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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Ho Chi Minh

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?


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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

I have tried and tried to leard Vietnamese. But they have 6 tones and I can't hear the different tones let alone replicate them. I know quite a few nouns and not much else but I get around nicely thanks.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?


How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

None at all. Vietnam is as different to New Zealand as you can get and it has several cultural differences plus the climate is very different. I knew all this before I arrived and they are the reasons that I came here. I have a sales baqckground and we are risk takers and change agents by definition so that made it easier for me.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?


What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.


What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

I love this place. The people are just wonderful, teh food is amazing, everything is super cheap, there is a dynamism about the place and it is great to be a part of a country that is growing rapidly.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The expats! They are mostly a miserable bunch of moaners. I woudl love to see how they answer the above questions.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

None that are newsworthy and they are so forgiving when I do one.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Come here with an open mind, do your research and ALWAYS remember that you are a guest in their country and behave as such.

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Comments about this Report

Jun 27, 2012 17:08

I have been trying t make contacts with folks who live and work in HCM City to establish a beachhead to land once I arrive there in mid-September. Since I'm traveling solo it helps to make contact with people and lessen the cultural shock to enable me to better adapt to the changes I will encounter. Also, it will lessen the mystery of figuring out where to shop, who to trust and who not to trust, and where people like me gather and share their daily experiences. I discovered this technique when I went to Ecuador last year for a month and a half. Better to make these discoveries before you go rather than fumble on missed opportunities trying to figure out how the whole process works alone and without someone to share it with. I'm especially interested in meeting with the Kiwi that was highlighted in this piece and feel that he would be a good person to meet once I arrive to help me acclimate to the terrain that I haven't seen in 42+ years. I can be reached at --David

Jan 16, 2013 14:50

I just have a few words about culture shock in general, then about Ho chi Minh city aka Saigon. First let me say that I spent most of my US Air Force career in the far east with two tours to Japan, twice to South Korea, one tour in Thailand, and three years in Nam. My lone overseas tour to Europe was to England. So I have been around a bit, living in several countries and having long visits to other countries both in the far east and Europe. Culture shock is what you make it. Keep an open mind and it will not create bad experiences for you. Understand that each country has a different perspective on life than your country. Don't measure your experiences abroad by what you expect at home. I spent a lot of years in other peoples back yard and got along famously. I fit in because I kept an open mind and adapted quickly. If you want bacon and eggs for breakfast every morning then stay in New York or whereever or pay for the privilage. That's right, the privilage. That old addage "When in Rome etc" applies. Leave your ego and your outrage at home and you'll get along fine. You'll adopt new ideas and have a lot of great experiences that will last in your memories long after you return to your normal or comfort zone. Now we come to Ho Chi Minh City. I lived in Old Saigon for a little more than two years during the war. I traveled throughout South Vietnam and spent several months living on Cam Rhan Bey Air Base before my Saigon days. There was not much to learn about culture shock at Cam Rhan because we were not allowed off base. When I finally was transferred to Saigon things changed. I lived on the "economy" as we called it(lived off the air base in an apartment), had a house maid, road cycelos, pedicabs or Pujeous everywhere (terrible spelling, sorry). I took showers under a gutter spout outside because the shower water smelled like a septic tank, didn't eat any salads, got dysintary several times, malaria, and was accosted by groups of young men on occasion. Gee whiz. Today the water cituation is better with many areas having good tap water(which I still won't drink) wonderful restaurants serving many different cuisines, French, Italian, German, other European and many Asian styles. There are even McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut. The bars have karioki and western beers. There are shopping malls, theaters, grocery stores, auto dealerships, banks galore, and anything your heart desires. There are also Hondas, millions of them. Where once were the minions on bicycles, now those bicycles have evolved into motorcycles. There are probably more motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City than in the entire United States of America and I firmly believe that is true. I rened a taxi for all my travels this past year. It was inexpensive and the taxi drivers were knowlegable and able to get us where we wanted to go. I didn't live in Ho Chi Minh City this time in Nam. I lived in a tiny viillage in the Delta jungle, in a house we had built several years ago. I had not been back ti Vietnam since the war. I left after the treaty was signed. I was shocked that things in the city had changed so much. When I left, the tallest building was one of the downtown hotels(about 10 stories)and when I returned, there were buildings reaching to the sky all over the city. Huge changes in the structural landscape, modern buildings everywhere. I could not recognize anything. It was like a new world opening up. One that I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. I had dreaded going back to Vietnam, worried about how I would be treated by the people and government. What a shock when we were treated with respect and welcomed with open arms, kindness and understanding. I'd love to tell you about all our experiences but that would take more time than I have right now. Enough to say, if you have not been to Ho Chi Minh City in 40 years like me, be prepared for a wonderful experience. And if you are going back into the jungle like we did, be prepared for change. The village I stayed in had one other house built of brick when we had one built for my wifes father 15 years ago. When we went back in February(my first time there) every family was housed in there own brick house, no more thatch roof homes (although some are still standing in a few areas) and most have electricity, T.V. and other appliances. This is IN THE JUNGLE!!! If you have any questions taht you think I can answer for you please feel free to contact me at I am not an expat but intend to live in Vietnam 5 months aout of the year and spend the other 7 months here in Montana(April thru November for fishing and hunting seasons). P.S. If anyone out there knows how big a motor cycle is legal in Nam and anything about licensing and insurance, please contact me. Thanks.

Mar 6, 2013 23:33

I've only been here 5 weeks so I'm not sure how long it would take to leave the honeymoon stage. One thing I did to prepare myself is I made a conscious decision to leave all my cultural traditions behind. I observe and copy what I see around me. I do not want to be different, I want to assimilate. I live in a mostly Vietnamese neighborhood and tend to stay away from places that expats hang out.

Mar 13, 2013 12:13

It's really sad to hear all the negative comments about the expats in VN. I'm also an Expat and have several friends here that love & respect this culture. Not sure what your problems with Expats are but, maybe it's your attitude towards them

Nov 18, 2015 10:38

Agree on the moaning expats. I have encountered more expats during my time in SE Asia with attitudes of entitlement while often whining about the people, culture and government. The sad thing is, many expats either don't realize or care how deplorable and downright uncivilized their behavior comes across to the local population - most of whom tolerate it due to their non-confrontational culture. Unfortunately, SE Asia is increasingly becoming the go to destination for among budget conscious travelers and those with limited financial means. This obviously is attracting the type of tourist/expat that makes all their countrymen look bad.

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