The Culture Shock I Didn’t Think I’d Get

Being a fairly easy-going, go-with-the-flow kind of traveller, I have never really experienced any kind of intense culture shock [yet]. For the most part, I’m generally able to brush things off my shoulders and not give worry to what we can’t control.

I was joking about this with Mel the other night, and we both agreed that aside from a few small things, we both had not really experienced any sort of major culture shock.

Even when we sat down for breakfast for the first time after pointing and gesturing to something we wanted to eat, as featured in this image below. We ended up getting some sort of noodle soup – still not sure what it’s called.

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Even when we relied on other people’s addresses/directions to get us to where we needed to go:

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Or even when we pointed at more food that we didn’t know the name of and hoped for the best. We call this “breakfast with a view” [although we did learn the name of these sandwiches eventually. Banh mi!]

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While this was all still an adjustment, it was never the kind that made us feel uncomfortable or frustrated.

This makes the occurrences of our Friday morning cab ride even funnier in hindsight.

Working at the same school, we both left together and got in a cab to go to work. In Vietnam, you might hear a lot about cab scams, where cars will use a name very similar to their legitimate competitors to attract unsuspecting tourists. We knew about this before coming to Vietnam, and this had never been a problem for us. We knew to either take VinaSun or MaiLinh.

This morning, we got into a VinaSun taxi, and I gave the driver the slip of paper that had our school address written down in Vietnamese.

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For anyone travelling anywhere in Vietnam, I highly recommend this tip of finding the Vietnamese address to tell your cab driver. Most people do not speak English, so it generally saves some hassles. It has helped us so much for the majority of the trip.

In this case, it did not.

We discovered very quickly that our driver did not know where he was going.

Aside from small red flags raising up when the familiar route of our everyday drive were not as noticeable, the kicker was when he drove us around the back road of a mall, which had us going in circles. This, combined with the driver checking the GPS every five seconds, confirmed our theory that we were driving around aimlessly as the fare meter was running.

It’s at this point, when we started to get frustrated.

Mel and I know only three words in Vietnamese, and none of which would have helped us here.

While knowing “hi” “thank you” and “cheers” is helpful in certain circumstances, knowing how to say “HI WE KNOW YOU’RE LOST AND WE’D REALLY APPRECIATE NOT HAVING TO PAY FOR THE AMOUNT THAT YOU HAD US GOING IN CIRCLES” or EVEN BETTER, actually being able to give directions to the address, would have been more helpful.

Yet, there we were, our Vietnamese knowledge at a 0.003%, our cab fare rising, all while simultaneously being later and later for school.

EVENTUALLY, our cab driver found our school, but at a higher cost than we would normally pay for the drive. We were frustrated that he didn’t consider lowering the fare to accommodate the inconvenience.

So that brings me to the point of this blog post: culture shock.

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While everyone has a general impression about what culture shock is, it does have a formal definition and there has been extensive research done on the topic. For the most part it is known as (and I’m taking this directly from Wikipedia):

“An experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one’s own.”

Common problems of culture shock include: “information overload, language barrier, generation gap, technology gap, and many more [that I’m not including for brevity’s sake].

While the language barrier has been quite difficult, we all felt that we were able to manoeuvre around it, and that we had adjusted to this change in lifestyle. Until now.

I can imagine this scenario playing out in a very different way if we had known conversational Vietnamese. Perhaps we would have been able to provide directions, or rather, refuted the high cab fare and asked politely for him to reconsider to a lower one. However, we felt stuck in the situation we were in, and reluctantly paid the full price.

This blog post just goes to show that even when you think you’ve reached a certain level of comfort in your day to day routines while in a different culture – you definitely don’t have it all figured out. Think proactively, and be prepared for a variety of different outcomes. 

In the grand scheme of the world, this small issue on a Friday morning in April really does not matter. Nothing happened that questioned our safety, nothing happened that put us in harms way, and we arrived to school ready to start the day.

But, the world of travel is unique and always full of unexpected twists and turns, and really at the end of the day, it’s your resiliency that will make all the difference.

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