As is wont to happen this time of year, hearts are a-flutter and sentimental cards and hand-written notes hopefully find their desired mark. For this country, however; someone has penned a black Valentine with the jilted lover announcing he’ll never step foot again in Vietnam. Our “award winning” author posted a guest blog on The Huffington Post that is still provoking heated commentary and media coverage.
“When I was in Vietnam,” he fumes, “I was constantly hassled, overcharged, ripped off and mistreated. I never felt welcome.” OK, I can feel his pain.
But let’s go a little deeper.
First of all, the travel writer dredges up a jaunt he took in 2007. Now that’s either one giant scab around this man’s psyche or someone has missed the point.
I thought the point of travelling was not to be at home and in a place you recognize and the food is easy and the people fathomable. I for one have done my share of bitching about Vietnam, but to continue sulking about it five years after the fact because you feel someone was mean to you for giving you a candy instead of the 5¢ change they owed you, well, that just makes me blush.
Let’s put it this way: vacationing Westerners are easy to spot. They’re the ones decked out in thousands of dollars of “outdoor” gear visiting countries where the majority sport plastic flip flops, torn T-shirts and earn less than $2 a day. But if for whatever reason you don’t catch glimpse of these brightly coloured behemoths yawping through your neighbourhood, don’t worry, you’ll most certainly hear one. That’s because they’ll be belly-aching about how “ripped off” they feel. Egregious thefts include being overcharged—here in Vietnam we are talking pennies—by merchants with families to feed. Other crimes include shop clerks—wait for it—too eager to make a sale, wandering vendors trying to sell you sunglasses or a hammock or polish your new hiking boots.
Maybe the overdressed Westerners thought they’d be invited into the homes of the awe-struck locals and feted about like celebrities. Maybe those visitors had visions of the jealous neighbours hanging about outside going all paparazzi on them; popping flashes in their face because it’s a known fact the Vietnamese have never seen foreigners before.
Now to be sure, I like a free meal too. And sometimes, when my self-esteem is really flagging, I like to give random street kids a camera (not expensive, of course!) to take photos of me pretending not to pose in my dark and scary alley. This is a sure fire way to help me feel better about myself.
Undaunted, our travel blogger bolsters his credentials by talking to exactly three other foreigners during his trip. “I realized that we all had the same story,” he says. “They all had tales of being ripped off, cheated, or lied to. We all had to struggle for everything. We never felt welcome in the country.”
Struggle for everything? I wonder if he knows about Vietnam’s endless wars for independence. But hey, history—yawn! That’s probably why he also thinks Vietnamese are “rude.” I mean, who has the time to read up on a thousand-year-old culture based on an even older Chinese society. That breezy two-page blurb in the Lonely Planet will do just fine, thanks.
But I am positive our experienced travel writer had more than the standard repertoire of Vietnamese—hello and thank you—under his belt. So, language couldn’t have been a factor in his struggling because for sure he would have respectfully prepared before he left home.
The article then closes on a lukewarm reversal. “Many people have had good experiences. You need to find out for yourself.” Which makes the whole post reek of deliberately antagonistic posturing to garner an audience. Our writer is a one-trick pony because he’s done it before and sorry, ranting ain’t travel writing.