How old are you?
For those who are new to Vietnam and its culture, being asked that question regularly can be really annoying. And that is why you need such cultural literacy to understand the reason behind: The pronouns system in Vietnamese language is very complex. The usage of 1st, 2nd and 3rd pronouns in a conversation in Vietnamese requires relative comparison between the ages of the participants. The following table shows some common scenarios and the usage of appropriate pronouns:
So basically, Vietnamese people do not need to know your exact age. They just want to know the relative comparison between your age and theirs to address you correctly. But you may ask: “Why do they still need to know my age even when we are communicating in English? Should they just need to use ‘I’ and ‘you’?”. Well, that’s correct. However, they may also need to address you as the third person in the conversations with other Vietnamese and hence, knowing your age is still necessary for them be able to mention you with an appropriate 3rd pronoun.
So how should you respond when being asked about your age? Of course the simplest answer is a number, if you have no problem of doing so. However, if you, like many others, especially the ladies, are not comfortable with revealing your age then you don’t need to. Now knowing the purpose of the question, you can just give some estimated comparison between your age and theirs, something like “I think I’m younger than you” or “I think we are about the same age” should be sufficient enough. The most impressive answer that I have ever heard came from a client to one of my colleagues: “I’m old enough to be your mother”. With the fact that she properly was, that answer was quite shocking but somehow, it could still serve the purpose of the question.
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