Tag Archives: Vietnamese

Thanks for queueing

In England, there is one rule of queueing, which could be named as “no-obviously-queue-to-disorientate-outsiders”. The English form an orderly queue. Of one.

English queue

In many places, there are no straight lines (but rather invisible ones) that signify a queue. The English just know. You do not. If you fail to join, you will be reminded of it either with many eyes’ rolling or loudly in words.

I wonder how an English man would feel if he were in the very yard of this Vietnamese pagoda:

queuing in Vietnam

Yeah, we do not queue in Vietnam. Not for buses. Not for cinema tickets. And of course, not for sacred returns.

It seems to me the Dutch don’t take queueing too serious either though perhaps in a more civilizing way than the Vietnamese. When I was at a bus stop yesterday, I noticed that people were so unwilling to form a queue. There was no pushing and shoving though. I thank Buddha for that. Here comes my thanks.

When you make a payment over a counter in Newcastle of the UK where I used to live, the conversation is more or less like:

– It will be eleven fifty. Thank you.

– Here you are. Thank you.

– Your receipt and your change. Thank you.

– Thank you.

I am not exaggerating. Any English will agree with me. ( Thanks for the support)

Most or all of the “thanks” are not likely to be there if the conversation is in a Vietnamese supermarket. I grew up learning to show my gratitude and politeness through a smiley face or a slight bow. When I got back from England, the temptation is to replicate the above conversation every day, at least with my share of thanks. But I found it difficult to do in my mother tongue because when I speak Vietnamese I act Vietnamese. I stop following the English social etiquette of thanks.

Among the first words in Vietnamese as well as Dutch that my English boyfriend learns, “thank you” was the obvious. We even had a so-called argument about how to pronounce it in Dutch. We did it differently, which is rather predictable.

Anyway, thank for queuing!


Vietnamese drive-through

Sometimes on the way to work, my boyfriend stops the scooter for me to buy my breakfast. A woman sitting on the side of the road sells me com nam – plain rice ball. I remain on the scooter while giving her money in exchange for my breakfast pack. My boyfriend finds the process fascinating. He calls it Vietnamese drive-through, an analogy that tickles me.

Com nam is high in carb but does not last long. Soon I am hungry for more. I normally have my com nam with a mix of roasted sesame and peanut. It has the simplicity of peasant food. A reminder of my childhood when having enough to eat was a struggle. I wonder if it is still a struggle for the woman on the side of the road. She could not have made a lot from the com nam she sold at the next-to-nothing price. Selfishly I want her to be there representing the sweet old days. But I know I won’t be there always to buy from her. I will move on. So will the ones who queue after me in the drive-through. In such time when every few seconds count, we have to keep moving regardless.

My English Man in Hanoi

He drives a scooter around Hanoi crazy roads – the “moped madness”. It is nothing like driving his car in ordered motorways in Europe I bet. But he handles the chaos very well with less swearing words than sarcastic comments. He becomes a part of the chaos.

He tried Hanoi street food and put up with a lot of stares. Apparently six months in South East Asia has not given him a tan to blend in. But he doesn’t put up with the rudeness of some to many in the shops or on the streets here. He misses England for its politeness I bet. I know I do.

He learns Vietnamese, a tone language with at least twenty words to address a second person – a “you” (just to make it easier). He tried to order his food (and coffee) in Vietnamese. Sometimes it worked. Most of the times it doesn’t. But he doesn’t stop trying.

He loves Hanoi summer. He enjoys bike rides in the sun. He lives for now. Right now. This late morning. A run in park. The sun. The heat. The summer smell. The very presence of Hanoi. Spontaneous. My English man in my Hanoi.