Reflecting on my impending journey back to the bright lights of Teesside (UK), my mind wanders to the habits I’ve unwittingly adopted during my time in Hà Nội.
By Alex Reeves – @afreeves23
As Tết (Lunar New Year) approaches, I find myself torn between worlds, contemplating the inevitable reverse culture shock that awaits me as I prepare to leave once more. The realisation hits hard that I’m about to dip my toe into a realm where wrapping up like I’m on an Antarctic expedition is met with puzzled glances if the weather reaches a quite comfortable 10 degrees.
Reflecting on my impending journey back to the bright lights of Teesside (UK), my mind wanders to the habits I’ve unwittingly adopted during my time in Hà Nội. I’ve become more Hanoian than British, and the subtle nuances of daily life here that once seemed at best charming, are now intricately woven into the fabric of my existence.
The first and perhaps most notable change is the freedom to roam, or more aptly, to ride. The ability to jump on my motorbike and navigate Hà Nội’s orderly chaos without the bureaucratic hurdles of home is a luxury that only becomes apparent when faced with the red tape awaiting me.
The liberating honk of a horn here is a little nod, a form of street sonar, good manners in the school of fish that is traffic. Back home? It’s a different story – honking is a declaration of war. The bizarrely cathartic nature of Hà Nội traffic is worlds away from the passive-aggressive yet no less hurried nature of British roads.
What will I even ‘do’ when I’m home? Will I have to go to Starbucks? In Hanoi, being 50 metres away from a cafe at any given moment is the norm. I best stick the kettle on, at least I won’t have to plan this coffee around a borderline panic attack.
Huzzah! The cost of living crisis! Everybody now knows as an adult in the UK, that it doesn’t matter what you are doing, the world will find a way to charge you £30 every few days just for the audacity of existing. No more 40p bia hơi or £2 lunches; sandwich, crisps, Caprisun – “that’ll be £10 please ‘mate’.”
A change in Etiquette awaits me. The harmless Vietnamese ‘Ơi’ becomes a potential social landmine when bellowed across the British country pub. Shouting ‘Ơi’ is no longer a casual way of getting someone’s attention; it’s an invitation to an altercation. The unfortunate similarities between this and the English ‘Oi’ are the cause of much shyness for any Brits fresh off the boat in Việt Nam.
I foresee contemplating these quirks from afar in the familiar setting of a Wetherspoons toilet. Did I really have to raise my glass every time someone took a sip of their drink? However, I embrace the person that Hà Nội has moulded me into. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my friends might find my habits odd.
In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I contemplate a nap as though it’s normal, I reach and struggle aimlessly for the non-existent bum-gun (vòi xịt vệ sinh) before I remember… Ew, Ối giời ơi, indeed.