When we arrived in Hanoi, we stayed with the leader of the Hanoi Couchsurfing group and he invited us to come out with him to a couchsurfing meetup. It was just a drink in a bar and lots of young Vietnamese were there. There were not many westerners in the room and there were a lot of people looking at Elena.
At one point, I left her alone and when I came back, Elena was surrounded by Vietnamese. They had literally queued up to talk to her. Not only were people talking to her, they were talking to each other around her in English.
This was when I discovered the very odd phenomenon of what we call “tourist-mobbing”, where locals will cluster around white people in order to somehow absorb their English language.
The phenomenon of tourist-mobbing is most obvious around Hoan Kiem lake, in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Students, who organise tourist-hunting trips on facebook, roam around the lake like game hunters with clipboards, looking for white people to pounce on. Once they have one in the clutches, they’ll surround them and talk at them for as long as they can, bombarding them with questions about life in their country until the poor tourist looks at their watch and manages to escape.
This piece is inspired by tourist-mobbers and just shows a generic white person, who would no doubt be mobbed by students in Hanoi if she were ever walking around Hoan Kiem lake.
Elena and I are rather lucky that I look Vietnamese (and now speak some Vietnamese -yay!) so I can politely tell the students to leave us alone.