I know I already touched on the bus topic, but because I learn something new on the bus everyday, I feel like I need to revisit. The bus is where I get a chance to zone in for an hour and get some good old, uninterrupted, people-watching time.
Everyday, I leap onto a moving bus and somehow manage to squish myself in among the local Vietnamese crowds. This is where I learned about the very high regard that they have for their elders, which helped me to piece together and understand the little cultural tips that I received when I first arrived. I was hanging from one of the leather straps in the aisle of the bus one day on my way to work, and was surprised when the bus actually slowed to a complete stop. I was wondering what the driver was doing, because no he usually does a rolling stop for people who are getting on/off. It turns out that there was a little old lady embarking. All of sudden, about ten people in front of me were frantically pushing each other out of the way, to make a path for the old lady. Without acknowledging, the old lady slipped into the empty seat, and only then did the bus start moving again. I started to notice this respectful gesture more and more on the bus. It was a common understanding amongst everyone, and it was certainly nice to see. When the elderly get on the bus, the younger passengers instinctively rise and vacate the seat without even making eye contact. Similarly, which I find quite peculiar, they abide by the same policy for young children.
After seeing this on the bus, a light bulb went off in my mind as I reflected on one of the first things I heard at orientation: When you meet a Vietnamese person, they will often ask you how old you are before even asking what your name is. Western culture dictates that this would be extremely rude and inappropriate, but there is a deeper and underlying meaning here. Age is an important piece of information in Vietnam because it indicates how to appropriately address someone. I was on the bus one day and a girl wanted to practice her English on me, which happens quite often. She asked me, in the following order: where I was from, how old I was, and what my name was. In this case, we happened to be the same age, so she used no prefix. I learned that when the individual is older, the name should be preceded by the word “Chi”. Therefore, to someone much younger, my name would be Chi Kristina. Likewise, men’s names are preceded by “Anh”. “Cu” is for a very old person, and ending a sentence or phrase with “a” is a sign of respect to whomever you are speaking to.
I continue to learn about the rich Vietnamese culture, and their deep love and appreciation for family in the society.