December 2023
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Winning Friends and Influencing People – 1958 – Editorial

You find interesting things while surfing the Internet researching Saigon Kids and ACS. Here is an Editorial from “Times Of Vietnam” giving an interesting perspective about Americans in Viet-nam.

While reading this article “The Ugly American” came to mind.

I found this article interesting, as during the many, many years during my adult life I spent in Asia, in direct contact with orientals, I was repeatedly told that most orientals consider Americans to be barbarians and rude. This is not something they discussed openly, and was only ever related to me by very, very close oriental friends.

March 5, 1958

“Americans are criticized in free countries around the world for many things. This is inevitable with the United States playing the role she has to play in this age. But too often the criticism consists in negative generalizations which can hardly be considered to be constructive criticism.
“The blanket criticism is most often a way of letting off steam at small irritations provoked by Americans in the various countries in which they are living in considerable numbers. But, it is the specific little things which provoke such criticism. After all, the American in Saigon appears to us as the aggregate of numerous little impressions e get of individuals and actions. …

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As always, you are welcome to leave your comments below.


6 comments to Winning Friends and Influencing People – 1958 – Editorial

  • Ken

    Bob, this article is as true today as it was then. Having lived in a number of countries, I have seen how the Americans tend to stick together. There are numerous reasons for this. Even within our Diplomatic Service (Foreign Service), a large part of the mission will not be language trained, so they tend to seek common language contacts. Another reason is that there is often a significant cultural and economic gap between the American and the host nation societies. It is very difficult to strike up a relationship with people who live a huts (yes, this is still the case in many countries).

    Even in a place like Germany, many of the Americans here do all of their shopping in the commissary and PX, watch US TV shows in English, rarely venture out to local movie houses or attend concerts or operas. I have to admit that Frankfurt is even odder than usual (speaking about the official consulate community) in that this consulate is huge with over 1100 employees, many of which are Americans who are overseas on assignment for the very first time. State Department employees generally get what we call “Area Studies” before being dispatched to a foreign country, but employees of Non-Foreign Affairs agencies do not. They are often sent overseas unprepared for what to expect. Now anyone who has lived in Germany and knows what a high standard of living it has and what is and isn’t available in the local markets and stores probably cannot imagine how anyone can have a difficult time in this country. But many people find living here difficult.

    Can you imagine what it must be like for them if their agency sends them to a place like Niamey, Niger in the Sahara desert? Granted, I am sure it has improved greatly since I left in 1986 but it is still Africa and the heat and bugs and unhealthy conditions remain. For many of us, and I include my wife and I, the more difficult posts are the best posts because of the smaller community, the inter-relationships between the various diplomatic missions and the opportunities to explore. Did I have Nigerian friends…no, not really but was invited to weddings of employees and other events and to which I attended. It was fun but at time scary, not really knowing what one was eating. Still, it was a good life.

    It is natural for people to seek those who have similar languages, life styles, etc., and yes, even color. It is the things we share. And while I agree with many of the things in the article, look how many Vietnamese enclaves there are in the U.S. today. Why? They share things in common.

    Hello to all – Ken

    • Admin

      Ken – In all those many, many years I spent traveling (which was most of my life) the first thing I learned when in a strange land was if other people are eating it and not dropping over dead – eat it – BUT NEVER EVER ask WHAT it is!!! – LOL – 🙂

      I found most foods tasted really great, as long as I didn’t know what I was eating – LOL

      The second thing I learned was – when in Rome do as the Romans do – when in “_____” do as the “_____” do … It is soooo much more enjoyable then. Not to mention the knowledge gained from learning other cultures and customs, etc.


