In the face of other countries’ discriminatory tourism and travel policies, Vietnamese people need to ask themselves “Why us?”
A Vietnamese notice at a Thai buffet restaurant warns customers not to take more than they can eat, or they will be fined 200-500 bath. FILE PHOTO
The Thai immigration authority has finally announced that it will scrap a regulation requiring Vietnamese tourists to present cash and pose for a photograph with the money before being allowed to pass through a Cambodian border crossing.
Many Vietnamese tourists decried the rule as discriminatory and offensive, saying that the process made them feel as if they were criminals.
While the problem has been solved, Vietnamese people need to look at themselves critically, because “there’s no smoke without fire.”
No country wants to cause problems for the tourists who bring them money.
Thai people felt the need to treat Vietnamese the way they did because, after all, Vietnamese have brought many bad things to their country.
The press in both countries has extensively reported stories of Vietnamese caught engaging in prostitution and other illegal lines of work like pick-pocketing during Thai festivals.
So far, the Vietnamese authorities haven't offered any solutions.
As such, it's hardly surprising that Thailand isn't the only country that's exhibited prejudice against Vietnamese.
In destinations like Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, there are signboards written in Vietnamese describing punishments for violations of local rules--everything from taking too much food at buffets to stealing from supermarkets.
Compared to neighboring countries like Thailand and the Philippines, Vietnamese citizens have a much harder time getting visas to developed countries, including Japan and the US.
Some of my foreign acquaintances have chosen not to apply for Vietnamese citizenship, despite loving the country a lot, for fear it will bring them trouble while traveling overseas.
Many people blamed Vietnamese bad manners on poverty. But, why aren't Cambodian and Lao people discriminated against?
Foreigners look down on Vietnamese, because we behave so badly when visiting their countries.
Working as an outbound tour guide for many years, I've felt ashamed of bad Vietnamese manners many times.
We rarely queue up, even when abroad.
At buffets many reach under taller foreigners’ arms to get to food. Not only do they take much more than they can eat, they also secretly take leftovers home.
Many refuse to give way to others, hastily rushing into elevators or getting on subway trains without waiting for the people inside to leave first.
Many wear clothes that are more suitable for a bedroom than going outdoors. And, their habits of littering, spitting, smoking, holding toothpicks in their mouths after meals, or jaywalking are exhibited even among intellectuals and businesspeople.
During tours, Vietnamese rarely listen to introductions about local culture and history, but rush here and there to take photos. Despite signs reading "no trespassing," they sit on lawns to pose with flowers.
Many love showing off their wealth, despite making every effort to cheat store clerks or sneak past ticket takers because, they say, “it is exhilarating to do something secretly.”
Worse, many pretend to enter other countries as tourists, but overstay their visas to work illegally. Those who go overseas to work under proper contracts sometimes quit their jobs to work illegally or establish robbery and smuggling gangs.
The international image of Vietnamese people has never been as bad as it is now. Discrimination against Vietnamese exists in almost all foreign countries in different forms and levels and for good reasons.
It's a pity that not a single local agency has taken steps to address this problem.
Vietnamese bad manners obviously stem from people's attitude toward rules and laws. Many believe that because rules can be easily bent in Vietnam with money and power, the same goes for other countries.
Let’s start with making law enforcement in our own country strict and effective. Then we can take the necessary steps toward punishing overseas crimes.
Each and every one of us needs to improve our manners. In this digital age, anything can go viral on the Internet in a blink. Whether we want it or not, bad behavior anywhere can become known to the world in just a few minutes.
Without strong measures, Vietnamese behavior overseas will continue to bring more trouble than fun. Only we can help ourselves. It is impossible to force others to form good impressions of us, given that we still have many problems that need to be fixed.
Nguyen Van My
* The writer is the chairman of Lua Viet Tours Company in Ho Chi Minh City and has worked as an outbound tour guide for many years. The views expressed are his own.
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