As I mentioned in my previous post, when I grew up I had very few Vietnamese friends and I only spoke to my parents and grandparents in Vietnamese. This has left me with some deficiencies.
In Vietnamese, there is no fixed word for “you” or “I”, but pronouns depend on the relative age of the two speakers, so if you speak to someone older than you, you address them with a different pronoun than you would a younger person. When I first arrived in Vietnam I would just guess what to call people, and would often address people as “Bà”, which means “grandmum” as this is the pronoun I use most often at home. I wasn’t very popular.
One pronoun I found especially confusing was the pronoun “bạn”. This translates directly to English as “friend”, and when I was in England, this was how it was used by my parents to refer to anyone I had coming over to the house.
The first time I tried out my Vietnamese in public was when Elena and I came on our honeymoon. On that trip, I remember being asked by strangers the question, “Bạn từ đâu đến?”, to which I would always reply, “Oh she’s from Romania”. I often got blank looks from this reply and I couldn’t for the life of me work out out why. I figured that it was my accent. It seemed to me that everyone was interested in Elena as she was clearly not from Vietnam, and with my awesome grasp of Vietnamese, they couldn’t possibly want to know where I was from…
As you can see from the postcard, I had translated this sentence to mean “Where is your friend from?”, as this is the exact same sentence that was used by my grandmum (Bà) to ask that question.
However, I later found out that the pronoun “bạn” can also be used to mean “you” in conversation, as in the sentence “Where are you from, friend?”. The Vietnamese are just friendly people I guess.
I left behind a trail of very confused Vietnamese people.