I must admit to a litte nervousness when we landed in Vietnam. I mean, this is a country that we Americans were at war with not so very long ago. A pretty nasty and contentious war by all accounts. A war that my own father-in-law fought in.
I didn’t know whether the people of Vietnam would hold that against us. I mean, Andy and I are pretty obviously American. We’re taller and broader than 99.9% of the population. We’re strolling around Ha Noi in our matching North Face fleece jackets and Converse sneakers. We stick out.
That’s not to say that we’re not really trying to fit in. We eat only local food at street stalls and we’re masters with chop sticks. We spend our evenings drinking bia hoi (the home brewed and preservative free beer) with locals rather than sipping Heineken’s at an expat bar. We’ve tried really hard to pick up some Vietnamese words so we can converse with the people here on their terms.
But, despite all these efforts, I sometimes have a moment of panic whenever a Vietnamese person asks us where we’re from. Do I lie and say we’re Australian or British or Canadian? No. I really couldn’t do that. Instead I say, quietly but proudly, “We’re American. From Georgia.”
And, so far, every single time I’ve said this, I’ve gotten a positive response.
Last night was an especially cold night in Ha Noi. Andy and I were looking for a warm dinner and we came across a restaurant full of locals eating plates of rice with various side dishes. We walked in and started the (sometimes painful!) process of pointing at things, using our ridiculous attempts at Vietnamese and just guessing what we’re ordering. The sweet little girls behind the counter, as well as half the patrons of the restaurant, were giggling at us almost as much as we were giggling at ourselves!
We got our plates and went to a little plastic table near the door. Before we could even really start eating the owner of the restaurant, a well-dressed woman in her early 50’s, asked us where we were from. I told her we’re American and she got so excited. She tried so hard, in her very limited English, to explain to me that her daughter lives in the USA. She was gleaming, so proud. Like any mother anywhere would be when talking about their successful child.
The owner disappeared for a few minutes and I began to eat (rice, sauteed Asian greens, tofu, a pork rib.) Then, she reappeared with a huge stack of pictures. She’d run upstairs to her living quarters above the restaurant to bring down all her photos of her daughter in America. She showed me each photo, her daughter in a cap and gown at university, her daughter and son at Disney World, a photo of her daughter’s degree, pride and happiness all over her face.
We finished our meal and I asked the owner if I could take her photo. She posed on the sidewalk in front of her small restaurant, holding a picture of her daughter in America.
I’ve got nothing to worry about. We’ve received such a warm welcome here. Vietnam and the Vietnamese people have truly moved on.