to Vietnam and make it a better place in their own unique ways. However, a small number of expats need to recognize the opportunities they have been given and adjust their behavior accordingly.

Vietnam and its people are not, and have never been, inferior to foreigners. Vietnamese people have a remarkable history of overcoming challenges against all odds. For hundreds of years, they have faced every obstacle head-on and succeeded where others failed. Vietnam has consistently demonstrated rapid progress and a robust economy, surpassing many countries in Southeast Asia and around the world. The Vietnamese people possess an extraordinary capacity to express love, kindness, and respect. This creates an unparalleled and exceptional experience that I have not encountered elsewhere in the world.

I hope that in 2024, we can all strive to do better and show our appreciation for the gift of living in Vietnam. You never know how the humility, love, and respect you exhibit may bring about new experiences, opportunities, and a brighter future for you and your family.