Our stay in Vietnam has featured the most challenging language barrier of our trip thus far. I’ve attempted to learn a little Vietnamese, but even when I think I know a word, my mouth can still mangle it into useless confusion.
The language barrier could be in part because we’re staying a bit outside of the city – when we’ve hopped onto more of the tourist track (museums, restaurants in more touristy areas of Hanoi, etc.) there is more English spoken. Also, the people who live in our apartment complex (including some expats, mostly from other parts of Asia) often do speak English. However, the people who we most often need to communicate with – those who work in shops, food stalls, restaurants, and taxis – often don’t.
To be clear, I’m not complaining. I’ve been surprised by (and grateful for) just how wide-spread English is spoken in most places we have visited. I’m also humbled by just how persistent people around the world are about acquiring other languages compared to mostly mono-lingual Americans like, um, me. (I’m working on that, though.)
Anyway, we’ve gotten by in Vietnam with creative pantomiming and google translate. People laugh and smile at our attempts to communicate, but in a good humored, “life is funny” type of way. (We think.) Sometimes, the language barrier even results in hilarity, such as when I was trying to determine if eggs at a food stall were from a duck or from a chicken and asked by pointing at a pile of eggs and saying “quack, quack.”
Apparently, this was very, very funny.
The woman who I asked laughed, laughed some more, and then called over another woman at a nearby food stall. The first woman spoke some Vietnamese, interrupted periodically by “quack quack”, pointing at me and the eggs. Both the other woman and I joined her in the laughter. Then the first woman pointed at one pile of eggs and – very clearly – said duck and then another pile of eggs and – also very clearly – said chicken.