Our group exchanged glances. There we were; a group exclusively made up of white people, in a pub with an English name and with just about enough language ability required to order another beer, and this person decided that the time was right to start laying into migrants.
As is the case with racists everywhere, she had assumed that everyone would just be in agreement with her. She was yet to experience that epiphany when you realise that expats and migrants are one and the same.
Right wing lunatics and their news channels will always have it in for migrants, and of course politicians know that when all else fails they can ‘blame the foreigners’, and in doing so, take advantage of people’s most shameful instincts. But for my money, there are two main lessons you need to learn as an overseas resident of a country such as Vietnam. The first is that when something goes wrong you should learn to blame the immediate cause — not the country you’re in. The second is that other overseas residents can live how they like as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.
You kind of expect the liberals among us to be more understanding, but when you meet a liberal who is also a migrant, that understanding can be strangely absent. Their attitude is that ‘they’ should be applauded for bringing their food and traditions to foreign shores, and ‘we’ must eat only local food while in ‘their’ country.
I’ve tired of seeing the inverted snobbery of foreigners living in Hanoi who look scornfully at those who choose not to eat all their meals on the street. I doubt the same people would sneer at migrants back home when they’re tucking into a bowl of pho on a London high street.
Likewise what’s the verdict on Vietnamese eating western food in Vietnam? Should they also only eat local food? If tays should only eat local and avoid expensive restaurants, are Vietnamese allowed to frequent such places?
While on a flight back from Kuala Lumpur recently, I caught a quick 15 minutes of a Jamie Oliver show. I learnt that pies were brought to the UK by the Romans and fish and chips to London by Jews. Meanwhile the hamburger came from the Russians via, of course, Hamburg, and it’s now considered an American staple. This is how food evolves — pho is an adaptation of a French dish.
There is a lot of fantastic Vietnamese food — it’s gloriously fresh, perfectly seasoned and manages to be simple yet creative. But there is also (whisper it quietly) bad Vietnamese food. Vegetables that are boiled to death, lumps of fat and gristle, appetite-sapping synthetic fish sauce… It would, of course, be a shame for tourists to visit Vietnam and eat only pizza and burgers, but migrants are not tourists.
It's fantastic to see all these different types of restaurants opening up in Vietnam right now. In the past week I’ve eaten Indian, Chinese, Italian and American as well as Vietnamese. I’m not advocating big brand franchises taking over Vietnam, but if they do, it’s because there’s a market for them, and if that’s how people want to eat, then so be it. Multiculturalism is supposed to be a good thing, right?
In the end migrants are migrants, we establish ghettos, suck at languages and eat our own food. But we should leave the judgemental stuff to desperate, vote-seeking politicians and Fox News.