We are leaving Vietnam this morning (I’m actually writing this on the airplane). Yesterday the Consul General hosted a lunch for us in Ho Chi Minh City. Several officers who are will work with us in the Consulate also attended. Despite the torrential storm that swept through in the middle of lunch (or maybe because of it) we had great conversations. I think we will enjoy our tour.Although I still am not where I want to be linguistically, this trip has helped a lot. I’m more confident using the language, and I’ve picked up ways of saying things. For example, to get the attention of a waitperson in a restaurant, you say: “em ơi!,” which means something like: “hey, younger sibling!” Little things like that will help us interact with people more naturally.
There is one sociological factor that will continue to be a challenge to me. Vietnamese people consistently, almost insistently, speak to me in English. I’m sure this is because most foreigners in Vietnam don’t speak Vietnamese. People here simply don’t expect the Vietnamese language to erupt from a person with a white face. Even when I initiate conversations in Vietnamese, the answers are usually in English. It’s frustrating to a person who’s trying to practice language. The exceptions seem to be people who have zero English, like many taxi drivers, and very educated people who recognize that I want to interact in their language.
My wife, who is blessed with an Asian face, has a different problem. She is commonly mistaken for a Vietnamese person, and so people address her in colloquial Vietnamese. That’s great if your Vietnamese language proficiency is where you want it to be. It isn’t so great if you’re still a struggling learner, like we are. We will probably have to deal with this phenomenon throughout our time in Vietnam. But if that’s our biggest problem, we should be fine.
I still have ten more weeks of language training before I return to Vietnam to begin my tour. I think my language proficiency is where it has to be for my job requirements. I would like it to be higher, though. I will have to work really hard until June.