Despite our dubious abilities to speak English and Vietnamese, lunch time lessons with the bảo vệ continue on a regular basis, a linguistic punctuation to the working day.
Against the odds we do manage to communicate after a fashion, so long as we stick to the usual topics of conversation; the weather, what I had for lunch, etc. Recently, however, my limited vocabulary was underlined somewhat hilariously by the wind blowing leaves off a tree.
We were sitting there on the bench watching a flurry of leaves fall as the wind suddenly started to gust. Struggling to find the right words to describe the scene before us, I decided to improvise a little with my own take on tieng Viet.
“Nhìn! Tuyết cây.” (Look. Tree snow)
Đăng stared at me briefly, then we both cracked up. Eventually, between laughs, he managed to put me straight on the proper Vietnamese. If in doubt, try a bit of freestyle. People will get what you are trying to say, and have a bit of a laugh into the bargain.
Some times, though, we have no option but to revert to Google Translate. I can’t recall the exact context, but I said something which I thought he understood. He then replied. And I carried on before eventually we both said simultaneously, “Không hiểu,” and fell about laughing. After we each Google Translated, we discovered we had been talking about completely different things.
We laugh a lot. The Vietnamese wife not so much, especially one evening when we were walking home from dinner and happened across the traffic cops pulling over a motorist. I said quietly, “The con chó vàng are out tonight.”
She waved her hand at me, and whispered, “Don’t say that. Who taught you? Đăng?”