Tuesday, April 29, 2008

French Imprints

The French were in Vietnam for about 100 years. Although they have been gone for over 50 years, there are still some French imprints, albeit slowly disappearing. Not many people learn French anymore; rather, they’ll opt for English, or even Japanese. French probably left more of a mark on Vietnamese people of my parents’ generation.

Vocabulary. Some Vietnamese vocabulary still show sign of French, even though it’s not always that obvious. Western people have the tendency to assume that letters in Vietnamese are pronounced the same way as in their respective languages. Not so; I’ve been learning this the hard way! Here are some examples of French influenced terms I've noticed:
- xe buýt means bus. One of the lesser obvious terms. Xe means vehicle.
- ô tô was the term used for cars, or auto, in Northern Vietnam.
- ga means train station, as in gare.
- mơ đến is obviously modern (moderne)
- xu is cent (sous)

Songs. I grew up listening to French songs from the ‘60’s, followed by Vietnamese verses of the same songs. These included Tous les garçons et les filles (Françoise Hardy) and a French version of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down). I heard Aline (Christophe) on our drive from Danang to Hue, which made me giggle. My Vietnamese teacher always hums French songs. I also regularly pick up some French music, mixed in with the Vietnamese songs, in restaurants.

Street names. There are still French name streets like Pasteur and Alexandre De Rhodes (who converted many Vietnamese to Catholicism and is touted as having created the Vietnamese writing system, using the Roman alphabet). However, the well known Catinat St. is now known as Đồng Khởi St.


French Colonial Structures. The downtown core boasts Cathédrale Notre-Dame, the General Post Office and the Municipal Theatre as examples of French colonial structures (thanks to my Vietnam guidebook for this info!).

Food. Many of the French influences can be seen in Vietnamese food. Our banh mi is reminiscent of baguette. There are also some culinary terms that are French inspired:
- Bò bít tết refers to steak (usually served at breakfast with eggs. My aunt in Quang Ngai served some excellent Australian beef!). Ok, so this word is based on a French word (bifteck) which was based on an English term (beef steak).
- cà rốt is clearly carrot (carotte)
- cà phê is obviously coffee (café)
- núi, referring to nouille, is a pasta and beef dish sold street side
- sô-cô-la is chocolate (chocolat). One thing The Boyfriend pointed out that I never noticed (duh!) is that all Vietnamese words have one syllable, which explains why chocolate had to be broken down into three words.
- sốt means sauce, as in sốt cà chua, ketchup (cà chua means tomato!).


Pastries. There are many pastry shops here. This picture was taken at Pat-a-Chou (another French term!). At the top is a bánh paté chaud (a vol-au-vent stuffed with pork), on the right is a chocolate stuffed croissant and at the bottom a pineapple pastry.


- bánh flan (as in Spanish flan and not English fruit flan cake, totally different!) is a favourite dessert here and can be found everywhere, from Givral pastry shop to vendors on the streets. I think I eat about one every week…

- bánh su kem (choux à la crème) or cream puffs, are also quite popular here.


Dairy products. Not surprisingly, many dairy product terms come from the French since Vietnamese do not typically eat dairy food. Some French influenced dairy terms include:
- Kem is ice cream or crème glacée (limonade sucrée, dis-moi le nom de ton cavalier…)
- is butter or beurre (and trai bơ is avocado, possibly alluding to its buttery texture)
- phô-mai or phó mát is cheese or fromage (and the most popular brand here is La Vache qui rit or con bò cười!)

5 comments:

Dédalus said...

With the photographs is better to see how is the country you're.

Regards from Spain!

Wandering Chopsticks said...

Alexandre de Rhodes published the first Portuguese-Latin-Vietnamese dictionary. That's why we have the tilde ~ symbol.

There's also va ly -> valise. And yogurt.

And some say pho? came from pot au feu. Feu -> pho?.

And French technique for bo luc lac! :)

Miss.Adventure said...

Muchas gracias, Dedalus!

WS: I always wondered about dau nga - tilde. Interesting info!

Va ly is a good one! I thought about yogurt, but on my container here, it says "sua chua". I also saw xi mang - ciment (cement) today in the Mekong Delta! I'm sure there are lots more!

Wandering Chopsticks said...

Ah, forgot to type out yogurt. Dau ua. So it does sound a bit like yogurt. Except I don't know the French word for it to see if it's close. :P

BTW, I think the difference with VNese jello is thach is pudding, dong suong is gelatin. I mistakenly spelled it with an X before.

Now, if you went into Chinese influences, we'd be here all day! All those Han Viet words.

Raine said...

Banh Pate Chaud! Gosh I love those. I went to CA a for a few days and that's all I ate for my 3 meals a day, lol! I tried to replicate it at home once, but alas, no Puff Pasty in the freezer aisle, and we don't purchase real butter xD