One thing that sits a little uneasy with me in Southeast Asia is the subservient attitude of some of the locals. In Thailand it’s all a bit of a show of course, the Land of Smiles is really the Land of Fake Smiles. It all goes on while someone dips your pocket and over charges you for the meal you’ve just eaten. I have, for the most part found Cambodians and Vietnamese, far more polite, sincere and friendly. In Cambodia I have really never been ripped off, ever. I have been to Phnom Penh and lived in Siem Reap and found the locals to be polite and helpful whenever and wherever they could.
Vietnam, appears on the face of it to be the same. OK, OK, I know I have only been here for a couple of weeks, but the experience so far has been nothing but positive. I am not naive enough to think that everything here is sweetness and light and all the bad guys are back home in Europe. But, there is definitely a … well, niceness, about the people I have met so far in Vietnam. They help out when they can, they say hello every day when I walk to the bakery, which whilst being slightly unnerving at first is actually very reassuring, when you get used to it. There is a definitely a “let’s all giggle at the stranger in town” feel to a lot of it, but it is all done in great spirit and with a kind of cheekiness rather than rudeness.
I lived in Bangkok for four years and right from the off, I realised that I was really living on the periphery of life rather than being at the heart of things. When push comes to shove, it’s “Thai Rak Thai”, and that will never change. You can live with a Thai girl and even marry her, but think you are as important as her family at your peril. And after a while, it starts to piss you off. Now it might be just the same here, I don’t know, but I do know that Vietnamese people are more polite, more open and more fair.
Back to the subservience that irks me, I hate the way that the locals are so terrified of making a mistake that they spend ages doing a menial task, like preparing your bill when you have eaten or drank. At lunchtime today I went down to the pool bar and had some fried rice and a coffee. The rice was 50,000 VND and the coffee was 18,000. I asked to pay the bill and watched as the young man spent a full 10 minutes writing the bill, checking it, checking it again, then getting someone else to check it, before nervously and apologetically presenting it to me. He was amazed that I had the 68,000VND already in my hand. He marvelled at my mathematical genius as I gave him the money and rose from my seat.
I can only assume that if he makes a mistake he has to pay., but I felt decidedly uneasy about the whole affair. It was like I was causing him great stress and discomfort simply by eating in the bar. I hope I can get to an understanding with him, where he won’t feel so anal about the task of presenting a bill to me. The food was great, the coffee was great and the service was fine. He had no reason at all to feel uncomfortable, yet he looked ready to burst into tears at the drop of a hat.
I need to do something really stupid, then he can giggle at the stranger in town!