Many people asked me what it’s like being an American in Vietnam. I’d say it’s probably quite similar to being a Brazilian or a Swede in Vietnam. There were no problems or hard feelings at all.
I experienced this phenomenon in the Middle East. When I moved to Abu Dhabi in 2004 I expected a lot of hostility. Instead, everyone was warm, welcoming, and nice. The only time I received unwanted attention was when Bush was re-elected and people kept asking me how that could have been possible.
Otherwise, people separated the government from its people. They didn’t look at me and see “American” first. They looked at me and saw Adam first, a component of which is my nationality.
It has been the same here in Vietnam. After visiting the war crimes museum I asked my couchsurfing host how there could be no resentment after all the atrocities the U.S. committed against Vietnam during the war.
She explained that the people here know it wasn’t the American people committing those atrocities; it was the government. She said that they knew that many people were made to come here against their will (the draft).
It was a surprisingly mature and complex view and one that is widely held here, despite the fact that every family in this country was affected by the war in one way or another. It echos the view I saw in the Middle East.
So how was it being an American here? I’d say it was difficult because I have a big heart and it was hard to accept all that happened here. But it was self-inflicted guilt and shame.
From the Vietnamese side I was welcomed with open arms.
For me, that’s inspiring and a testament to how beautiful the people are here.