A patriotic American myself, I am blessed to hail from the Land of Opportunity. However, sometimes one just wants to fit in while abroad…especially when tourist season hits and flocks of our (sometimes obnoxious) compatriots descend on the city. Here’s how to bamboozle the natives and avoid looking like an American.
How to Look Spiffy
Ok, so the weather is warming up. A lot. I know you are dying to slip into those Havaianas to show off your freshly painted toenails, but just. don’t. do. it. I haven’t seen a single Italian wear them, and contrary to popular belief I HAVE seen my fair share of Italians this semester. And shorts? Put ‘em back in the duffel. Italians as a whole cover their legs for the most part. I’ve seen longer skirts, but you will definitely get attention for wearing shorts (and that’s not always a good thing!) When going out at night, avoid wearing tight, short skirts without tights. This is a telltale sign you are American, and practically speaking, this getup isn’t really conducive to club dancing. Also, for your safety, don’t disembark in stiletto heels at night. The cobblestones present a particular challenge, especially after a glass or two of vino! Your best bet is to stick with neutral colors and natural materials such as leather. After all, Italians are known for their effortlessly chic style.
You slept in and are late to class. Yikes! Your first inclination is to run out the door and jog to class, book bag in hand, in complete disregard of others. Looking and acting as if you are in a rush will identify you as a foreigner. As our Italian Cultural History professor explained, Italian time is more of an estimate. You’ve got about 15 minutes leeway to show up to appointments, etc. Italians embrace their pace of life, something that I’ve found has greatly reduced my stress. (Note that buses and trains DO run on time, and CET classes for that matter…)
Speaking of buses and trains, make sure you validate your tickets! There’s nothing like being singled out of a crowded bus and given a steep ticket for not knowing the cultural norms of public transportation.
*When making a grocery run*
Bring your own knapsack to the grocery store or don’t be surprised when a single plastic bag costs .08. Though this is such a miniscule cost, it does add up, is less environmentally-conscious and could identify you as a foreigner. Also, if the grocery store has a member card you can sign up for, get one! Residents can sign up for a card which gives you great deals and makes you smile every time you pull it out at the register proving not only to the cashier, but to everyone else that you are a (semi) permanent resident! Now, when you are at the register, avoid paying with the 1 and 2 eurocents. The coins are so infrequently used that I’ve gotten strange looks when I pay with them. Sometimes cashiers even round up or down a cent when giving you change.
- Don’t order a cappuccino in the afternoon! An Italian coffee is ok, and even said to help digestion, but ordering a cappuccino post-lunch is bad form.
- If you go out for an aperitivo, limit the number of times you go back to the buffet. One plate should be sufficient. Each subsequent plate only hampers your ability to fit in. After all, this is supposed to be a pre-dinner snack, not a multi-course meal. While you’re at it, order a glass of wine or a Spritz as your drink. These are the drinks locals tend to get and you may be disappointed at an Italian interpretation of a certain cocktail anyways. Margar-whatta?
- When ordering gelato, don’t mix a cream-based gelato such as Nocciola (Hazlenut) with a fruit-based gelato like Limon. Something about compromising the integrity of the flavors…
- Steer clear of any restaurant advertising its menu with images of food. These places aren’t usually as authentic and cater to tourists. The pictures never even look that good anyways!
- Ensure that the mushrooms on your pizza are Porcino! The flavor of these mushrooms surpasses the alternatives and your knowledge of this Tuscan specialty will impress natives.
These are merely my humble observations. They may or may not work for you. With some behavioral adaptations, however, you should be able to assimilate into the Italian culture and fool them at least for a first glance. This being said, if you’ve got blonde hair…good luck!
My nearly 24 hours of travel time finally ended last night as my Japan Airlines flight landed in Ho Chi Minh City. I have now decided that Al Nippon Air is officially my favorite airline. Despite being crammed into tiny economy seats, the beautiful Japanese flight attendants served us an amazing teriyaki beef dish with hot tea, miso soup, and noodles. Never before in my life had a finished my plate of airplane food wanting seconds. Well done ANA. Well done.
