Whilst we have only been in Vietnam for the last week or so something very strange has been happening. It started with being very aware of people going out of their way to look at us, we clocked people trying to hide the fact they were staring, or trying to act casual outside of a restaurant window to return their gaze to us when we turned back to our food. We then started getting parents physically turn their children toward us and point at us from across the room, they even started sending them up to us to say hello!
When walking down the street we have experienced people riding past on motorbikes staring, and then shouting hello and waving. Things stepped up a notch when we were getting stopped by people in the street to take photos with us! Whilst on a Skype call to family in the UK we were approached by a man wanting some selfies with us, much to the amusement of the family on the other end of the call!
So what on earth is going on?
We certainly wondered that too, this must be how celebrities feel going about day to day life. Well it turns out, it’s because we are white. White skin here is seen as more than desirable, it is a social symbol of wealth, beauty and success. It is very common to see Vietnamese women covered from head to toe in gloves, scarves, sunglasses, hats, jeans even in 30 degree heat to protect themselves from getting a tan. They then go home and use skin bleaching products to try to recreate a snow white skin tone. This seems completely mad to us, in the UK everyone is craving a year round tan!
Equally for the Vietnamese to appear friends with white westerners on social media must be something of a popularity booster, as we often get called “my friends” on social media posts using photos of us! However with how pale we are despite living in 30-40 degree temperatures for over a month now it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that we’d be popular!