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Cultural snobbishness and modernization

After translating into French a post-war Vietnamese novel (1988) my friend Jeanine Gilion buckled down to the translation of another work of the  thirties in the colonial times.
 
This satirical novel, So Do (The Lucky Man), fascinated and amused her. She broke into laughter at some passages which painted in such a sarcastic tone the snobbishness of a circle of arrivists, false artists, so called intellectuais, egregious scoundrels and licentious women, who set to modernize society à la française.
 
Jeanine showed me at random one of these passages: “He (the old dotard Hong) held his son in absolute respect, a true Revolutionary -in- legality.
 
In fact, what Van Minh undertakes is to reform (modernize) society in his own way, consciously and effectively without having to fear imprisonment or even beheading (by the French colonial authorities), like other self - styled revolutionaries who claimed to fight for the good of their compatriots and who did not think of teaching them how to dance at the ballroom or what die garments in fashion are. And all that suffices for the venerable Hong to believe in his son who had just come back from France, just as he blindly believes in the metropolis, putting his faith in civilization, unlike these fools and idiots who don’t even know what the word civilization means.”
 
Such was how in the thirties of this century a portion of the urban petty bourgeoisie in Viet Nam conceived the modern way of life. The concept of modernity originating in the West bore in our country at that time a precise social content. It consisted in breaking away from the traditions of an agricultural society held under control by Confucian ideas, in bringing the “new” - the word “moderne” coming from English term “modem” which in its turn came from the Latin word modernus - modo which means “recently.” This renovation (modernization) urged the snobs of those days to “westernize” (Au hoa), more exactly, to ape the French (tay hoa). A comedy, “The Anamite French (Ong Tay An Nam), ridicules an intellectual back from France who repudiates his own origins.
 
More than sixty years later, the same social phenomenon of cultural snobbishness is reappearing in Viet Nam under the name of modernization. Generalising itself a little everywhere, it takes on this time, in the name of globalization, the colours of cosmopolitanism tinted with Americanisation.
 
Many of my foreign friends are asking why in a country which grows and exports excellent tea, people are looking for the standard Lipton. Why are they sacrificing the “nem” for the hamburger, or the “banh ” of Hue to the pizza which is too heavy for a Vietnamese stomach and many times more expensive? Why is it that on a day of sultry weather a young girl accepts to sweat in a pair of thick jeans instead of floating happily in the long tunic of traditional silk? Why is it that in a tropical climate, so many people, even in the countryside, have abandoned the roof of inclined tiles for the flat concrete roof? Why riddle our daily speech with O.K, Good Morning, Bye Bye and so on?
 
We are not chauvinists. We think that it is necessary to open up to all cultures of the world without, however, alienating our cultural identity. We should not enter the era of “globalization” without a culture which is authentically Vietnamese, entitled as it can be by other cultures.
 
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Update : 25-07-2017

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