Oh Cr@p, I Have Culture Shock
So here we are in Vietnam, reunited as a family, after my unplanned solo parenting adventure in Europe.
Miss M and I have been back six weeks, yet it still seems like our new adventure hasn’t started.
Since we arrived, I have been battered quite severely by culture shock, a fact that has left Darling Man completely baffled.
“But you lived in Vietnam before,” he said. “You know what it’s like. Why are you angry about things now?”
But this angry and frustrated-about-everything mood is not just about Vietnam. It’s about trying to set up our new life AND look after a toddler AND fulfil my work obligations AND organise home help AND get Miss M settled in day care, all without Darling Man. Because he went back to work three days after I arrived. And he’s working Vietnam-style, out of the house 12 hours a day, six days a week.
And I really miss him.
I have been sick almost the entire six weeks. First the remnants of the flu that I caught in Switzerland, then a feverish stomach bug Miss M brought home from day care, then a terrible flu that included a gross hacking cough.
It has been a tough ride, and I’m almost as baffled by the culture shock as Darling Man.
It seems the culmination of so many disappointments, starting in Chiang Mai when we first discovered that getting a Schengen visa for Darling Man wasn’t a straightforward operation and continuing in Europe with the news that there would be no family cycling and camping holiday. And all made worse by loneliness and a conga-line of diseases.
So now I seem unable to cope with things that should be mild annoyances. And it seems like every little thing is just so damn difficult.
Things like the internet only working intermittently. For no apparent reason. And always cutting out when I’m trying to meet a work deadline.
Things like getting furniture into the house and into the correct rooms.
Things like getting plain sheets instead of headache-inducing patterned ones.
Things like working out how to do a grocery run when the wet market is too stinky for Miss M and the nearest supermarket doesn’t sell meat.
Thinks like Miss M suddenly peeing in her pants again, after months of happily using the toilet.
Things like Miss M getting sick and vomiting EVERYWHERE and on everything, including our entire stock of sheets during the course of one night.
Thinks like the mosquito-zapping racquet I bought not working. And the mop bucket I bought not working.
Things like a fish-seller yelling at me for taking her photo. Which is kind of understandable because I didn’t ask permission. I just started taking photos of fish, then unthinkingly moved the camera to include her. But it made me miss Chiang Mai, where people smiled at crazy Westerners with cameras.
And the home help. Part of our returning-to-Vietnam adventure was having a live-in helper. (Most people translate người giúp as maid but the literal translation is help-person and I like the literal version better. It sounds so much less colonial.)
A helper was supposed to give me time to work for money, to work on exciting creative projects that may or may not make money and to hang out with Miss M.
But the helpers are not proving particularly helpful.
We are on our third helper in less than five weeks and I don’t think this one is going to last. Partly for security reasons – she keeps leaving the house without telling me and leaving the front gate unlocked, a big no-no considering the local crime rates. Partly because I’m annoyed by her laziness – she cannot or will not look for tasks that need to be done. If she is not told explicitly to do something, she’ll take a nap in the spare room. And these naps can last several hours. Another part of the problem is that I cannot understand her accent so the communication barrier is almost impossible to cross. (She’s from a border town and even Darling Man says her Vietnamese is hard to understand.)
Our second helper left after three days, after receiving a call that her father was dying. So she jumped on a bus to go home to look after him.
Our first helper was sacked because I could not fit my working schedule around her demands – no cooking because she wasn’t paid enough and leaving at 3pm because she wasn’t paid enough. She considered the salary adequate when she thought she would be working for a Vietnamese family but when she realised there was a Westerner in the house she decided the salary on offer wasn’t enough, so began listing all the things she wouldn’t do. Oh, so helpful.
I got tired of her constant demands for new cleaning equipment when Darling Man and I were able to use the existing equipment to clean the house before she was hired. I also got tired of her standing beside me while I cooked. (In Vietnam, standing beside someone while they do something is considered helpful, apparently.) Miss M didn’t like helper number one for some reason, so I couldn’t leave them alone together because it would trigger a toddler tantrum.
I just basically could not handle the woman and could see no way to manage her long-term and keep my sanity.
I also could not actually concentrate on work while the first helper was with us because she kept tapping my arm and trying to tell me things. I KNOW it’s probably hard for a poor Vietnamese woman to understand that staring at a laptop perched on top of an ironing board is working, but it is.
I thought this part of the helper problem would be resolved when we bought a desk and installed it in the spare room. But it didn’t. She would come in and try to talk to me anyway.
For the first few weeks we didn’t have transport. So I was spending a fortune on taxis, driven by taxi drivers who accidentally-on-purpose couldn’t find places so drove around in circles for far too long.
So I’ve been waiting to bounce back. Waiting and waiting and waiting. And I haven’t bounced yet. Not even when I realised that the pants that wouldn’t do up in Switzerland are magically loose.
I wanted to bounce back before I wrote about “the troubles”. But I think it’s just starting to seem weird that we’ve been in Vietnam so long and I am not writing about it.
But the fact is I am NOT HAPPY JAN*.
So, sorry if I sound overly-whiny. I think that’s what culture shock is. An excess of whiny-ness.
I am hoping our crazy trip to Vung Tau this week will cure the culture shock and help me enjoy Vietnam once again.
I’ll let you know what happens.
*For the non-Australians, “not happy Jan” became a figure of speech after this ad campaign:
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7 years ago