  • Jo (Brown) Strasburg

    Ironically, on our extended trip to Saigon, I read THE UGLY AMERICAN, and THE GOOD EARTH…hoping to avoid some of the pitfalls you mentioned and to learn some things about Asian culture.
    Having lived in Fance and Germany in my earlier years, I was not at all intimidated by a different language or culture. Kids just take to those things naturally.
    But I will admit, Saigon was a little harder to get used to. I was already a Senior in high school, it was November, and most kids had been there for awhile. At the same time I really wanted to take advantage of this unique opportunity. So with the help of my friend, Janet Wagner (Bill’s sister) we branched out and made Vietnamese friends, through church and other contacts. We had some wonderful experiences. Among them was my first “job” as an ESL teacher, a VN young man who came knocking at our door asking for help with his English. I helped him for several months before I came back to the US for college.
    Now I have many international friends here and in places like Korea and Japan, both of which I have visited twice in recent years to keep up with former students.
    I might have “missed out” on some traditional high school experiences by living in Saigon, but I wouldn’t exchange my life there for anything. I feel strongly that the time I spent there was most influential on who I am now and my attitudes towards those who are different from us.

    • Admin

      Jo – I would agree (and I think most SKs would too) that we “gained” much, much more then we “missed out” on while living in Saigon.

      Saigon had such a large mixture of cultures and cross-cultures, as well as, customs which all seemed to just melt together. It has always stuck in my mind how well all of us kids from so many different cultures with all our different customs just seemed to blend together with everyone getting along great; and, learning so much from each other.

      Growing up living in many places in the world certainly did expand our horizons influencing our lives in so many, many ways most of us are still just starting to understand – and, will probably never completely understand.


  • Suellen Oliver Campbell

    After reading the article, I am attempting to be objective about recollecting my experience in Saigon, and attempting to ascertain whether I was an Ugly American while living there.
    I had several Vietnamese girl friends, who were always invited and usually attended my parties,and visited me during the day. We went shopping together and enjoyed being teenage girls together. It did just occur to me, however, that they never invited me to their homes or parties. I ponder what that was all about?
    We purchased our food from the local market, although, as youngsters, Mom still made us drink our milk, which was bought at the PX and was the canned variety. Gross!!!
    Each week Mom and I would travel to Cholon where we volunteered at a Vietnamese orphanage for the littlest victims of childhood glaucoma. I played the piano while Mom taught them traditional nursery rhyme songs, in English. Was this being an Ugly American?
    I had read this book and was coached by my parents NOT to act like one. I believe our family did a good job of representing the U.S.A. in a positive way. I wonder if that was the Vietnamese perception of us as well?
    I did not speak French or Vietnamese, therefore I attended the American Community School in addition to receiving high school credits which would transfer to a U.S. school when we returned. I was grateful this was possible for me.
    Mom also taught English at the Vietnamese Language school, and volunteered at the Vietnamese Veterans Hospital, bringing supplies to the paraplegic soldiers. This was very likely where she became exposed to TB.
    Our life outside the normal American routine was enriching to each of us, and though there was a language barrier, I believe we contributed positively to the lives of numerous Vietnamese people while living there.
    I can say unequivocably that living in Saigon certainly changed my life forever: I am so thankful to be an American living in a blessed country, but also living with the knowledge that there are many on this planet who are not as fortunate as myself. It has taught me gratitude for what we have, and given me an understanding of another culture richer in some ways more than my own. In addition, I have an indelible picture of true poverty, which has guided my sense of compassion and generosity throughout my life, and, I believe, has made me a kinder, more caring individual every day since living in Saigon.
    I wish the writer of this article would have known how his country would change so many lives and attitudes of Americans living there.

  • George Baggett

    Again, I am impressed by the self-assessment of many Saigon Kids. From what I can tell, most of you were living a good and interesting life in a wonderful city filled with fun and adventure. You also lived their before the shift in policy that caused most of you to leave. Be assured that things did change, and you lively teens with better than average intellects were replaced with teens drafted from America, some of which were not subjected to the level of intellect and quality of life you all found yourselves born into.

    As far as being “Ugly Americans” the Vietnamese also recognized a different uniform meant these were people one could not fully trust. Many GIs were a customers of prostitutes, the black market, and drugs, and with 300,000 of us those businesses flourished. It took effort for me to become acquainted with Vietnamese people, and I remain pleased with myself for not being a typical idiot and for some reason it showed as I made friends with a family owning a tailor shop near 3rd Field.
    Therefore, I suspect most of you were not Ugly Americans, and the fact that you might question this demonstrates it further.

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