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Page 8


First contact!

Well, all that walking around the lake has paid finally of the “regulars” who sits on the same park bench with a friend and “people watches” made contact!

Let me preface, however, with a couple of things:

First thing: I always smile at people at the park/lake when they make eye contact with me, and 99% of the time, they just look back at me with a blank stare. I do not believe this is because the Vietnamese are unfriendly, rather, smiling back at someone is the international invitation to engage with a person, and that can be problematic at many levels. Let’s just stay at the language level.

Take a moment and think about it...First, looking at me, the odds from the Vietnamese point of view are high that I am not a native of Vietnam. Second, as to what country I may hail from, the Vietnamese don’t have much information to work with; which, leads to what language would be my native language. Third, what are the odds I speak Vietnamese? Fourth, yes, although all Vietnamese who have attend school since roughly the early 1990s have received instruction in English from grades 1-6-ish, but many Vietnamese only remember the very basics (e.g., counting, hello, goodbye, etc.) and have very little opportunity to speak English. Many older Vietnamese speak French , Russian or Japanese as those two countries have had a substantial presence in Vietnam. Some Vietnamese speak a language from another country if their job requires it or they went to school in another country (Australia, the UK, France, Russia, Sweden, the list goes on). So essentially, it’s a crap shot.

This brings me to my second point. I am often mistakenly assumed to be either Canadian or French??! I know this because Grab drivers (Vietnam’s equivalent of Uber) more often than not ask me “Anh là người (đên tư) Canada phải không?” Or “Anh là người (đên từ) Pháp phải không?” and are surprised when I respond with “Không, tôi đến từ Mỹ (No, I come from America)” or “Không, tôi là người Mỹ (no, I am person America)” or “Tôi đến từ hoa kỳ (I come from the United States[USA])”. 

So back to the park...every once in a while when you smile at someone who has just stared at you in the past, you catch the off guard and they reflexively smile back at you. This was the case with the regular above who made contact with me. He reflexively smiled at me about 2 months ago, but then went back to the ol’ stare-back routine. Well, yesterday things changed.  Here’s how it went down:

I walk by and nod “hello” and smile like I have every day I have seen him. 

Him: “Bonjour” (I’m no French language expert, but I think this is a formal “hello” in French?)

Me: in shock I say “Xin chào” (formal hello in Vietnamese”)  

Him: “Bonjour”

Me: “Xin chào”

That was it! End of conversation. We stared at each other a moment, it got awkward, and I moved on. 

I think a second contact is inevitable.  Maybe I will try saying: I speak a little Vietnamese and ask him to speak slowly…then I will say my name, ask his, say I am happy to meet him, tell him how old I am, ask how old he is, say I'm from America, say this is my second time here, and maybe say I teach psychology…and then say goodbye. Honestly, if I can manage all that, it will have been on heck of a conversation. Wish me luck!



JULY, p. 9

AUGUST, p. 9

SEPTEMBER,  p. 2 , p. 3, p. 4, p.5 , p.6, p. 7, p.9