Street Vendors

Being a student of languages, I found it very interesting during my recent travels to compare the English abilities of street vendors in both Cambodia and Vietnam. These are the people who continually summon you to check out their goods and really pressure you into buying something.

At times it can be very annoying, but one has to remember that there are no social services here and these people struggle day by day to just get by. But for the foreigner, it’s difficult to identify who the true needy are and who don’t need as much help. So this entry will serve as kind of a guide to help in discerning who you should give a bit of money to as well as how they will approach you.

The first thing I noticed is how from Cambodia and throughout Vietnam they are using new English phrases to get you to buy something.

1. The new phrase everyone is using after you have repeatedly told them no is “ok, later.”

The vendor will continually say “You buy me one, you buy me one.” They will be persistent but after telling them “no” continually they will say “OK Later” after which many foreigners say “OK.” Then the next time they see you they will say “You say you buy me one, why you not buy me one,” and look at you with a sad face. If you really don’t want to buy something you cannot say “OK” after they say “OK, later” because they will really pester you since you agreed to buy something after they said “ok, later.”

In the beginning, foreigners will usually buy something but their constant pleas will eventually wear anyone down. On the beach in Nha Trang we bought a few items at first but that created a swarm of people around us. To those that simply wouldn’t leave and looked needy, I offered to buy them a drink and gave their kids some gum. It costs next to nothing and will create good will.

Sometimes, they are grateful if you just sit and talk with them instead of shutting them out completely. I spoke with one woman on the beach for about an hour and learned so much about her life and how she makes a living. It made me laugh when she said she really didn’t like the French because they never bought anything. Again, it can get very annoying when you are continually asked to buy something but it’s important to remember that these are human beings as well and it’s good to drop a few coins now and then.

While in Hoi An, I ran into one kid who had a very unique approach to selling his newspapers. We had just gotten of the motorbikes when this kid with tears running down his face said to me “You buy me one.” Now in this case I could tell that it was a trick that many foreigners might fall for. So I asked him directly, “Why are you crying.” I don’t think he could understand but all his tears really did get to me and I offered him about 20 cents for nothing. He then pointed to the price of the paper which was 30,000 VND. It was then I could see in his face that he wasn’t really sad and it was all a ploy. The price of a newspaper is 5,000VND and somehow he figured out how to erase the price that is printed on the paper and reprint in strange font a much higher price. This was a sham and made me mad so I walked past him and into the restaurant. He tried to follow me in but the staff stopped him.

I began to observe him from the outside and saw other Vietnamese looking at him with amusement. It sounds cruel, but this kid was doing OK with his gig of ripping off foreigners. His tears also immediately stopped when no foreigners were nearby. He then saw me looking at him and started gesturing after which I asked again in Vietnamese “How much??” with a look that told him I was not going to pay that outrageous price. I really did want a newspaper but there was no way I was going to get ripped off that much.

He lowered the price a little after which I told him in Vietnamese “Too much!” He then came into the restaurant and the staff wanted to kick him out again, but I told them to let him come after which I negotiated the price down to 10,000VND which is twice the price, but then again this is how the kid makes his living and for me it’s not that much money.

The moral of the story I guess is that it’s a bad idea to let yourself get ripped off because it is not an honest way of doing business and will cause trouble for other foreigners but on the other hand it’s good to be generous from time to time and when the need is truly there. So I felt good about not paying too much but at the same time giving him a little extra.

After I finished my meal I spoke to him a bit but my Vietnamese wasn’t enough to understand what he was saying. I gave him a handshake and he returned a big smile.
Another story to illustrate the negative effects of giving money when one shouldn’t is to the very young bow legged girl who hangs out on Dong Khoi street. She is cute as buttons but if it’s her mother who makes her go out day after day when she should be in school. If we give money to her it will simply encourage this terrible practice. And, she really isn’t that needy which I found out by offering to buy her a coke and a hot dog after which she replied, “No,,,, Money!” The conversation usually goes like this.

Girl: You buy me one
Me: Cannot
Girl: yes,, you buy me one!
Me: Not today
Girl” ok later
Me: No not later, do you want a Coke?
Girl: No, Money!
Me: No, Coke!
Girl: You give me money!
With the young ones it’s easy to get them off their goal by asking simple questions.
Me: How old are you?
girl: 7
Me: What’s your name?
girl: hanh
Me: Hi Hanh, my name is Matt
girl: You buy me one!

Then I usually just smile and continue on.

This girl knows me since I’ve lived here for two years and the other night when we were hitting the bars she started to come up to me after which I looked at her with an over-animated expression of surprise and started to run away saying “Nooooooooooooo” I turned around and it was so cute to see those little bow legs running after me with a big smile on her face. I picked her up and carried her in my arms and said, “Why you always chase me!” She said “You buy me one?” I said “Already buy you one last month!”

