As my nearest and dearest know (as well as anyone I’ve forced to listen to my life story at a party) I lived in Vietnam for just over a year before I went to university. It was a huge changing point in my life. I grew into the person I am today under the watchful eyes of Saigon skyscrapers and brightly coloured temples. I’m convinced that there’s a part of my soul that will always smell like incense, petrol and sunshine.
I love it here and I always have. Vietnam made sense to me the first time I stepped off the plane. I was 18, I’d never been outside the western world and I wasn’t scared. I remember catching sight of myself in a shop window we passed on the first day. I had a new red dress on, it tied up at the back with a ribbon. I smiled at my reflection, we roared on and that was it.
My love of Vietnam has made me incredibly protective of it. I’d like to think that I love it here precisely because it’s different from home. That being said, expats (a word reserved specially for white people, anyone else is called an immigrant) are guilty of moving abroad and making mini Englands. I met people who had lived here for years and didn’t speak a word of Vietnamese, didn’t hang out with Vietnamese people, complained about the heat and the traffic.
A couple of nights ago, my friend and I were sat on Bui Vien, a tourist road in Ho Chi Minh. As we sat there, a young woman walked out into the street in front of a cab, bent over and twerked in front of the car while her friends cheered her on. Moments later, a guy did a balloon and collapsed in the road, his eyes flickering backwards as his skull hit the pavement.
And of course, you worry for them. They’re kids, thousands of miles from home, doing exactly what they promised their mum they wouldn’t do. But there is a certain kind of arrogance in this behaviour that sets my teeth on edge. British people travel the world and expect everyone to speak English, act English and queue properly. This is a specific brand of disrespect; the belief that you can go anywhere in the world and treat it like your playground. This attitude is predicated on a misplaced sense of innate superiority.
Western superiority is a fairly accepted notion. Before anyone gets defensive, I’d like to point to the kind of language we use when we talk about other areas the globe. We speak of poverty in ‘Africa’ as if an entire continent is an extended Save the Children commercial. South East Asia is referred to as ‘the third world.’ Vietnam is a ‘developing country.’ And while this is true (Vietnam has one of the fastest developing economies in the world) you have to question what its developing towards.
The western world is widely regarded as the pinnacle of development. We’re held up as this pedestal of social, cultural and economic achievement. And when Britain colonised everything we could get our hands on, we took our sense of superiority with us. We infantilised entire civilisations. We taught our general public that people from ‘The Orient’ were just like children – underdeveloped and in need of a strong hand.
There are countless depressing examples of the West exercising their brand of supremacy. The British empire in its entirety, British tourists vomiting on the street in Ibiza. America’s foreign policy, which reminds me of bad sex. Get in, get out and accept no consequences.
This sense of superiority, used to justify so much oppression, is largely unfounded. Can we really argue that Britain is the best a country can be? Our democratic system is unfair and broken. Tony Blair, a man found guilty of war crimes, makes his living doing after dinner speeches. Corruption can come in many colours, it’s not confined to the governments of Cambodia and Kenya.
This ideology has a lot to answer for. It caused Brexit, which is going down like a bucket of cold sick. Behold, the wonders of western democracy.
And, as with most things, this is an issue with nuance. You’re allowed to be proud of being British, we do some things really well. But, you need to be proud without insulting other countries and cultures. If being patriotic means carrying forward colonial ideals that rest on the systematic dehumanisation of other people, then I’m not interested.
Being white doesn’t make you special. Countries like Vietnam are actual places where people live, not cartoon world without consequences. If you’re so unimpressed with the world and so enamoured with England, do us all a favour and stay there.