Next level dining.
The wait at baggage claim was an excruciating experience. I had very little faith that my bag had travelled the distance from SFO to HCMC. Staring at that loading belt to the baggage carousel was like opening gift after gift at Christmas hoping for a Nintendo 64 only to find books and clothes beneath the wrapping paper. Except Nintendo 64s usually aren’t full of life saving malaria medication. Luckily I got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas and my green rolly suitcase did indeed make it to Vietnam, but two of my trip mates were not so lucky. They got socks for Christmas. Their luggage which was apparently stuck in Chicago will hopefully be arriving tonight. Good luck to them both.
Finally, after leaving the airport and making it to our guesthouse in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, we were all ready to pass out in a comatose-like sleep, but, of course, not before getting to meet our program director Alyce Van. Alyce has been living in Vietnam for five years, but is originally from Orange County, CA. After studying at Yale, she spent 5 years running the CET Academic Programs in Vietnam, so we are definitely in good hands. We were also introduced to her assistant, Kai. Kai is a second year Vietnamese college student attending one of the most prestigious international business schools in the country. His English is very good and he has been super helpful at helping us all settle in. Although it was great meeting Alyce and Kai, I was miles past absolute exhaustion so it was certainly bed time. Too exhausted to throw a fit when Alyce told us breakfast was at 7:00am. I can get cranky when I’m tired.
I was assigned to the luxurious room 124, complete with two beds, A/C, and a fully functioning bathroom! Hold on, let me quickly clarify “fully functioning”. We have a toilet, a sink, a mirror, and an shower open spout that pours directly onto the bathroom floor. At least its hot water. Nonetheless, the rooms are comfortable and one really can’t complain. Have yet to spot any spiders in this country, so my arachnophobic self is as happy as a clam. A spider free country? That’s something I could get used to.
Once I hit my bed I almost immediately passed out, falling into a beautiful Jet Lag induced sleep. But Jet Lag giveth, and Jet Lag taketh away. Around 4:30am I woke up, fully alert, and not in the least bit tired. All I could do was will myself back to sleep for the remaining 2.5 hours before breakfast. But on the bright side, I have never been so awake at 7am in my life! Maybe that has something to do with why I am nearly falling asleeeeeep as I write this………
For breakfast we went on a short walk around the corner to an alley market where I was finally introduced to the wonderful world of Pho. I wasn’t sure what the Vietnamese eat for breakfast, so I asked Kai, to which he responded “Vietnamese food!” Of course I asked him what they eat for lunch and dinner, to which he again responded “Vietnamese food!” Looks like I will be eating a lot of Pho. This was also where I realized how dirt cheap everything in this country is! A big bowl of Pho with a bottle of water? 35,000 Dong!! Sounds a lot cheaper when you covert that to about $1.50! All in all a great breakfast and a great way to start the day.
After a quick orientation with Alyce in which we were given 800,000 dong (about 40 bucks) in spending money, we went for a 2 hour walking tour through downtown Ho Chi Minh City. ***A quick note on the difference between Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon. Saigon was the name of this city up until 1975 when the North Vietnamese captured South Vietnam and as the US dipped out of the war, creating the unified nation we know today as Vietnam. To rub the victory in the world’s face, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the north, renamed the city in his honor. Despite the city being officially known as HCMC, Vietnamese Americans who fled South Vietnam during the war like to honor the history of the city by calling it by its “true” name. Most Vietnamese tend to prefer Saigon merely because its a complete pain in the ass to keep saying Ho Chi Minh City all the time.*** Now back to the story. So our walking tour was amazing! Within the first five minutes me and few other guys broke down and bought a Vietnamese sandwich for no more than 50 cents. Pure deliciousness. Of course I quickly calculated that my weekly stipend can buy me about 80 of these. Don’t temp me street venders…
On this tour we all got a cash course in crossing the street in Vietnam. The streets here are ridiculous! absolutely full of motorbikes, cars, busses, and the occasional rickshaw. To the inexperienced traveler (me about an hour ago), crossing the street would seem just as easy as crossing a lava flow assuming you don’t want to end up like Anakin Skywalker (first Star Wars reference!). Alyce told us the key is to walk steadily and consisently across the street, letting everyone else avoid you, but “you have to dodge the busses and cars, they will just hit you”. With that sobering advice, we took to traffic like Patches O’houlihan.
