A short Vietnamese lesson.
ba means ‘three’
ba means ‘Dad’
bà means ‘Grandmother or Missus’
bà means ‘her’
ba ba means ‘turtle’
So what would I have if I was given ba ba ba?
Whatever your answer is; you’re probably wrong – it’s a beer, 333 beer actually.
Though I suppose I could have been given three of her Grandmothers; though it pretty unlikely.
The Vietnamese language sometimes needs context to be clear. So, if l worked in a marine sanctuary (or a restaurant) then ba ba ba really could mean three turtles.
The Vietnamese words for cream, ice cream and moisturiser are the same – kem. It would be obvious if I was asking for some kem to put on my face, but less so if I ordered some kem to go with a piece of cake.
But this is just the beginning of my Vietnamese language confusion.
At one point I thought that bánh meant bread, as in Bánh Mì a Vietnamese bread roll. Okay, that is easy.
Then I came across Bánh Xèo, a delicious savoury pancake stuffed with pork and bean sprouts. It isn’t a really bread, so I modified my definition of bánh to mean anything made from flour. My beloved Bánh Cuốn (steamed rice noodle rolls) are made from flour, so is Bánh Chuối (banana cake). Finally I figured it out and it all fit! I felt pretty proud of myself for having used my excellent powers of deduction so skilfully.
Then I learnt the words for motorcycle tyre – bánh xe… Huh? What?
Tyres are made from synthetic rubber, natural rubber, fabric and wire, not freaking flour.
Then what the hell does bánh mean?
All confidence in my reasoning skills having left me, I finally just asked someone what it means.
And it pretty much translates as something that is or was round in shape.
Okay then; I can live with that.
Actually, the double, triple, quadruple and octuple meanings of the same word are less bothersome to me than the tonal nature of Vietnamese. But I can tell you’re already reeling from this small insight into the multifariousness of Vietnamese words, so let’s go over tones another time.
Fun fact! Many people, locals and tourists alike, use motorcycle taxis or xe ôm to get around. Xe is a prefix word for a type of vehicle, as in xe gắn máy for motorcycle. In Vietnamese, ôm means a cuddle, so the direct translation isn’t ‘motorcycle taxis,’ it is ‘motorcycle hug.’ I think that is just a great way to put it.