In Vietnam, the regulations surrounding home-based businesses are comparatively lax, which makes for a lower bar to entry. No health inspectors or forms are necessary if you want to set up a restaurant in your home — many of which follow the shophouse template, where the first floor is open to the street.

A sugarcane seller operates a stall outside of her historic home, Saigon

And then there is the matter of staffing — since most homes are multigenerational, and stay-at-home moms are still a thing, it’s far simpler to get from the dinner table realization that nobody makes crab soup like grandma to opening up a small shop that closes when they run out of stock.

Giving grandson a haircut during store hours

This dynamic helps to encourage a greater spirit of participation in society and the economy, which leads to less disaffection and more contentedness on the whole, as well as greater hospitality than you might be used to in a restaurant situation.

Take your dog to work day at Saigon’s first fast food joint, Nhu Lan

Vietnam might not have the highest wages on the planet — and there are definitely some unresolved humanitarian issues lurking — but the generally lax oversight allows workers’ quirks to come through.

After-shift cigarette in Hanoi’s Old Quarter

It’s okay to sleep on the job at many places, and phone use is a non-issue. With a high proportion of family-run businesses operating out of shophouses where owners both work and sleep, it’s more usual than not to find a cache of toothbrushes in the bathroom of your neighborhood pho joint.

Selling fish on Long Bien Bridge, Hanoi

This blurring of work and life makes for the kind of hospitality that some prickle at, where the customer is not always right. It can be a humbling experience to hear the word “no” when you’re hungry (or when you really want a mango, but the street seller started out too high and now can’t reduce the cost to a reasonable price without losing face) but it’s an interesting counterpoint to the Western experience, where the service worker is pretty much a less effective machine.

“It’s just fashion,” says ice cream vendor in desolate back alley near famous counterculture spot Chaosdowntown, Saigon

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