Living in blissful silence. That was my naive hope. The world is full of thousands of languages and dialects and I haven’t learned them all, in fact I’ve barely learned Spanish. I knew that living in Vietnam would mean some language barriers, there would definitely be some frustrations and I would most certainly be confused. But mostly, I’ve just been frustrated with the cultural differences of handling things regardless of not understanding.
If I ask a question or do my best to convey what I’m trying to say, most of the time I’m told “NO” and pushed away until I leave. That happens when the person speaks zero English. If someone speaks some English, they will stare at me trying to understand and then respond with, “No we don’t have that.” Even if they clearly do.
Sometimes I’m patient. Sometimes I’m hungry and I’m not patient. It’s all a learning process.
I’m a big talker under normal circumstances, and with that comes excessive hand motions to describe what I’m saying. Surprisingly, this has helped. Because my hand motions were already a habit, its easier to convey what I’m saying by speaking with my hands.
Here’s an anecdote.
We would go to this restaurant/bar almost every single night for two months, and one of us would order a burger. He would say one bacon cheeseburger, no onions and no lettuce. Every time they would say “We can’t do that, the burger HAS to have those.” And every time, we would turn his screen and input, “no onions, no lettuce.” It would be served without onions or lettuce.
Another funny anecdote.
Our hotel only had a washer and we would have to line dry our clothes. A few days of rain and cold temperatures meant our clothes would not dry and began to smell swampy. There was a place in town where you could pay to have your laundry done and they had the only dryer in town! So I would strap about ten pounds of clothes on the back of my scooter and get laundry done every week. The first time I walked into the building, the girl laughed at me and then proceeded to tell me I was a lazy woman for not doing my own laundry. She did not think this was offensive or rude at all.
And one last one.
After renting a scooter for 6 weeks, I tried to return it. It was all paid up and I just needed to confirm my return. The manager I usually spoke with wasn’t there, and the guy working the desk, kept saying, “you rent now you buy!” I told him no, and got a translator on the phone to explain the situation. He promptly hung up on my translator, said “I understand what you’re saying,” and then said, “you rent you buy!” I scowled and waited for the manager to come back. He then graciously took my keys and I was on my way.
Smiling also speaks more than words can say. I smile, someone smiles back and we continue live in complete silence and harmony together.