(Not so) Lost in Translation

6 May

Last night marked my final meeting with my language partner, Hang. Since early last October, I have met with a 26 year-old Vietnamese woman (as well as her husband Xuan and her cousin, Van, who each had their own partners) for an hour at Berkeley’s YWCA to practice her English. This was through a program called English in Action.

Over the course of the year, I learned a lot about Vietnamese culture (every word in Vietnamese is one syllable, for example) as well as how certain American traditions are viewed from an outsider’s point of view.

To celebrate my graduation, Hang and her family took me to a restaurant called Le Petit Cheval (which is right next to the YWCA on Bancroft) for some Saigon cuisine. It was a lot of fun trying food I’d never had before and laughing at my feeble attempt at using chopsticks (if only I’d ended up half-Japanese, right Mom?). Hang asked me if her English has improved (it really has) and she said she used to be nervous around me because I was like a teacher, but then she got more confident because I am more like a friend…super nice/endearing!

While the food was delicious (especially the lemongrass chicken and the prawns), the service was embarrassingly terrible. The manager was unbelievably disrespectful and rude. Xuan explained to me that he felt slighted by the waitress, because when we entered he addressed her in Vietnamese using a colloquial term meaning “sister” and she continued to refer to him as “son.” All of this was very interesting – and on our way out, this same waitress was actually SPEAKING to a potted plant outside. Xuan exclaimed ” I thought retarded people weren’t supposed to work!” Mildly offensive, but also really funny.

All in all, I am glad I signed up for the program and was able to learn a lot from them. As we were leaving, they told me that I had to invite them to the next milestone in life – a graduation, or a wedding…or according to Hang’s cousin, Van, my funeral. Good times as a language partner with the YWCA.

In case you’re interested:

Berkeley YWCA

English in Action

Le Petit Cheval

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