“Thầng nào cùng muốn làm cha”
- Transliterated Proverb
- Thầng: kid, brat (informal and familiar word to refer to a person; people of the same age can call each other this without it being disrespectful unless the disrespect is intended. An older person can call a younger person this without it being inappropriate, or a person in power can call their subordinate this. However, if a younger person calls an older person this, or a subordinate calls their superior this, it is very disrespectful and inappropriate)
- Nào: every, all
- Cũng: also
- Muốn: want
- Làm: do, be
- Cha: father
- Full translation: Every brat wants to be the father
- Explanation: Vietnamese society is patriarchal, so the position of the father is the highest authority and demands the most respect from those under them. My father explains to me that this phrase can be used in a critical way, in contexts where a person may be overstepping their authority or is inappropriately or annoyingly trying to exert power over others. It can also be used more casually to call attention to a situation where everyone in a group is trying to give orders, and no progress is being made. In this way, it can also be used to diffuse a tense situation where everyone is trying to lead at the same time.
I like this proverb because it succinctly describes a complex situation. The word “thầng” is difficult to translate directly into English because it captures a dynamic of social positions that depends on the context of its usage, which does not really exist in the same way in the English language or American culture. Depending on who is saying this proverb and to whom they are saying it to can change the meaning. I like how it can be used in a critical way; to criticize someone overexerting power. Yet, it can also be sarcastic and playful within a group of friends to point out the silliness of people not listening to each other.
“Cây muốn lặng mà gió chẳng chịu đừng”
- Transliterated Proverb:
- Cây: tree
- Muốn: want
- Lặng: still (motion)
- Mà: but
- Gió: wind
- Chẳng: do not want
- Chịu: bear (endure)
- Đừng: stop
- Full translation: The tree wants to stay still, but the wind refuses to stop
- Explanation: This proverb is referring to two people. One is the tree, and the other is the wind. The person who says this proverb in conversation is the tree, to say that the other person will not stop whatever they’re doing, which is directly affecting, pushing around, annoying, etc. the speaker. This implies that if the annoyance will not stop, then the tree will be forced to take action and make them stop. My father explains to me that sometimes, this entails a physical altercation. In his words, “Stop, or I’m gonna punch you.”
I love this proverb because, in Vietnamese, it sounds quite poetic. However, per my father’s explanation, its usage can conversely be quite gritty and unromantic. I find this dichotomy humorous. Looking at the proverb alone, I first thought that it referred to a person’s tough journey, and how their obstacles will not seem to cease. I thought it was melancholy and meaningful to how a person can endure so much. I was shocked to learn from my father that it instead is more of a warning, or in some cases, a threat.
“Ta về ta tắm ao ta”
- Transliterated proverb:
- Ta: I, me
- Về: home
- Tằm: shower, bath, bathe
- Ao: pond
- Full translation: I will return home and bathe in my own pond
- Explanation: An American equivalent of this proverb would be “There is no place better than home.” Thus, this proverb means the best place is home, and could otherwise be stated as “I would rather go home and bathe in my own pond.” My grandmother explains that this proverb could be used to describe a situation where you have traveled to another country, but facing difficulties there makes you realize that your home country was better. It can also be generally referring to another person’s home or an unfamiliar place that is otherwise not your own home. Within the meaning of this proverb is the possibility of the other country, the unfamiliar place, or stranger’s home being wealthier, shinier, or more glamorous than your country or your home. Yet, she explains, at least your home is yours, thus, the wealthier place is not necessarily better.
I like this proverb because I believe that it attests to the culture of my family and the culture I was raised in. When my grandmother was raising my father and his siblings, Vietnam was in the midst of war, and then had to rebuild after the war. Because of this, financial instability was common. The principle of being only concerned with how you are doing and taking care of your home rather than desiring another person’s wealth shines through those circumstances and has followed how my parents raised me. I remember wanting to sleep over at my cousins’ houses often when I was younger, and sometimes complaining to my parents about things they can do or have that I cannot do or have. My parents always responded then that I should want to sleep in my own house and that “it doesn’t matter what someone else has” and reminded me to be grateful for the things that are mine. This sentiment has always been with my grandmother as well, who once expressed to me how “the best place is home” to explain why she turned down my uncle’s offer for her to live with him for a few months in California.
If close to ink, dark. If close to light, bright.
The Informant provided this Vietnamese proverb to me at around 2:30am on 4/22 while she did homework. She is an Economics and Mathematics student at UCLA. The Informant, my girlfriend, said this proverb was burned into her brain by her Vietnamese parents while she was growing up in Garden Grove, a city in Orange County.
Her interpretation of the meaning is that if you surround yourself with bad influences, bad people, or a bad environment, you’ll turn out bad as well. And if you surround yourself with the opposite, successful people, you will be the same. Essentially, you are a product of your environment.
This is similar to a proverb from the Bible. In Proverbs 13:20, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Although this proverb does not have a poetic aspect like the Vietnamese oicotype, I would assume most cultures have a similar proverb. A main function of proverbs is to impart wisdom and parents generally want the best for their children. I would be surprised if a society that uses proverbs did not have one to warn children about the type of company they keep.
I love the linguistics of this proverb. It has clear poetic aspects even though the entire proverb doesn’t rhyme. The actual words used confuse me a bit, because I see ink as a problem in an analogy puzzle. If I were given this analogy puzzle, “ink” would not be one of my guesses:
____ : Dark :: Light : Bright
Ink sticks out like a sore thumb, but that aside I enjoy the poetry of the proverb and the underlying meaning.