Fifty Shades of Expat: The Frequent Flyer

Who is the Frequent Flyer?

She’s only in town for a few weeks — this time — but that doesn’t mean it’s all work and no play. No, as she tells everyone within earshot, she missed the crazy energy of this place, the spontaneity, the friendships. What she doesn’t say is that she also appreciates the opportunity for no-strings-attached behaviour her situation gives her.


Her first time in the country was sometime in the 2000s, or was it the 1990s? Either way, she’s left ghosts behind in every corner of this modern country — and they’re not the scary kind either, they’re the ghosts of way more fun times than she’s currently having. And she’s still having a lot of fun.


As far as love, let’s just say she’s got a history. She’s been in her share of serious relationships, and more than a few have ended ugly. Uglily. Whatever. But this time might be different. After all she’s just gotten back here, things are way different than they were a couple of years ago, and the world is her oyster.



I've formed an opinion of the dating scene. In the past five years I’ve had the time to observe and participate in the Vietnam dating game, and these are the expat men I’ve found:


— The social butterfly type. He is good one-night stand material. He refuses commitment mainly because he’s only staying in Vietnam for the short term, or he doesn’t have his s*** together yet. You always meet him in bars or parties. It can be somewhat awkward afterwards, since the cities here are like villages, and you are bound to meet again.


— The one with “yellow fever”. I don’t like the term either. He is only interested in dating Vietnamese girls. The competition in this case is impossible.


— The unicorn. He is open to dating foreign women and more if you get on. He’s a very rare specimen, and the competition is extremely fierce. He won’t stay single for long.


— The Tinder guy. He might have just arrived in Vietnam, and is mostly looking for friends or free tour guides. If he is not new to town, you probably already know each other or have too many friends in common. In both cases it’s too awkward to swipe right.


I stopped being honest to strangers. I met my Vietnamese girlfriend when we were both abroad. We’ve visited Vietnam a few times together, but this time I decided to stay in the country for a while to get closer to her family, and to explore the ‘exotic’ culture here.


I get along quite well with her father, and we didn’t have to drink rice wine to get to that point. We meet in the park a few times a week for language exchange; he wanted to learn English to watch foreign football channels and I obviously wanted to learn more Vietnamese. Sometimes we go swimming together, too.


One day, as we were heading to the pool, some local guys spoke to my girlfriend’s father from a distance. “Where’s that Tay guy from?” I heard them asking him in Vietnamese. “France,” he replied.


As a young guy coming from a tiny town in Pennsylvania where everyone knows each other and are generally friends and neighbours, I was surprised, and curious to know why he had lied to them. He said he just gave them an answer “for fun”. They asked him for fun, so he didn’t feel the need to give a real answer. It’s that simple.


And that’s how I learnt you don’t always need to be honest (particularly to strangers) in Vietnam.


I look thinner in my picture. A few years ago, I was searching for a translator-assistant for a project, and was interviewing candidates on the second floor of a café. As I walked a possible candidate up the stairs, she behind me, she said that I was a lot fatter in real life than in my profile picture.


Wow. It took me a few minutes to settle down, and I did try to remind myself that this was just a cultural difference. But needless to say, she did not get the job.


I am not a size S in any country. In Europe I am an L or XL, but in Vietnam I am an XXXL. I had a difficult time learning to accept my body, and strangely Vietnamese culture is helping me come to terms with it. We don’t comment on people’s shape in the west, out of respect for people’s feelings — and if people do comment, it’s never meant in a nice way. But in Vietnam it’s just a matter-of-fact statement, not a judgment.


The first time someone bluntly told me “Wow, you are fat!” I was shocked and upset. But now I just reply, “You don’t say! I hadn’t noticed! Thanks for letting me know.”


I brought 'contraband' in my check-in luggage. Full disclosure — I never fly anywhere without at least two vibrators. I’m not a nymphomaniac or anything, but a girl has needs and I’m not ashamed of meeting my own when the situation requires it. I’ve been through about 40 different airports and never had any problems, which made my experience in Noi Bai even more embarrassing.


Here’s the short version: as I was queuing for the X-ray machine, two security guards grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me into a small room. There was a pile of suitcases on the floor, with my checked bag on top. It was open, and another guard was holding my big purple vibrator in the air like it was a gun. They didn’t speak any English, and I don’t know the Vietnamese word for “sex toy”, so I had to pantomime what it was for. It would’ve been funny if I hadn’t been so terrified.


I got s***-talked. I was going out for lunch with a couple coworkers, a Filipino guy and a Vietnamese woman. As we walked towards our restaurant, two women sat on the street picking watermelon seeds said something in Vietnamese. The woman I was with suddenly turned pale.


“What’s wrong?” I asked. “What did they say?”


“Oh nothing,” she replied. I could see that whatever their comment was, she was trying to pull herself together.


Later, after we finished lunch, my colleague finally came out with it.


“Do you know what those two women on the street said about me?” she said. We shook our heads.


“They said. ‘Wow, look at her! With two big men. She’s strong!’”


Both me and my other colleague burst out laughing. After a while I said, “You should take that as a compliment!”


“I know,” she replied. “But when they said it I wasn’t sure whether to be embarrassed, amused or angry.”

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