[A journey in Vietnam] How to survive in Vietnamese circulation and the value of observation

I have been in Vietnam for three months and it took me like 1 month to be brave enough to face the vietnamese circulation because first I needed to overcome my fears and to understand the vietnamese traffic regulations and believe me, as a western girl, it is not easy. Here are three points about Vietnamese circulations that learn me that observing and listening are essential to fit into a foreign country to open one’s mind.


1- First of all, the horn. In western country, using the horn is a violent sign. When someone honks at someone else, it is a sign of impatience and anger. While honking, western people like to shout a bit at the other driver and ask him to “move his f***** car”. When I begin to drive my motorbike in Vietnam, people just honked at me, and I just felt very bad. I was wondering “oh my god, I am disturbing the circulation” because I was still used to the accusative western horn. After 2 weeks of observation,I understood that honking is a way to warn the other of one’s presence and moves and now I used my horn like Vietnamese and I do not take personally all the horns aim at me.


2- Forget about the priority. In western countries, drivers are often courteous: they stop their vehicles to let pedestrian cross the road, they allow other vehicles to pass through…. In Vietnam, the goal is to go ahead as fast as possible. The first few time I was driving, I let people cross the street (and obviously people behind me honked at me), I let people pass ahead me… I understood a bit late that people won’t let me pass ahead them and that I have to impose myself if I wanted to move ahead a bit on the road. When I noticed that, I stopped saying to myself “Oh, this  driver is very rude, he won’t even let me pass. In France, I would have had no problem” and I started to try to understand and to fit to this rules. Now, I find it quite natural because even if people do not let you pass, they are still careful about you and pay attention to your move. In France, people are more courteous, but they tend to me more rude when a problem happened. On the contrary, in Vietnam, people are more relax when driving and are very calm compare to western country.


3- Cross the road. Cross the road… . The first time I had to cross the road, I was stressed. So I had developed two strategies: waiting for hours until motorbike’s drivers let me cross the road or waiting for a Vietnamese so as I could follow him/her and cross the road safely. But those strategies were not really effective so I had to learn how to cross the road by observing the other.  Luckily my colleagues taught me the best technique to cross the road: walk slowly with the arm in front of me. Having eye-contact with drivers is also a good things to make them slow their motorbikes or let you cross.


So, what do these experiences learn me? To understand another culture, another practices, you have to watch carefully and to behave like people do around you. It’s of prime importance. By observing, you are able to understand better the way people do things and to do the same in order to be better integrated in your host country.  By doing so, I have stopped to be surprised and to say to myself “how can they accept that …”. As soon as I began to watch and listen carefully, I stopped complaining and started to try to integrate myself and to adopt Vietnamese point of view on things. So now, I try to look carefully to everything. It’s important to fit into a society. For instance, I had the chance to intend networking event here. It was my first time and I did not really know how to behave. I simply look what people did and I did the same. The importance of observation is often missed but I know now that it is essential to integrated oneself well and to understand differences and practices.

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