January 2010
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Hygiene in Vietnam

Shower and Bidet combo at my grandmothers house in Vung Tau

So I’m in Vung Tau…staying at my late grandmother’s house.  The people currently living here are distant relatives…they have been taking care of the house since my grandmother passed away a couple of years ago….and in return pay no rent for their services.  Anyways, I go to use the rest room.  Where is the soap?  I search in vain….there is no soap!!  I also notice that there is no toilet paper.  There is a bucket and little water scooper to bathe with….and I guess probably used in lieu of toilet paper.  Ughhh.

From my previous visit in 2002, I knew that most people in Vietnam didn’t use toilet paper…but I assumed that they at least washed their hands after doing number 2.  Leaving the restroom…I searched the kitchen….still no soap.    Is it common in other Vietnamese households to not use soap in the restroom?  I know my Aunt uses soap.  She has a bar of soap and dishwashing liquid wherever she has a sink in her house.

When my Aunt and I arrived in Vung Tau late yesterday…her son invited us to dinner at a restaurant by the Pier…I go to use the restroom.   There are a couple restaurant employees in there finishing up their business.  I see one of them go to the sink to rinse his hands….good sign….but when I go to wash my own hands…NO SOAP….not even a hint of old soap residue.  Good thing I always carry wet wipes and hand sanitizer with me.  I’m not saying that everyone in the States uses soap after they use the restroom…but it’s comforting to know that it’s a possibility….so at least I have a glimmer of hope that I am eating untainted food and off of clean plates.  I hope the cook washes his hands with soap at least.

I know that in India they generally don’t use toilet paper either….but it is common courtesy that when you eat finger food…you don’t use your right hand since that is the hand most people use to wash their behinds with.  I have noticed that Vietnamese people don’t have similar qualms about which hand they use to eat with.

Speaking of toilet paper….what is the paper in Vietnam made of?  It doesn’t matter if I use paper towels, paper napkins, tissue paper or toilet paper….all of it simply dissolves in water.  I am used to using flushable wet wipes or at least wet toilet paper to wipe my derriere after doing my business….but when I went to wet the toilet paper here the first time….it disintegrated.  I tried to wipe myself with it and my finger went right through the paper with barely any pressure.  Good thing I didn’t push too hard or I would have had to eat with my left hand for awhile.  I miss my Charmin.  I miss my Bounty.

Then there’s the nose picking.  In my stopover in Tokyo on the way to Saigon…there was a young Vietnamese woman (probably in her early 20s) digging for gold right in front of me without so much as a hint at trying to disguise what she was doing.  Then her boyfriend sits down next to her and she is all over him with her booger fingers.  Yuck!!

Since I’ve been in Vietnam…there hasn’t been a day I have gone out of the house that I haven’t seen people oblivious to the grossness that is nose picking.  The security guard at the giant Maximart, the moped parking attendant, the cashier at the department store, not to mention my own cousin (female) showed up at my Aunt’s house with her finger up her nose when I went out to greet her!!

I’m not going to deny that I never pick my nose….because I have.  I have dry sinuses and sometimes those boogers will not come out without a little help.  But I do try to be discreet about it…and I immediately wash my hands.    Sometimes I just want to scream “YOU SERVE FOOD AND TOUCH PEOPLE WITH THOSE HANDS!!”

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12 comments to Hygiene in Vietnam

  • In the toilets, if there are no toilet paper, look for a water hose and spray French toilet style.

    Most people bring their own tissue with them if you hadn’t noticed.

    Thanks for reminding me, I need to get my Hepatitis A and B injections again.

    What is wrong with nose picking. I am grateful I can pick my nose in public without embarrassment 🙂

  • Ah yes, I remember the difficulty with the toilet paper. Then I discovered the wonder of the bum-gun. Clean and fresh and the toilet paper is good enough for a quick pat dry.

  • vl0071

    I think you have lived in the US for too long 🙂

    I think the bad quality in paper has got to do with Vietnam being a poor country and cannot afford to buy the materials to make quality paper (that and it imports paper from Indonesia).

    Good luck in Vietnam and stay away from those beautiful Viet girls.

  • Paul

    Doing the no.1 @ Vietnam is an adventure all by itself!!! On previous trips, I stayed in hotels so toiletries & bathroom businesses weren’t an issue. But when I HAVE to stay w/ my relatives, things went down hill from there. It was pretty much the same story w/ you. Oh Jesus! I had to makeup some excuses to get leave just after 1 day!!. Do you notice the always wet floor in the bathroom? why is it? And my room is next to the bathroom, so I can hear all those noises…AHHHHH!!
    Nose picking might be 2nd to Soccer over there.. hehehe

  • Benny

    While VN is a poor country, it still produces enough lumber for furniture export. Toilet tissue is available in many markets in VN. It is not widely use because many people still use recyclable material such as old newspaper as toilet tissue, and others use the “bum gun”. That’s just the way it is. The same analogy can be applied to paper napkins at most “quán ?n bình dân”. I have lived in the US since 1975, and require soft toilet tissue at the conclusion of my bowel movement. This blog details the experience of a Vi?t ki?u in VN, and we’re exchanging vignettes which provide glimpses into daily life in VN. For many Vi?t ki?u, we still harbor fond feelings for our patrimony, and this blog is informative as well as perversely humorous in the many mundane aspects of life in VN.

    And yes, I stand accused of living in the US for far too long because I like where I am and for the many comforts a dollar can bring. I am emphatically not apologetic for being a “capitalist lackey.”

    • odgnut

      Thanks for the support Benny! I really hate the term Viet Kieu…it has such a negative connotation. Supposedly most people in Vietnam hate the Viet Kieu, because the locals think the Viet Kieu act as if they are better than the locals. I am just a person of Vietnamese descent visiting my relatives and former homeland. I am nice, polite and respectful towards everyone in this country….hopefully they can see past the country I am from and judge me for who I am instead of what they think I represent. Most everyone I have met in Vietnam though have been extremely nice to me so far.

  • Benny

    Think as far back as you can. Think of pulling a baseball out of some woman’s orifice. That baseball can be your head. You’re a doctor’s son. You know what tools they use to pull that baseball. If that did not traumatize you, then a divorce can only strengthen your character. Or as old folks in Texas would say: “It will put some lead in your pencil.” Not every woman is alike, and your US passport is the key to paradise. Many women will do many things for entry into paradise.

    Be kind and respectful to đàn bà even though one of them may have hurt you. You’ll be OK.

  • Benny

    VNese people have always been and are extremely nice, courteous and friendly. I always have fun when I go there. As for the term Việt kiều, it’s just a name. A lot of Việt kiều have taken advantages of the VNese cousins, but then no one should judge a book by its cover.

    One (not-so) secret – A lot of VNese are also taken advantage of their Việt kiều cousins by crying abject poverty. Worlwide Việt kiều send about USD $ 7 billion home, most of it as unconditional gifts.

  • Thuy

    Re the toilet paper–that’s why I bought 2 thick rolls with me for the trip. I also carry tissue paper with me in my backpack–you just never know.

    Ive yet to use the bum-gun either and I wont be using it either.

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