Patriotism really does encompass a lot. As an American, patriotism can boil over to obscene levels sometimes. As an American coming to a foreign land, aka Vietnam, I have observed different variations of it. I will attempt to explain and I am sure I will go off on a tangent or two 🙂
When we first hear or see the word Patriotism, the immediate reaction is pride in your country. As an American that would be pride in America. In our orientation for Pulse, they really stressed that we are not coming to our assignments to “fix” them. They really encouraged us to realize that these organizations and the people who work for them are experts in their field and we should learn from them. I took that to heart, but let’s be honest, I am American. I have this inherent belief that my way is the best and I am coming to a “developing” country. Even though I did not think my job was or will be to fix, you feel that you have “more” to offer just because of where you are from. That is patriotism to an extent.
When I got here, I quickly realized how patriotic the Vietnamese are. I am fortunate to work in a great office with really top talent. After a day or so, I realized that you can be patriotic and listen and learn and add. In the past 3 weeks I have learned from experts (them), I have been considered an expert by them and we have had amazing collaborations that are helping key populations for the projects we are working on. I believe this first lesson in patriotism was and is key to my development here. I can be proud to be an American while taking pride in learning from the Vietnamese.
The second lesson on patriotism was very similar to the way we are in America. They take great pride in their country. Sometimes you forget that it is a communist country. But there are reminders if you observe and listen. Growing up in America, especially in the 70’s and 80’s, Communism was a very bad term and could be scary. Here it is their way of life. The hammer and sickle are often seen. At first I thought it was the old Soviet Union flag. But to them it is the symbol of the Worker’s Party…aka Communist Party. They take pride in the symbol because it helped them. It changed their country and they see it as a positive. If they see it as a positive I have had to realize that my preconceived notions need to be put into check. This way I can listen, learn and add. They take great pride in the natural beauty of Vietnam and they can see they love their home. I have to admit that was not was I had expected. Again coming from the west, you believe (or are told) that people want to like us. They want the “western” culture. In some instances that is true. But I have absolutely loved that they love their home.and they want to share so much with you. If you are willing to listen and learn.
The last point I will make is around food. I get asked here all the time if I like Vietnamese food and what is my favorite food. I tend to say I have liked most of what I have tried but not everything (I am blunt) and my favorite is Thai food. There is not a single Vietnamese person I have met that has not said their
food is the best. They take great pride and think their food tastes the best. I will admit this is where my own patriotism takes over. One of the first lunches I had a hot-pot. I asked for chicken and the server put all the ingredients into the pot. I went to stir the pot a few minutes later and the entire chickens head was in the pot. Yeah, sorry. Never going to happen. I share this story and my coworkers like to share this story.
I had the great opportunity to go to central Vietnam my first week. I talked my coworkers into going to the beach for dinner. So think plastic tables and chair thrown out on a sidewalk along the beach and that is the restaurant. I asked what was on the menu. They pointed to the beach. We walked to the beach where there was a net that the fisherman just brought in and you picked what you wanted. When in Rome I said. I pick a white fish, crabs and they also were able to get some pork (not from the net). Well the fish came with the head, inntreals and fins. They laughed because they told them no head for me but that seems to be very common here! I did eat and it was very good. They find it funny that I won’t eat the fins or the inntreals. To them it is normal. To them it is the best food in the world. And when it comes to food I will keep my own patriotic ways and keep my food headless!
In the end Patriotism is great. You know what is better? Kindness. I had the opportunity to head out with two other Pulse volunteers, Mohamed and Bob, on motorbikes. We stopped at a Buddhist temple to be tourists. Were were leaving the shrine and some ladies stopped us. It is customary to leave an gift for Buddha. Many people leave some type of food. The lady looks at us and says that Buddha has plenty and wants to offer his guests something. They gave us each a box of cookies. To me that is the best kind of Patriotism. Kindness to strangers that are in your land. That right there made me fall in love with where I am. A simple gesture. In the end we can all be patriots if we practice kindness to each other. As long as there is no heads on the cookies!