She started to count her postcards “One, two, three, four….” and I responded in Spanish after which she looked at me with a quizzical look. It was cute and I couldn’t help but give her 2,000 dong which is about 15 cents. I really shouldn’t encourage that practice but I couldn’t help myself on that occasion.

Another good trick if you really don’t want to give money is to simply talk with them or offer funny answers to their questions.

They will say “You buy me one,” but then sometimes ask you questions to keep you attention. Most all of them after you initially refuse will ask “Where are you from?” To this I sometimes reply “Japan” and if they are quick they will think a minute and then smile and say “nooooooooooooo” Then you can smile and share a laugh with them. I then ask where they are from and they usually say “Ho Chi Minh City” and are pleased that you stopped to talk with them since most foreigners do not.

It’s also extremely important to always keep a smile on your face and be warm and friendly. Even if you don’t want to buy you can sympathize with them by the expressions on your face and they will begin to have a favorable opinion of foreigners even if they don’t buy.

Saigon Stories – Thoughts of the Day

American in Vietnam
America in the House!!! Last week one of the biggest socialites in Saigon had his going away party and the theme was to dress like someone from your country. Therefore, I decided to dress as someone from a “Red State” and although my state of Ohio turned out red this time, I think that was simply an irregularity as most people from Ohio are most excellent. Perhaps my costume could have been construed as someone from Michigan or perhaps Indiana.

I also ran into a few of my friends from the State Department who also happen to be on my darts team and when I explained the costume they just shook their heads in disappointment.. 🙂

But speaking of the red states, I was contemplating on how it could be that Bush got elected for another term. I think one of the main reasons is that Bush just connected better with the people than Kerry. He was able to get them wound up just like an owner would get his dog excited over fetching a ball. “Come on Boy! Get the weapons of mass destruction, come on, come on, Lets Go! Let’s go attack an Arab country that is very little threat to us!!! Yea Yea!! ” This is what people in the blue states would call a “demagogue.” Now please don’t confuse this with demi-god, you people in the red states, it’s not the same thing.

But on a serious note, my buddy who just returned from the States says that the lack of honest debate in the USA is quite scary. Everyone who has lived abroad for any amount of time understands that leaders can whip the people up using demagoguery while vilifying those of a different opinion. The one thing that Bush is very good at is getting things done, and not getting bogged down in that horrible thing called debate and consensus. The democrats should also be castigated for not being able to get their act together and actually do something. Now don’t get me wrong, I still think America is one of the best
countries in the world, but has simply hit a rough patch. It is fun from time to time when people get too negative about America to ask them where all good things come from…. TVs’, computers, cars, robots to Mars, the internet… where did all these things come from??? If it was up to other countries, we would still be riding donkeys and whatnot.. haha…

But why oh why, is America so polarized when we have such excellent universities and an educated population? Anyone who has taken a debate class knows that there are positive and negative aspects to both sides of a conflict. I think most of the world’s problems stem from a failure to understand the other side. If you take the war in Vietnam for example, the communist fighters really did believe in what they were fighting for and if we look at their situation, they had been oppressed by the Chinese for thousands of years, and then by the French.

But if we look at the other side in terms of the French, the French people
thought they were bringing good things to Vietnam and “modernizing them” but it all came at a price. The Americans thought that Communism must be stopped because it was “oppressive” when the other side thought that Communism would be “liberating.” The truth is, the more one studies and understands the other side, the harder it is to define one side as good and right. If one reads Ho Chi Minh’s writing and read their constitution it speaks of liberty and freedom. The western powers wanted to keep Vietnam divided while Ho Chi Minh was trying to unify his country to make it strong. Many people will be angry at this opinion as I am just a foreigner in this country and they will say it’s none of my
business. But this brings up another issue which I will address shortly as I don’t want to get off my main point.

We have made so much progress in the USA that it’s disheartening to see the current administration define conflicts in terms of “Good and Evil.” Although they did get it right in calling North Korea Evil which the current leadership truly is. As you can tell by my writing, it’s very easy to go back and forth on every issue and this is what learning and
experience does to you. But this will always be attacked from the extremists on both sides as fence sitting as though it that is a negative thing.

Now back to me being a “foreigner” in this country. I think in this age of air travel, the enthusiasm to learn other languages and understand other cultures people are integrating with each other much faster than before. Just take the massive protests in the USA at the moment. These people are just seeking the “American” dream like the Italians, Poles, Chinese and Irish before them. The borders of countries change and new lines are drawn such as when the USA took half of Mexico in the 1800’s. But people migrate and seek out better circumstances.

