I met the Faux Américaine at a house party some time ago. I realise that the moniker I’ve given her is probably confusing, but it was just the thing that stuck in my mind when we first met. She seemed like a nice American expat that was just working for the short term in Viet Nam like the rest of us. And it was then over the few hours that I spoke with her, that every single one of my assumptions about her turned out to be false.
She has only been to America once for a holiday. She is the daughter of French parents. Her impeccable west coast American accent came from the American English teachers at the International Schools she attended.
She arrived in Viet Nam when she was weeks old in the late 1980s (a time when a limited number of foreigners from Europe lived in the country) and grew up in the loving arms of various local nannies and care-givers. So she speaks perfect, Southern Vietnamese dialect with a seamless accent, complete with street slang and all the saltiest swear words. The local Vietnamese people seem to think she is very strange and endlessly entertaining.
She told me that on the way to the party where we met, she couldn’t find the street the party was on and asked a man sitting outside his house. He just stares at her, so she repeated herself. He tells her to wait and ducks inside the house. Then he comes back out with his whole family; they all want to see the foreign woman her age that talks like a local. “Say something else!” a little boy asks her.
The Faux Américaine rides off. She gets a bit sick of being a sideshow.
She is so unusual not just because she is a adult foreigner that has lived all her life in Viet Nam, but also because Viet Nam was and is a migrant source country, not a migrant destination country. This means that there are more people leaving Viet Nam than people moving to Viet Nam. This has been gradually changing over the last few decades, with the strengthening of the Vietnamese economy and various other global factors. So there are small, but increasing numbers of foreign migrants* taking up residence and making a life for themselves in Viet Nam. As a result we are starting to see more third culture kids (TCKs)**. These are the children of foreigners that moved to another country, stay and raise a family. TCKs are raised in their parent’s language and culture in the home, but they also know and understand their local culture and language better than their parents could ever hope to. They often become bridges between countries. They’re the physical embodiment of a new global society and that is wonderful and exciting. This isn’t to say that life isn’t sometimes confusing and difficult for these kids. Childhood is often a time when the thing you want most is to blend in and sometimes being a TCK means that you really stand out.
I recently spotted a flaxen-haired little girl in the playground of a local school, playing badminton and yelling in Vietnamese with her little friends. So maybe it won’t be too long before The Faux Américaine is less of an oddity. But she’ll always be one of the first.
*The majority of migrant to Viet Nam come other Southeast Asian countries, also Europe, North America and the Antipodes.
**The first culture of children refers to the culture of the country from which the parents originated, the second culture refers to the culture in which the family currently resides, and the third culture refers to the amalgamation of these two cultures. The third culture is further reinforced with the interaction of the third culture individual with another expatriate community one would come to encounter.
Thanks for the definition Wiki! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_culture_kid