Sep 06, 2013 in

Did you know that Vietnamese start learning English in school when they are twelve? Same as in Germany. But still, their English is incredibly bad. Most can not even say more than “Hello” and “Where you from?”. Bargaining for the price will only happen with fingers or with a calculator to show the price. Only with few, it is possible to have a basic conversation in English. So to have a notebook and a pen is very useful for communication here.
A Vietnamese told me that in school, they learn only the grammar, not conversation. This is similar what I heard about Thailand. So they learn English like we learn Latin. Hey, let’s have a conversation in Latin, shall we? Hmm.. errr… alea acta est?

Analogous to the horn of motos, perhaps for the lack of the knowledge of other words, being greeted with “Hello” has more than one meaning:

“Hello! …Moto?” is one of them (no, not that one, Motorola isn’t even popular here!). Moto-taxis are really around every corner, even in non-touristic places it is hard to not be offered moto-rides (as an European) by just walking down a street. As those “taxis” are in every aspect just a guy with a moto and a second helmet, it is impossible to say how ad-hoc those taxis really are or if it is not really just some guy who sniffed an opportunity to get some cash. The Vietnamese are of the enterprising kind, so this isn’t far fetched.

Next one, is the “Hello” … “Buy something from mee!”. This happens in non-touristic places as well. Just walking though a local (e.g. food, textile) market and so much as blink at the wares or the shopkeeper is often enough to get this kind of attention. Yesterday it went like this: While walking past a raw textiles shop, the shopkeeper points at a random shop item and says “Buy this?” – “Err, no?”. Then he points at another random item, “Buy this?” – “No!”, another item “Buy this?”,… which went on until I just walked away.
So, many just start communication to entangle you in the webs of their shop, fluffing themselves that this kind of tactic would enhance their chances to sell you something. Does it? Not for me.

On the market in Hai Phong.

Now, even though I sometimes get the impression that everyone here in Vietnam (that shows interest in you) is trying to get as much money out of you as possible, most people that say “Hello” to you actually just want to say “Hello”. Not more, no conversation, just “Hello”: A moto that drives by: “Hello”, kids playing on the street, “Hello”, some guy on the street “Hello”. At first when somebody greeted me, I stopped, greeted back and stared at him, expecting a conversation. It was interesting to find out that many people really just want to say “Hello”, nothing more.
Regrettably, if it is a conversation, it often comes down to the other person wanting me to buy something. That is why I normally greet back but keep walking by now.

By the way, did you know that I am regarded as very handsome here? It is flattering to be complimented so often for ones looks. I will miss that when I am back in Germany ;-)

A scene in the Bac Ha market. Many Flower Hmong here.

A game of catch the tourist! This couple made the mistake of showing a slight interest in the wares a street-seller was offering. In seconds, more street sellers were sniffing the possible cash.

Animal market in Bac Ha. There is big trade with singing birds. Many shops, restaurants and families have singing-birds in their houses.