A Sharp Exit

Brexit, Vietnam and the backlash against tolerance. Words by Nick Ross


In the late early 1980s and early 1990s a series of adverts for Harp Lager appeared on British TV. Each had the same set-up idea. A man gets himself in a difficult situation and has to make a run for it — or as the adverts famously say, Time for a Sharp Exit. The man ends up in the pub with a pint of Harp Lager and of course, although nothing has been solved, everything is all okay again. The man is smiling and the satisfaction of that first sip of Harp is just, well, satisfying.


The EU Referendum held in the UK on Jun. 23 reminds me of that advert. Like every country, the UK has problems. Most poignant is that the country’s population don’t feel they are being listened to; the vote to leave the EU was, a protest against big business, political correctness, mass immigration, foreign involvement in the UK, the banking industry, the gap between rich and poor and membership of an organisation whose leaders are not elected democratically. It was a protest against those in power, along with their self-styled experts, making and imposing decisions that the majority of the country’s active voters were unhappy with.


And because these people weren’t being listened to, they marked their ballots in favour of a Sharp Exit, although whether 52% of the UK’s voting population are presently down the pub nursing a pint of lager is debatable. Regardless, they’ve had their say.


To Say or Not to Say


For me, the most interesting part of the protest was the rejection of political correctness, perhaps the overriding social and moral value of our day. Defined as “the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against”, it means that no matter what we think or believe, we can’t say or do anything that is perceived to be ‘discriminatory’, ‘sexist’, ‘prejudiced’, ‘biased’ or ‘racist’. In terms of the UK it means that regardless of how you feel, you have to accept the mass immigration of the past 15 years.


As a friend in London told me reluctantly, the problem with ‘foreigners’ is that “they don’t integrate.” It was only when I pressed him that he started to speak out — he didn’t want to say anything because he worried people would think he was racist.


“They don’t make friends with you and have nothing to do with you unless you’re providing a service to them or them a service to you. I don’t mind immigration, but I do mind it when it takes over a whole area. Finchley [the area I grew up in] is just not the same.”


It’s a big generalization and it is one person’s opinion. Yet it reminds me a little of the bubble foreigners tend to live in when they move to countries like Vietnam. Add in the fact that foreigners are generally rich, and there is some more fuel to stoke the fire.


Us and Them


Vietnam is notoriously politically incorrect. Foreigners are called nguoi nuoc ngoai, people from outside countries. In real terms it means you’re not one of us as you are from elsewhere; it’s an us-and-them scenario. Westerners are called tay, thang tay if you want to be rude, and the term for backpacker, tay ba lo, is largely derogatory. Black people are da den (black-skinned) or My den (American black), Chinese are nguoi tau, or boat people, and until recently, Khmer were known as nguoi Mien, a term that has since been banned from official use.


People laugh at you if you’re too fat or too thin, if you’re too tall or too short, or if you’re male, effeminate and gay. Men can be misogynistic or sexist and get away with it, Africans and the Khmer are generally looked down on, and being against having foreigners or immigrants living in Vietnam is not deemed to be racist. Indeed the concept of ‘racism’, phan biet chung toc, is alien to most Vietnamese.


Yet, as the values of the West infiltrate the rest of the world, this is starting to change. Younger Vietnamese or those who have studied or worked overseas are becoming more politically correct. Pride movements are gaining traction and official support, marital violence is frowned upon, and activism is on the rise.


However, read through the comments on Facebook groups and you’ll notice something; if a foreigner gives their opinion on poignant issues in Vietnam, more often than not they’re shouted down by someone who’s Vietnamese. And the shout down or put down? You’re a foreigner, you don’t have any idea, so shut up or go home.


So let’s say Vietnam had their own vote, a vote as to whether foreigners should be allowed to live in Vietnam, a Vexit so to speak. How would it turn out? It’s an interesting thought.


Political correctness requires — in fact, demands — tolerance. Stretch people’s tolerance levels too much and they react. There’s a reason the UK voted for their Sharp Exit, and why the likes of Donald Trump, Geert Wilders or Marine Le Pen are gaining so much support. Large numbers of the Western voting public feel they’ve been pushed too far and are fed up of being repeatedly told that if you don’t see things in a certain way, you are backward and stupid.


Overstretch a rubber band and it will snap.

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