March 17th, 2007
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Categories: Viet Nam News

street nap

Interesting views on the differences between Northerners and Southerners. Having only been to Bac Giang and Hanoi, I can’t voice a preference. Those of you who have been to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City…what do you think?

Cultural divide splits Vietnam
By Ben Stocking

The Associated Press

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Northerners are rude, they talk funny, they’re lousy drivers and have bad taste.

When a Vietnamese blogger unleashed this tirade from down south recently, people 700 miles away in Hanoi responded with a flood of angry Web-site postings and a few death threats text-messaged to the blogger’s cellphone.

The episode underscored a delicate truth about Vietnam: Hard feelings die hard. The United States has had 142 years to recover from the civil war. The Vietnam War’s north-south division ended just 32 years ago.


Vast cultural differences divide the former republics of North and South Vietnam. Hanoi is as far from Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, as New York City is from Atlanta. The two cities have different cuisines, different dialects and different styles of doing business.

Relations are generally civil, even friendly. But occasionally, something stirs up old animosities. And nothing has stirred them like Nhu Hoa’s shot in the country’s thriving blogosphere, which she wrote after a weekend visit to Hanoi.

“I came to realize that Hanoi was not a place for Saigonese, who are food connoisseurs,” wrote Hoa, a university student who complained about everything from the condensed milk northerners use in their coffee (sticky and sweet) to the speed of their Internet connections (very slow).

“I don’t like anyone who isn’t from Saigon,” Hoa declared.

In a typical online riposte, Hanoi resident Bui Dung shot back: “I pity the parents who gave birth to this devil baby.”

Since the war ended in 1975, legions of northerners have moved to Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s business hub and a testing ground of stereotypes.

Northerners tend to think of themselves as more cultured and view Hanoi as Vietnam’s capital of art, literature and scholarship. Some see Ho Chi Minh City as a place of glitz and fun, but a bit shallow.

Southerners consider themselves more dynamic and tend to see Hanoi as a quaint, sleepy town. They have been more exposed to Western ways, while the north is more influenced by neighboring China.

Southerners with money take their friends out to dinner; northerners tend to be thrifty and prefer to visit friends at home, said Kim Dung, a journalist who moved to Ho Chi Minh City from Hanoi.

Dung says she misses the village feel of Hanoi’s winding streets and street vendors balancing baskets of fruit on their shoulders.

Many northerners relish the nightlife and business buzz of Ho Chi Minh City, but the adjustment can be difficult.

“I felt like I was coming to a foreign country,” said Tran Thu Huong, 37, who moved here to direct an Australian educational exchange program. “People spoke Vietnamese, but I didn’t understand what they were saying.”

At school, classmates ridiculed her daughter’s northern accent. “I hate Saigon. I want to go back to Hanoi,” the girl would proclaim.

Six months later, the 11-year-old had transformed her accent and won acceptance.

Northerners and southerners often use different words to describe the same thing. Southerners are direct; a northerner’s yes may mean no, says Phan Cong Khanh, who owns a Ho Chi Minh City chemical company.

He says he sometimes has trouble reading his Hanoi customers’ wishes.

“Southern companies tell you what they need right away,” Khanh said. “With northern companies, it’s like a winding path.”

While plenty of southerners still harbor grudges over the war, many are willing to put them aside.

Phan Ho Thien Vu, 26, a Ho Chi Minh City attorney, comes from a family that worked at the U.S. military base in Cam Ranh Bay and lost everything after the war. His grandparents had to go to a re-education camp and absorb communist dogma.

“It’s just the past,” Vu said. “Forget it.”

Far more unites the regions than divides them, Vu said: “We accept their culture, and they accept ours.”

But he does have one big gripe about the north. “The service is terrible!” he said. “If you go to a restaurant and ask for an extra chopstick, the owners get angry at you.”

from The Seattle Times

4 Responses to “North vs. South : Viet Nam Divided”

  1. JudyK says:

    I didn’t realize there was in-country animosity between the north and the south.

    We preferred Hanoi over Ho Chi Minh City because it was quainter. HCMC seemed much more Westernized and we just assumed that Hanoi was more like Vietnam used to be, although the article says it has more of an influence from China.

    The one thing that we liked more about HCMC than Hanoi — the traffic. The driving in Hanoi is much crazier than the driving in HCMC.

  2. fiona says:

    I agree with Judy–my husband and I much preferred Hanoi to the south of the country. The people seemed much less aggressive about selling us their wares, and they were very kind and helpful. This is not to say they were rude in HCMC, but Hanoi is one of my favorite places in the world. I didn’t drive, so I can’t comment on that, but the traffic in Hanoi is a sight to behold, for sure.

  3. JudyK says:

    Oh, we didn’t drive anywhere in Vietnam, but with riding in vans and just trying to cross streets (!!!), we found that the traffic in HCMC wasn’t as crazy as that in Hanoi.

  4. Rebecca says:

    LOL! Judy I thought you meant you had driven yourself in Hanoi too! :) That would have been a brave move, huh? ;)

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