I’m sure that a lot of you will agree that one of the best ways to learn about a country and its culture is by meeting and interacting with the locals. I therefore count myself as being extremely lucky in having the opportunity to spend a good 4 days staying with and being hosted by a Vietnamese family over Tet. Spending nearly 24 hours a day with my open and friendly hosts allowed me to experience family life in Vietnam, and absorb first hand knowledge about life as a local.
5 Things I Learnt Staying With a Vietnamese Family
1. Vietnamese practice next-level hospitality
My host in Vietnam was a friend of a friend. I had never met her before and she knew next to nothing about me. This didn’t stop her from offering her family home to me for the duration of my stay. And not only that. She made cab arrangements for me to and from Hanoi airport, planned my trip to Halong Bay, in addition to showing me around Hanoi whilst I was staying with her. All this for pretty much a stranger! Her entire family also welcomed me as part of the family, no questions asked.
Oh, and another thing. Most of our meals were home-cooked dishes, eaten at a table with the rest of the family. What I ate was thus under constant scrutiny and I was continually pushed to eat more, and gently chided when I politely declined. My (by now) friend kept telling me that her mom was worried that I wasn’t eating enough and was going hungry, which I gently assured her wasn’t the case at all!
2. Vietnamese eat three square meals a day, consisting of fresh, simple food
Though my hosts enjoy pushing their guests to eat, I observed that they themselves do not eat a lot. They ate three square meals a day, consisting of either rice or noodles, and a variety of simple dishes for sharing. All of the food is home-cooked, made from fresh ingredients bought from the open air market on a daily basis. There also seems to be no snacking during the rest of the day. It really is no wonder that the Vietnamese tend to be so slim (with an entire family able to fit on one motorbike!).
3. Family comes first
After a number of conversations about what life was like in Vietnam, it very quickly became clear to me that family is the number one priority for the Vietnamese. The grandmother of the family was visited daily, with the aunts and uncles frequently calling on one another to exchange home-cooked dishes, desserts or other treats. The cousins are a close knit bunch, with all of them tagging along to show me around Hanoi when I met them for the first time on the eve of Tet. Lovely!
4. Motorbikes – a vehicle for the masses
Everyone rides motorbikes or scooters around town. From the rich to the poor, young and old, men and women, Hanoi was just teeming with them. With the Vietnamese being so slim and tiny, it is not uncommon to see three or four people on a single bike. That’s extreme carpooling folks! These guys also seem to be able to transport everything and the kitchen sink on their bikes. Impressive skills.
5. Local buses…
Are to be avoided at all costs (just walking across the road is an adventure in itself!). If this is not possible, limit the distances travelled by road by flying or riding the train to the nearest stop, then taking the bus. The recommendation was also to try to fly with Vietnam Airlines rather than the local budget airlines, Vietjet and Jetstar, whose safety records are apparently a little sketchy.
Have you been to Vietnam? What did you learn about the people and the culture / way of life?