The detractors to immigration point to the fact that they are “illegals” which they are. The laws are there for a reason which may be the stability of jobs for those who are already “Americans.” But laws will not stop people from seeking out a better life such as Americans did when the forefathers broke the laws of their King, and the black civil rights leaders broke the unjust laws of the white rulers. So again it is quite easy to see both sides of the issue. The Statue of Liberty stand for freedom and is one of America’s greatest monuments. Other people too wish to come to America and good for them. So while the laws are in place for a reason, we must also understand why people want to come to America and be proud of that. I think the government is doing a good job of understanding both sides and trying to navigate this issue delicately.

Now let me digress to people calling me a foreigner in other countries. Sometimes it irks me when people call me a “foreigner” while I’m in their land. Anyone can come to the US and become fully American. But we cannot do this yet in the Asian countries and are always treated as outsiders. One lovely older lady kept saying during her speech at some
business event that we must remember Vietnam is not our country and we are “guests” here.

For those “foreigners” who have lived here a long time, will it ever be possible that our cultures integrate so much that people from other nations will be accepted as the locals are? Many of them speak Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese quite well. It may sound ridiculous now, but cultures can come together quite well in America,,, so will it ever be the same in other countries? Just a thought..

Saigon Stories – Fun in Saigon

I couldn’t think of a better title for this post. But a couple of funny instances recently that made me laugh and I thought I should write about. It’s moments like these that make me really love the Vietnamese people.

1. I was speaking with one of our staff members about how the salutation to put on a letter we were going to send to about 200 executives in Saigon. We wanted to make it a personal letter but not spend the mass amount of time writing each persons name on every e-mail.
Me – “How about,,,,, ‘Dear Members, or Dear Esteemed Guests’.”

She thought about it for a minute or two and said, “Deeeaaaarrrr……………….Monkeys.”

It kept the office laughing for about 10 minutes.

2. I was working on my laptop in the formal dining area. One of the new young female staff member came over and delicately poured me a glass of water after which she said,
“Please enjoy your water.”

It was really cute and made me smile. As every language learner knows, you learn specific phrases to say in certain situations and therefore anywhere you go, the Vietnamese will always tell you to Enjoy your something or other. Apparently she was not taught that you don’t have to say that when it comes to water.

3. We spent a day doing a lot calling to invite about 200 prospects to one of the clubs events. That means we spoke to a lot of secretaries who had limited English ability.
Most of the recordings would tell you to push the extention number of the person you were trying to reach or press either 1 or 0. 

One recording told me to please press the number 10………

It’s understandable that these things happen in English because it’s not their native language. But some funny instances also happen in Vietnamese. My Vietnamese co-worker was asked by a secretary the following. 

“Do you have a reservation for your telephone call?”

I could see the confused look on his face and when he told the other staff members everyone just burst out laughing.



RUN!!!!!! THE CAPITALISTS ARE BACK!!!!!! I never thought I would see an ad like this in Vietnam. It was from the British Business Group in Saigon. Doesn’t it look like some sort of Evil corporate / Nazi propoganda poster? Hell, at least the communists smile in their posters! And to make it worse, it’s lead by the evil white man!!!!! AHHHHHHH RUNNNNNN!!!!!! Vietnam needs Michael Moore!!!!

Seriously though, what is this ad trying to say? I cut out the bottom half of the ad which showed the groups involved in putting on this seminar. It’s actually not sponsored by a group called “the Capitalists”, but instead something much worse. LAWYERS!!!! The message conveyed is:

“You don’t need to be fair managers, pay decent wages, or limit the amount of overtime to your poor employees!!! What you need is LITIGATION and lots and lots of FORMS AND MORE LITIGATION!!!!!”

I can just imagine this army of lawyers storming into a factory like a battalion of soldiers, walking passed the sweaty poor, underpaid employees and up to the managements office where they will furiously fill out FORMS!!! And lots of them!!!! Then after creating a couple mountains of paperwork have the employees sign their one hundred page contract of which they cannot understand a word, and then be paid an obscene salary for successfully oppressing the poor masses.

And as a side note, why is the English language always so violent? It’s always THE FIGHT against something or other,, or THE WAR on this or that. Tackling isn’t as aggressive, but it still means stopping something by using force. I guess, “Fair Management practices to ensure strikes become unnecessary” is simply not catchy enough. Since I’m American and have learned much during the past couple years from our DEAR LEADERS, I might be able to offer some suggestions with the full blessing of the US of A.

1. The SHOCK and AWE of Labor Strikes
2. FREEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM !!!!!!!!!!!!!! from labor strikes.
3. BATTLE for the Hearts and Minds of Labor Strike Leaders!
4. The WAR on Labor Strikes!
5. GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ……. Hates Labor Strikes
6. Labor Strikes do not reflect the will OF THE American People!