Along our walking tour we walked by the American Embassy which was guarded by soldiers donning AK-47s while the Spanish Embassy guard dudes were chilling drinking ice tea or something. Why so serious US? Along the way we found that a very nice Vietnamese policeman was following us, making good use of his whistle as he kept us safe by direction traffic around us an keeping an eye out for possible pick pocketers. He was nice. I like to call him Tom. After about 5 minutes he left though. And now I’m sad.
One of the highlights of the day was eating at a very famous restaurant called Pho 2000: Pho For the President. According to photographic evidence, President Bill Clinton actually ate here in 2000! The food was pretty good so I see why. I decided to go all out and try the allegedly very good Avacado Smoothie. I was surprised to find that it was actually delicious and amazingly refreshing in the humidity.
On the way back, in a typical South-East Asia fashion, it starting pooring rain so we took shelter in the famous opera house downtown. We then realized that for 9 dollars we could see an opera tonight at 5pm, apparently a very good opera called “The Spirit of Vietnam”. So tonight, in Saigon, I am going to the opera! I knew I should have packed my furs…. Per my dads request, after the Opera we plan to get a drink General Westmoreland style at the famous Saigon Saigon lounge atop the historical Caravelle Hotel. This will definitely make for a sweet first night in Vietnam. Until then, I gotta freshen up for my big night on the town.
Still looking for Charlie (whoever that is),
First and foremost, I believe that anyone who goes to Japan from America will lose weight. For some, that’s great news! For others, it’s about finding out how in the world to eat enough to get through the day without blowing your budget.
Luckily, even though the portions are indeed smaller in Japan, Japan has great food and for the most part the food is much healthier! It’s always a joy to explore the food of a new place, and it’s definitely a way for everyone to connect together.
FOOD IN OSAKA:
I’m happy to say that since coming to Japan, I’ve had the chance to explore a lot more restaurant food than I normally do at my home town and college. Here’s a short incomplete list of a few dinners that I’ve enjoyed!
The term okonomiyaki is a combination of “what you like” and grilled. There are a good number of variations going from the kimchi okonomiyaki to the seafood okonomiyaki and the regular pork okonomiyaki. Whatever the mixture, the okonomiyaki is sure to please!
Not exactly a dish native to Osaka but a dish native to Japan, the term oyako means parent and child, and the dish is composed of pieces of chicken and an egg. The zaru soba is a Japanese noodle dish, except with a number of health benefits because soba is made from buckwheat flour.
I had a chance to go to a desserts 食べ放題 (all you can eat), and the total was only $20 with taxes and tip! Japanese all you can eats and飲み放題 (all you can drink) are relatively cheap, I’m guessing because Japanese people in general do not eat or drink as much?
There are many opportunities to enjoy food from other ethnicities in Japan, with the possible exception of Mexican food which I’ve yet to find, I wonder why… So far, I’ve had Chinese food, Korean food, Swedish food, and Turkish food, and if my taste buds aren’t lying to me, they’re all pretty good!
FOOD AT HOME:
So… it turns out you can’t eat out every breakfast/lunch/dinner at Japan, but do have a try at Japanese cooking! Cooking at home is one way to have a full stomach and a not so empty wallet, not to mention the joy of learning to cook Japanese food. Do ask your roommates to cook something together!