Before moving to the UAE, I had ived in Vietnam for nearly six years. Saigon had been our home, where we gained a lot of friends and rich experiences. We’ve been in the UAE for six months, still in our adjustment period. There’s a lot to learn, and we are always excited to try new food, and explore new cultures and surroundings, and observe new rules. So right before my memory of my former home fades, I have listed below my observations and experiences. All of them are true (well at least for me).
Enjoy my comparison and contrast of our old and new home.
1. “Em oi/Chi oi/ Anh oi” Vs “My friend”
In Vietnam, you address a person according to his or her age. When you go to a restaurant, you call the waiter or the waitress “Em oi” if he or she is younger than you, “Chi oi” for a waitress whom you think is older than you, and “Anh oi” for the male counterpart. Most of the time, they’d call me ‘Chi oi!’ and this made me want to scream “Hey, you are older than me!” Lols! But You should understand that being called ‘Chi’ has got some level of respect.
Here in UAE, (almost) everyone calls each other “My friend”. When you take a taxi, the cabbie asks “‘My friend, where do you want to go?” One time were were in the souk (market) and the seller called out, ‘My friend!’ then my son turned his head on me, giggled and said ”Mom, he said am his friend’ ;-). Yes, everyone here is ‘my friend’ no matter the age or gender.
In comparison, expect to be called “boss” or “madam” if you dress up nicely. :-)
2. XXL VS Medium
In Saigon, it was very hard to find a dress for myself as they didn’t have XXL and sometimes the em oi would say ”we don’t have XXXL, madam”. I mean, they do have places where I could buy bigger sizes but I’d have to pay more as they are more expensive than the free sized ones. Quite often a saleslady would just stop you before you could even open their door with a “NO NO” hand sign as they have already guessed they couldn’t cater to your needs. What a heart ache! That was shopping in Saigon for me.
In Dubai, my size is small or medium, which has completely surprised me. I mean, in a good way! I like their sizes here! Mind you, my weight and body structure haven’t changed but I love my new label- Medium! That’s quite a psychological boost and is really good for self esteem! So wherever I go, I know there is always something for me, be it a dress or a pair of shoes. The bad thing is, they always have promotions and they even have the entire month of January for The Dubai Shopping Festival and I reckon that happens every year. For practical consumers who only buy when they need something, be very careful though as the Dubai malls could change you.
Where do tourists shop for souvenirs? Ben Thanh Market in Saigon and the old souks in Dubai.
3. KPOP VS Bollywood
When you turn on the TV, or a page of their magazine or newspapers, apart from Vietnamese celebrities, you will see Korean actors or singers. The fashion amongst young Vietnamese is so much influenced by KPOP as well. That is why Korean dramas have been a hit in Saigon and a few teenagers are actively involved in KPOP fan clubs.
In the UAE, my family has subscribed to Gulf News and in their tabloid, you can always see updates of Bollywood celebrities. Probably this is because of majority of UAE residents are Indians but don’t be surprised to see Bollywood films competing with Hollywood movies in the cinemas and fashion greatly influenced by Bollywood stars.
I have yet to see the UAE embracing KPOP but I don’t think Bollywood could make waves in Vietnam.
4. Celebrations: Tet VS Eid
In Vietnam, we would always look forward to January or February as this meant a two-week off from work! Tet or Lunar New Year is the biggest celebration in Vietnam (the most important holiday, in fact) and in their tradition, people would go back to their hometowns to celebrate this season with their family and friends. The children would receive a red envelope with the lucky money inside it.
Eid Al-Fitr or The Festival of Fast-Breaking is one big joyous celebration in UAE, this commences after Ramadan when they fast for a month. This year’s Eid is on 28th of July, 2014. The Muslims would gather with their families and they also give presents to the children.
5. Expats / Travelers VS Locals
Walk through the streets of Pham Ngu Lao, De Tham and Bui Vien and you will see right there how travelers/expats behave in Viet Nam. They could also easily punch jokes with the locals. Here in UAE, all the residents and tourists treat the locals with high regard. They would think twice before cracking a joke on them, for cultural reasons of course.
Being an amateur photographer, it was not difficult for me to take photos of Vietnamese in their Ao Dai. I did street photography a lot and never had a problem with taking photos of people. But NO, you can’t do that here. You have to be careful not to offend anybody- fellow expats and locals!
Companies in Vietnam pay the locals relatively low wage compared to their expat counterparts but it is not the case in UAE. Locals here are rich and are entitled to certain privileges. So if you ever employ one, you would have to pay more than you pay the expats.
Lastly, Vietnamese don’t mind you swearing in English, they would always give you more understanding and would ignore whatever bad things that come out from your mouth because you are upset with the service or product or you just swear out of habit. In short, they are very forgiving.
In the UAE, say one filthy word and you’d find yourself in the airport, ready to be deported ;-)
Wait, that was an exaggeration. You will be at least fined or better yet, do your research before you put yourself in trouble.