Your 304-Word Vietnamese Mini Culture Lesson

The traffic in Viet Nam never rests. Motorbikes rev their engines at the stoplights – so many they appear to be contestants in a grand prix. When the signal comes, they careen through the narrow streets from what seems like several directions at once. Cars and pedestrians exist only as obstacles for their frenetic racecourse. If there are traffic laws, they are impenetrable to the outsider. Horns pierce the air in a steady tattoo. The streets are not for the faint of heart. They are not for me. Even worse is the news that if I want to cross, I must do it slowly.

The guidebooks all agree – walk, don’t run. Start at the curb and wait for a reasonable space between yourself and the screeching traffic. Walk slowly and purposefully so the drivers can see you and plan to go around you. The guidebooks all insist that this works. Reading it, it seems like a fairy tale – Mogwai turn into Gremlins when wet, and frogs turn into princes. It’s absurd. Mad racers will stop for a slow-walking pedestrian? Craziness.

It really is one of those things you’ll have to experience to believe. Wait until the cars are gone and it’s just you, the motorbikes and the chickens. Take a step. Let them see you. Ignore the horns – in Viet Nam, horns are the driver’s Walk Slow maneuver; let everyone else know you’re coming so they can plan. Ignore the fact that no … one … seems … to … be … stopping ..!!! Take another step. Take another. Before you know it, the motorbikes swerve artfully. Your heart will begin beating again. You will count your limbs – all there. You will be at the other side of the street. Incredibly, you will remain in one piece.

It’s true. Honest. Like I said, you have to experience it to believe it.

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