StevenWin

Vietnam Cafes and the Chasm of Cultural Appeal

February 07, 2018 | 3 Minute Read

I think a very special attribute that’s unique to Vietnam is their love for cafes. The ubiquity of coffee shops around the entire country is something I’ve never experienced anywhere else. In the bigger cities like Saigon, Da Nang and Ha Noi, you can find more than one cafe on every single block – and these aren’t just copy and pasted generic joints either. There’s creativity to every shop as they try to differentiate themselves from the thousands of others. There are mega cafes that replicate mini-villages, European-style cafes that are fully equipped with heavy duty espresso machines, and even cat cafes where you can play with kitties while you enjoy your java. It’s a full on display of passion and aesthetics, and what’s more impressive, all of these cafes are consistently occupied with people at all times of the day.

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I’ve been thinking this. What is it about certain cultures that breed these branches of novelty? Tokyo has their special geek culture that is impossible to thrive in other countries. Walking down Akihabara and seeing massive LCD screens on top of buildings showing loops of Anime while all of the surrounding buildings light up with beautiful neon signs. It’s a perfect harmony of chaotic stimulants and organized merchandise. They have entire stores filled with geek culture memorabilia such as Pokemon cards, Manga, figurines and other extremely nichey products but they’re always full of customers. These stores in any other part of the world would be struggling to pay rent with their low turn over, but in Japan, I doubt they have to worry much about appeal. And again, what happened in their history which now allows them to thrive in this avenue of interest? I don’t know.

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But I see the same thing with Vietnam and their coffee shops and street side bars. It’s clockwork. The social aspect is in full swing at all times of the day – it just switches between venues. Between morning and evening, coffee shops are the venue of choice for gatherings. And it’s not like at home where when I meet up somebody for coffee, it’s most likely a planned meeting. The coffee gatherings in Vietnam seem to be spontaneous. You’ll see an uber driver take a break for 15 minutes and call somebody who happens to be in the area. The other guy will casually stroll in after a few minutes. They’ll mundanely chat for a bit, but it’s mainly just silent comfort while they sip coffee together. After a few minutes together, the driver leaves to begin his next shift and they just casually depart. At around 6pm, you’ll start seeing the street bars fill up. Snacks and beers are always on display. This happens every day. The social aspect is deeply ingrained in their culture and I’ve talked to some locals and they say it’s normal to start the day early and only come home when it’s time to sleep. The time in between is spent at work, eating at a street stall, sipping coffee at a cafe or having drinks at the street bars.

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Contrast this to the ghost town of Vancouver after 9pm on a weekday and it becomes obvious why social anxiety seems to be an epidemic in some areas in the west. I haven’t noticed any in Vietnam.