Passengers at Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Photo by Hoang Quyen
Normally, there are few people taking flights out of Ho Chi Minh City soon after Tet (the Lunar New Year), but not this year: On February 4 passengers were scrambling to check in at Tan Son Nhat airport.
It might have been because of the long holidays and the fact that young people prefer to travel rather than stay at home with their family.
Whenever it gets crowded at airports, inevitably people have to wait for long and some might even miss their flights.
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In this context, I want to talk about the unwillingness of Vietnamese to queue.
The lack of a queuing culture among Vietnamese has been criticized for long and critics often contrast this with the situation in developed countries like Japan, Singapore, and others.
Jostling is a common scene everywhere in Vietnam: on the streets during rush hour, in supermarkets and shops, bus and ferry stations, government offices, hospitals, and schools when applying for their children.
It also happens when people compete to steal flowers at festivals, for sushi promotion, and get free helmets.
This has created a very bad and uncivilized image for Vietnamese and underlines their lack of community spirit and responsibility.
Maybe the reason for the scramble at the airport was the fear of missing the flight, but people were willing to shove others aside, even old or disabled people and children.
They did this even though airlines had personnel on duty who gave late passengers priority for checking in.
Even after checking in and getting the boarding pass, they continued to create a ruckus at the security check counter.
Many did not stand in the queues but instead went straight to the front if there was no airport official or other passengers did not tell them to queue.
They also breached the red line often.
On January 26 a similar messy scene was seen at Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport. There was some problem after two luggage carousels broke down. More than 700 passengers arriving on two Vietnam Airlines flights had to wait for the airport staff to deliver their luggage manually.
Needless to say, the chaos lasted more than an hour with people jostling to grab their luggage though the staff tried their best to hand them over quickly after trying in vain to make the people queue up.
I and some other passengers, including two Japanese, helped the staff carry the luggage away from the door to make the delivery easier.
I also tried to explain to the two Japanese that since it was just before Tet everyone has several pieces of luggage. They smiled sympathetically but still shook their heads while contemplating the rowdy scene.
Airline passengers are usually well-off and knowledgeable, but these traits are nowhere to be seen when they jostle in a public place.
The idea of grabbing an advantage over others or being faster than them makes people lose self-control even when they may be aware that they are doing a bad thing.
The lack of a queuing culture also indicates poor behavior in public places.
In an unjust and non-transparent society, a not-so-small group of officials do not set a good example by caring about their own benefits than those of the community. It has led to selfishness in daily life.
When they jostle for an advantage over others, people are merely reacting to the daily injustices they suffer at the hands of authorities. For suffering people, thinks like queuing and other public etiquette become trivial.
Queuing at an airport reflects a country’s friendliness and civility. But when we do not do it, we cannot talk about calling on people to observe social decorum.
In his New Year message, the prime minister called for reforms which act as a motive factor in the country’s development. Should he not call for reform of socio-cultural management?
There should be transparency, justness, and responsibility on the part of administrative agencies. It will create a civilized society and improve the behavior of people in public places, creating motivation for social development in future.
By Truong Yen*
* The writer is a university lecturer and blogger who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City. The opinions expressed are his own.