Thursday, April 20, 2006

Nha Trang And the French Question

Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 23 2006

Okay, this is what I mean about Vietnam. It's 4:30 in the afternoon. My Tour Bus leaves at 6pm for Hoi An. So I decide to have some authentic...Italian food. I'm sitting at an open restaurant watching the traffic go by when this guy shows up on his motorbike and starts showing his box of books for sale. These are all photocopies of the original books but he acts like they are the real thing. There are a couple of interesting things in this photo. Notice the women wearing masks. Many Vietnamese woman wear them. The masks are to keep their faces from getting tanned. And see the woman at the right of the picture? She's the next selling wave after this first guy is done. And then there's the bus. My impression before coming to this country was that the transportation was very poor. That is definitely not my experience. Vietnam is moving into the 21st Century in a big way. That bus is top quality.
This cutie pie is Huong. She's eighteen years old and very friendly. I don't think this outfit suits her though. I just don't think she passes for Italian. So Huong is taking my order while this guy with the box of books is doing the hard sell on me, and not getting very far. The trouble is that I am a prolific reader and have read most of the books he's selling. As a matter of fact, as of today I've now read fifteen books since arriving in Asia. So I'm starting to lose interest in his pitch.

I look over at the next table and hear two men speaking French. I say hello and and it turns out the man on the left is from Quebec Canada. His name is Jean-Pierre Martin. His buddy is from Switzerland I believe. Anyway, we get talking about the French Question. Canada is a bilingual country with a large population in Quebec speaking French while most of the rest of us speak (only) English. Every few years Quebec makes noises about separating from the rest of Canada but as I admit with some embarrassment to me friend here, I don't understand why they want to leave Canada. He tells me it's because the rest of the country is gunning for Quebecois and trying to kill their culture. I tell Jean-Pierre it never occurred to me that he would think that way. To me as an Albertan (where I lived for 25 years) we think of Quebec as a Giant who teams up with Ontario to control the rest of the country. Jean-Pierre also suggested that it would mean a lot to Quebecois if the rest of us would make more of an effort to speak French, at least to those who are French speaking. I tell him that I feel too intimidated most of the time to speak French because I am afraid I will be shunted for my bad pronunciation. He tells me he has never seen that reaction from a Quebecois and suggests I try it sometimeMeanwhile my book seller is getting a bit exasperated because I have the audacity to ignore him while I sit at my table eating my Vietnamese Italian Pizza while discussing Canadian politics. Suddenly we hear a police siren and the guy with the books drops his box next to me and runs off at full tilt down the street. We all watch him run away and once he is gone we all go back to what we're doing as if nothing has happened. I keep thinking of the scene in 'The wizard Of Oz' when Dorothy says: "People come and go so quickly here." A few minutes later, when the police are gone, the book guy saunters back and continues his sales pitch with me without acknowledging any of what has just happened. He shows no embarrassment or shame. It's just business as usual for him. Finally when he sees there is no sale happening, he wanders over to his motorbike and moves along.
Huong has been watching my reaction to these events and my political discussion with amusement so I ask her to pose for a photo. It's like I said before, everyone is a participant here in Vietnam.

1 comment:

Paul said...

I have experienced the French situation myself. Once in Kashmir I heard some negotiating in clear English for a house boat but when I spoke to them they pretended not to understand.
Them I had a French friend in London who took me home with him to France so I could help him keep up his English learning but once there non of them wanted to speak English.
Why can't they accept that we won the language wars and English is the global language. The sooner we all speak the same one the better and it is just our luck, good or bad that ours won the game.