Food Miscommunication in Vietnam

In the world of published travel writing few books stand out like the collection Travelers’ Tales. These stories cover travel from all over the world. On their website they feature the Editor’s choice, in this case Richard Sterling’s hysterical article It’s All Good: More News from Mr. Hat’s Neighborhood.

“Every time I try to speak a little Vietnamese I get the damned tones wrong. I’ve inadvertently told a woman that she was a urinal; I’ve asked a waiter to change my stomach; I’ve asked for extra “no” at a food stall and answered “rice” to a request for alms; I’ve tried to buy a bottle of “yes” and answered “wine” to a yes-or-no question. My fox paws patter on. The folks laugh, I laugh, and they all know I’m doing my inadequate best. So I have no trouble laughing my ass off whenever they make an erroneous error with my own lingo. I’ve been collecting fractured English menu items from all over town. Here are just a few.

Fried Rice Hell
Grind Potato Cold Meat
Frilled Beef with Pork
Fried Spaghetti Dry
Baked Honey with Garlic Ribs
Mexican Burrito with Mung Bean (That’s actually correct, sadly)
Wedges Served with Sour Cream
Banana Flammable (Yes, it’s what it sounds like)
Good Cyclo Driver (Don’t ask me)
Filleted Fish Paste
FriedRice with Clab (No, that’s not crab)
Beef in Wild Battle
Fish Pie Broth
Dutch Spring Balls (Who says the Dutch don’t have balls?)
Boiled Bowels Instant
Pancake Horny (No comment)

Many first-time visitors are startled at the personal questions Vietnamese people ask upon first meeting. They will quickly ask if you are married, how many children you have, how old are you? This not to be intrusive, it is simply to place you in your allotted pigeonhole. Everybody must have one. If you don’t have one it upsets the natural order of things. So people remember your answers to these important questions. And that includes your birthday. Even if not everybody remembers the actual date of your birthday, somebody will. And if the folks will it, the grapevine will hum as your birthday approaches.”