On racism, culturalism, and travel

I took a tour of Ho Chi Minh City (and/or Saigon) alongside an English couple. That's "from England", not just English-speaking. Technically also British, but more specifically, oh screw it just watch the video... 

With that done, I was on the tour with an Englishman and Englishwoman and, being as it was such a small group, we got to know each other. He was George and for the purposes of this blog we'll call her Victoria. And it wasn't long before we got into politics. This is a topic I approach delicately, as Americans abroad have a reputation and I try to defy stereotypes.

don't  be like me

George and I discussed what Uncle Ho would think of the Starbucksification of his Communist paradise (it turns out he might not be so bothered--he was concerned as much or more about nationalism, independence, and unification. Communism, like all -isms of a certain size, will encompass a spectrum of folks from zealots to pragmatists). We discussed The American War, and why the conflict, while very real and painful, was a "small-term problem" for the Vietnamese compared to their once and future threat. And, unavoidably, we joked about how Trump gonna fix it.

So I believe I'm dealing with like-minded folk--after all, you meet someone with a passport, they likely take a broad worldview, right?*

*I'm not arguing the reverse--that people without passports are necessarily isolationist. But I am saying that if you go through the time, trouble, and expense to own a passport, chances are you want to see the world beyond your window.

So since we've shared a chuckle about the flagbearer of America First, as we stand in the War Remnants Museum lobby I make a Brexit joke. Safe, right?

"Well," Victoria says, "we voted for Brexit." She then explains that they have such problems these days with Eastern Europeans coming in, taking jobs, and they work for so much less than we do... "it's a problem," she repeats.

This is not a novel argument--I've heard this in The States about Mexicans, and when I visited the Dominican Republic I heard this about Haitians (and they don't say "parsley" right).

So you'd think I would've learned not to bring such topics up, right?

I never claimed to be, like, a really smart person.

So I nodded sympathetically, because I'm not changing anyone's opinion, nor do I have the right to tell them what's right for their country, or countries, or isles, or...

And then, at the first opening, I scurry off to whatever floor they aren't going to.

When we later reconvene, I'm confident that we won't have any more unpleasantness. After all, they must've picked up on my discomfort: the English are known for their grasp of subtlety. 

Not quite:

On our way to lunch:

Victoria: Do you like the food here?

Me: Absolutely!

Victoria: Really? I can't handle soup for breakfast.

Me:...

At lunch:

Me: So where else have you traveled on this trip?

Victoria: South Africa. It was lovely.

Me: Yeah?

Victoria: Oh yes, and so much more affordable then here.

Me: Really?

Victoria: Yes. The wine is excellent, and they make it right there.

Me:...

On our way to the Chinese Buddhist temple:

Victoria: The Chinese are just awful!

Me: Oh?

Victoria: Yes! They're so rude! And they're ev-erywhere. In fact, there's a shop we visit in London. blahblahblah They had a help wanted sign, and it said 'Mandarin speakers preferred.' Can you believe that?

Me: I guess they have money.

And by this point I'm done feeling any embarrassment and decide to have a little fun with Queen Vicky, and expose some of my biases.

Me: I have noticed the Chinese struggle with line-standing, so that is annoying. Of course, the absolute worst are the Irish. Sooo obnoxious.

She bristles, and the convo pretty well dies. And, honestly, I do find the Irish pretty obnoxious while abroad--you can't take them anywhere:

So is there a point to this story? Yeah: at home or abroad, I would encourage you to remember Wheaton's Law: