Over this past weekend, I was speaking to two different Vietnamese strangers, and heard two things that I’ve never heard in Vietnamese before. Both times I was surprised in a good way.
On Friday evening, Ngân and I went to eat seafood at one of our favorite sidewalk places. When we were leaving and went to get the motorbike, the parking attendant, thinking that I didn’t speak Vietnamese, said something in pidgin English like: “You! Moto?” I replied in Vietnamese, “Xe đó, số 67” (That bike, number 67, referring to the first two digits of my license plate).
The parking attendant immediately gave me a sheepish look and said, “Xin lỗi anh, em không biết anh nói tiếng Việt” (I’m sorry, I didn’t know you spoke Vietnamese). I told him it was no problem as I got my bike and then thanked him. That was the first time a Vietnamese person apologized to me for assuming that I didn’t speak Vietnamese.
Then on Sunday morning, Ngân and I went to have some brunch downtown. Again, my interaction was with a motorbike parking attendant. As I was taking the ticket to retrieve my bike, I asked the man, in Vietnamese, if I needed to pay before or afterwards. He was a little taken aback, but then asked: “Quê em ở đâu?” (Where’s your hometown?). This was another question that no Vietnamese person had asked me before. Usually, Vietnamese people see a white guy with blue eyes as ask “Anh là người nước nào?” (What country are you from?). But this parking lot attendant used a very Vietnamese phrase to ask where I was from. It was a first for me and made my day.
So after more than six years in the country, I’m still hearing new things, from motorbike parking attendants of all people.