To add or not to add. The Facebook dilemma.

15 May

At the NGO I was volunteering for, three of my workmates were the exact same age as I. During work hours, they would often show each other the texts they’d received on their mobile phones and giggle, run around the office, and generally mix their professional and personal lives. I was rather bemused as they had all received university education and training, yet, their work ethic was foreign to me.

As I mused over this overlap of formal and informal business, I discovered friend requests from those workmates, as well as some other professionals I became acquainted with when I was networking.

My NGO ran workshops and forums for university students. I also received Facebook friend requests from some of those very students.

I did not know whether to accept their requests or not. I had, up until then, kept work separate from my personal life. I had to ask someone who would know what I was going through and provide some of their own insight.

I had befriended a local Vietnamese guy, who had studied in Australia for a period of time, and was heading his own NGO back in Vietnam. He and I got along as we had in common experiences in both Vietnamese and Australian society.

I sent an email to this friend, asking him for some advice as follows:

I wanted to ask your advice on something, and you’re probably the best person to ask. I am hesitant about adding people in Viet Nam on facebook, for example, people related to my work. This is because I want to appear professional, and my facebook is for friends. However, there is a blurry line as to who is related to work and to my social life. I added Jenny, but I feel uncomfortable that she may see my photos and maybe disapprove of what I do in my spare time. I don’t want to seem like a ‘party girl’ or a ‘bad girl’. I think because girls in Viet Nam don’t understand my background that much, then I think that they would judge me differently. Because my lifestyle is quite different from others’ here. I live differently from them while in Viet Nam and also in Australia.

Anyway, I don’t know if I’m making sense. But do you think I should add them on facebook? And if I don’t, then do you think they will be offended?

I would really appreciate your thoughts.”

His response was:

Regarding the facebook thing ,it is a fine line between work and social life in Vietnam (as you can see from your organisation or mine). Ppl feel much more comfortable to work with each other when they know the person well. The weird thing in Vietnam is that it is ok for you to be “party girl” if you are a foreingner 😕 . My advice will be ” be an Vietnamese Aussie with a deep understanding of Vietnamese culture”, that is your advantage for both of your social and work life.

Dont worry too much, young ppl nowadays are open but choose the person to share your facebook and add the ppl who you know only. For example , I even added my sister’s friends and now they think that I am a cool brother after seeing all my dancing performance :D.

I think that you just do it when you feel comfortable and trust the person otherwise just ignore them, it will be fine.

I found his advice sound and useful. Moreover, the way he characterised me went to the heart of my own questions about my identity.

In Australia, my mum and everyone in the Vietnamese community (of which I’m part of) call each other ‘Vietnamese’. And yet, when I go to Vietnam, they call me ‘Australian’ or ‘Viet kieu‘. So in Australia, I’m Vietnamese. And in Vietnam, I’m Australian.

I’ve tried to reconcile this by telling myself that I grew up in a family with ‘Vietnamese’ values, and within a society with ‘Australian’ values. And yet, that still didn’t resolve the identity issues I faced whilst in Vietnam. To make my situation more complicated, when I visited some distant relatives in regional northern Vietnam, they spoke about myself and them being intimately connected by blood. That they and I were so close and we should support each other. So whilst I thought I was distant and different, they considered me close. So when my friend wrote that I should see myself as a “Vietnamese Aussie with a deep understanding of Vietnamese culture”, that made sense to me. It still doesn’t resolve how I see myself and my connection to those distant relatives though. My journey of understanding myself and my identity continues then.

Questions of identity are so cliched, yet, they are crucial. I read a quote saying something along the lines of:

“How pitiful the man who does not know himself”.

Indeed. Indeed.

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2 Responses to “To add or not to add. The Facebook dilemma.”

  1. stellainindia May 16, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    I know what you mean about the Facebook dilemma. I often had students (young adults) wanting to add me as a friend on Facebook and I was reluctant to. All the cultural sensitivities I was practising in India went out the window if my students could flick through pictures of their teacher in a bikini drinking alcohol (neither of which were accepted from any young woman in Nth west India). So I didn’t add any students or local friends while I was there, trying to keep up a respectful relationship, but did on coming home, just to keep in touch. But I still feel awkward when my students comment on a pic of me in a short, tight dress with a cocktail in hand.

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