Vietnam. Lost in Translation.

Yestersday in my Vietnamese class I learned that the way I have been pronouncing ’em ơi’, a polite way of getting someone’s attention, sounds more like I am saying, ‘vomit’. Also, the word for a ‘serving or portion of food’, and the word for ‘poo’, in Vietnamese are very similar. So if you are trying your very hardest to use the Vietnamese you have learned when you are out to dinner, it is very probable you’ll end up saying something like this-

‘Hey vomit, a poo of chicken wings, thanks’.

The huge differenes between English and Vietnamese means Google Translate isn’t always much help.

Recently, I was trying to get my motorbike fixed using Google translate on my phone. I typed into my phone that I thought oil was leaking and showed the mechanic. He typed something back and it translated to,

‘Another time there was oil so I ran away’.

The word for ‘repair’, and the word for ‘milk’, are very similar in Vietnamese as well so when the mechanic handed me my phone with a nonsecal message that involved something about ‘milking a bike’, it was time to call a Vietnamese friend for help. Lucky, I have some wonderful Vietnamese friends in my life who are always happy to help when the going gets tough.



Things regularly get lost in translation both ways here. The other day I received this  very resassuring message from my Grab driver.



I am trying to learn Vietnamese but progess feels like it is moving at a glacial pace. I’m realistic that I probably won’t ever be fluent, but it’d be nice to be able to able to have a chit-chat with my neighbors. I was talking about this to a Vietnamese lady I met out at a recent dinner.

“I really want to improve my Vietnamese, it’d be nice to just chat to the neighbors y’know. ‘How are you?’, ‘it’s hot today, isn’t it?’, that sort of thing”.

The Vietnamese lady laughed, “Foreigners always talk about the weather! We don’t do that. You say to a Vietnamese person, ‘it’s hot today’, and they’ll look at you and say, ‘Yes. It is. Obviously’.

Apparently stating the bleeding obvious, ‘phew, hot one isn’t it’, ‘geeze that was a lot of rain’, is considered an odd thing to say if you are trying to start a conversation with someone.

‘My boyfriend is American and he does this. But in Vietnam we never try to start a conversation talking about the weather,  that would be so strange. We ask people how they are’.

In reality, Vietnamese people will ask more than how you are. If you are attempting to strike up a coversation, why faff about with the weather when you can ask, “Are you married? Why not?”, instead? 

“Why do you look so tired?”

“How old are you?”

“How much do you earn?”

“How much rent do you pay?”

There is no beating around the bush in Vietnam and these questions that would be considered forward or downright rude to ask someone at home, are no big deal here. The cultural difference between Vietnam and Australia run a lot deeper than anything in this post,  but people are people all over the world. Communication style may differ, but we all have the same need to connect with others, which is why I’ll keep pushing on with my Vietnamese lessons. Hopefully I won’t say anything too offensive a long the way.


Here a few random photos of daily life here in wonderful Saigon.


I took this photo the other day, while I was out at the shops. Vietnam is such a wonderfuly interesting country full of contrasts.


First dinner of our ladies-over-30-social club was a hit! That’s me front left.


Driving home on a drizzly afternoon.




A mixed bag of photos I have taken recently.



38 thoughts on “Vietnam. Lost in Translation.

  1. Pingback: Vietnam. Lost in Translation – Timeless Wisdoms

  2. This post made me smile so much – you got me at vomit and poo haha. I find Asian languages on a different scale of difficult. Have you found any tricks or methods to work more than others? Such as having local friends or reading the newspaper?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitley having local friends helps. I used to meet with this awesome Vietnamese lady and she’d bring her baby and we’d go to coffee or to the pool and she helped me a lot. The gramma or Vietnamese isn’t so bad, its the pronunciation. Even slightly different and you can go from portion to poo! I teach here and the quickest way to make the whole class laugh is for me to try and say someones name.
      I leared Spanish before and I really felt myself making progress but I haveb been here in SAigon one year and I still totally suck!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I couldn’t help laughing while reading about saying somebody’s name – it has happened to me before. There’s no way I can get Pádraig (Irish name) right, I always say it as Porridge (my breakfast) haha.
        What about Vietnamese reading? It looks so difficult.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So funny!!! Hahaha. So true! The few words of Vietnamese I remember (now that we are back), don’t help much because of the pronunciation challenges for us westerners here. Still its worth trying.

    Yup, growing up in South Africa, no one discussed the weather. Ever. Why?? Because it was always good weather! Here its always hot and humid ~ not much to talk about other than “YIKES its hot!! ~ foreigner to foreigner.



  4. We have similar things in the UK and the cultural differences between Vietnam and here and outstanding. We constantly talk about the bloody weather haha! This was such an interesting post – some of those translations were funny! x


    • Thank-you! Yeah I don’t think I am going to be fluent any time soon and just a slight variation in tone can change everything. “Ocean”, can become, “F*** off”, with just a slight change so I learned the other day!


  5. Pingback: Vietnam. Lost in Translation. — Self-Inflicted Drama – Truth Troubles

  6. I haven’t had language differences with people in other countries, but I’ve had them when talking to people in the south, as I live in New York. However, I remember when the Jackson Five had the #1 song in the nation, Dancing Machine, and one of the NCO’s who was my baseball coach (’74) said a phrase they were using in the song meant something naughty in Vietnam. 🙂


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