Talkative Tailors in Hoi An, Vietnam

Our forays into the tailor shops in Hoi An left us with more than just extra (or superfluous) clothing for our wardrobe. Even when a business deal was clearly not involved, we found that shop owners were often open to sharing their lives and their opinions with us. These unprotected moments provided us with insight into Vietnam’s diversity, the legacy of the Vietnam War (or, “American War”, as it’s called here), and opinions on the impact of Vietnam’s breakneck speed development is having on Vietnamese tradition and culture.

After placing an order with a tailor one evening, we got caught up in a conversation with a bright, talkative woman in her mid-twenties. We chatted for what seemed like hours and stayed long past closing time.

Vietnamese Stereotypes

She tells us that northern Vietnamese are very close to their families, but not very open and sometimes two-faced to others. The southern Vietnamese are warm and speak from the heart. The central Vietnamese on the coast live in fear of typhoons and strong storms – they live for the moment and are open and friendly. The central Vietnamese who live behind the security of the mountains, like in Hue, are smooth talkers, but are not genuine. As in all countries, stereotypes and prejudices characterize people from different regions. We can’t affirm or deny any of this, as we spent little over a month throughout Vietnam. But it was fascinating to hear. Not that this is any surprise, but suspicions and stereotypes – like ethnic jokes – begin to take on a very familiar ring.

A Personal Story

Prejudices aside, this woman’s personal story was representative of many in Hoi An. Her family has owned the merchant house in which her family lives and runs a business for eight generations. She’s of Chinese descent, but identifies herself clearly and proudly as Vietnamese. In a complicated twist of family trees and politics, she tells us that her father worked with the American forces during the war, even though his father was a strong supporter of the Viet Cong. Thirty years later, the father still has a black mark against his name, and as a result, her older brothers and sisters were not able to finish their schooling because of this. For her, things continually improve and time seems to slowly heal old wounds, but certain fields of study and work in the government are both closed to her. She hopes and expects that the black mark may disappear from her family’s record in time for the next generation, her children, to openly pursue what they desire.

Ladies of B'Lan - Hoi An, Vietnam
Dan with the family of tailors in Hoi An, Vietnam

She disagrees with the government’s approach of punishing children for the “sins” of the parents, believing that each generation should be responsible for themselves and not the actions of previous generations. Asking how the Vietnamese feel about the war and Americans, she explains that current generations don’t blame Americans today for the bombings and the war of the past.

She concludes, “Today and tomorrow are enough.” In conflicted eras and eras of conflict, these are admirable words to live by. And if their reactions to us as Americans are any indication, the Vietnamese for the most part – from North to South – certainly appear to live by it.

More Photos from Hoi An and Central Vietnam

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Comments

  1. says

    Spent a month in Hoi An, amazing place, really has it all with great cuisine, clothing, a beach and even a golf course near by.

  2. says

    Rob: We didn’t get to the beach or golf, but we certainly did have some interesting conversations…in addition to eating and having a bunch of custom-tailored clothes made.

  3. Carolyn Spangler says

    I loved reading your blog about your travels. We just returned from a tour with the Sierra Club to Vietnam and then traveled to Siem Reap on our own. We loved our time in Vietnam and it was interesting to read of your tailor shop experience in Hoi an, a city that I loved. Our guide from this area said that his father served with the Americans, and after the war he was put through an “reeducation” and said their family was dirt poor with ten children. However, he said that 6 of the children graduated from college. A little different story than the girl you talked too. The good thing about traveling on your own is that you don’t usually have deadlines. We loved traveling with the Sierra Club, but sometimes we were tired of the routine, although we didn’t have to take part in all of the activities. Thank you again for your wonderful stories.

  4. says

    @Carolyn: I’m really glad you found us and this post and took the time to share your story. For me, the opportunity to interact with people and come away with varying personal stories is one of the most rewarding dimensions of travel, be it with a tour or independently.

    I’m so glad you took time out to share with us your trip to Vietnam and Hoi An. Thank you for your comment!

  5. Hung Thai says

    I am a student studying in Ha Noi right now. From my perspective, I think you should know some interesting facts about each region’s stereotypes :D. In terms of the North, yes, people are extremely traditional and attached to their families, relatives, friends, counterparts etc. They prefer being in the community. They tend to work with their favorite “team” and have a hatred towards something called “privacy” and “aloneness”. It means that they do think a particular task will be done much better by a “community”, by a “group of people”, rather than by “a specific person”. Naturally, they have a very unique way of talking to each other, which is very “diplomatic” and “deep”, which is sometimes called “fake” by people in the South and the central. The way they approach to a particular problem is a zigzag way, not a straight way. However, in terms of the South, they are totally different. They are absolutely open-minded, hospitable and friendly, and sometimes very “harshly open” :D. How about my hometown Hoi An, a typical spot of the central?. The central people are honest and likely to lean more on “the South”. However, the way we talk is quite harsh and tough :D. I mean if you hate this, you’re gonna go straight to the point and say “I freaking hate this”, something like that :D. In conclusion, I personally think these differences can be explained by two things: the weather and the history. The North has a harsher kind of weather: extremely cold and extremely hot; therefore, people are likely to be not so open. The South has a beautifully neutral kind of weather: hot the whole year, but with rains, a lot. So, they are very open and like “be there for you” :D. The central has lots of disasters such as typhoons and floods every year; therefore, they are determined and “wide”. As you know, the history also reflects the differences. For instance, the South used to be under control of American government, so they tend to be more “open-minded”, like having “the West thought”.
    I think this tiny piece of share can help you understand more about Vietnamese stereotypes.

  6. says

    @Hung: Thanks for sharing this information. Was really interesting to read about the stereotypes and differences from each region of Vietnam from your perspective. It’s interesting how in many countries the southern areas (and people) tend to be more open – maybe it does have something to do warmer weather. Thanks again.

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