Greeting fast. Responding fast. Moving fast.
Time, time. Hurry up. A long line. Another face. Another voice. Quick. Can’t let them wait. Quick. Take their orders. Hand out their food. One person gone. The next person steps up. I greet fast, respond fast, and move fast in the Maize. “Can I have a special for here, please?” a customer asks.
A different voice from another side: “I’d like a bread bowl, please?”
Grab a plastic plate. Then, grab the bread shaped like a bowl. I turn to a customer who is standing and waiting in a long line. I ask, “What soup would you like?”
“Broccoli cheese, please!” the first voice responds. At the drop of a hat, my hand reaches to the spoon; I serve soup into the bread bowl then hand it out enthusiastically. “Enjoy your meal!”
When I first came to the United States, I was so surprised at the difference in the concept of time between Vietnam and America. The culture in Vietnam is very relaxed, so time is stretched like a rubber band. Vietnamese people make time in their day for socializing and developing relationships. Americans do the same as well, but the process is very stressful. It seems like America never runs out of energy and is continuously moving. Coming from a relaxing lifestyle made me struggle many times in adapting to America’s culture. Although I am still trying to find a balance between these two cultures, I need to adapt enough of the American way of life so I am not overwhelmed as easily.
Working in Dining Services has brought me a great experience of United States culture. I have learned that American people are far busier than Vietnamese people. I think they do not even have time for waiting. Also, walking from class to class, I clearly see the rushed movement in American students. Their hurried movement is strongly revealed in greeting each other. One time, I met my friend on the way to Ivers. She greeted me: “Hey Minh! How are you?” Not even waiting for my answer, she kept walking, and I replied, “I’m good! How are you?” Still walking, she yelled her answer from behind me. I was so surprised! I had no clue what was going on. I didn’t understand why she would ask how I was and then just keep walking. Didn’t she want to know how I was feeling? Why didn’t she stay to express how she was feeling? I asked myself, “Is this the normal way people greet each other?” Now I know that my friend just wanted to recognize me rather than to know about my day.
Greeting people is so different in my country. In Vietnam, people rarely say “Hi” or “How are you?” In a conversation people tend to have a deeper concern for how others’ days are going. For example, they may ask how is work going? Is your family in good health? When my American friends asked me how to say “Hi” in Vietnamese, I was amazed at the awkward feeling of saying “Xin chao.” I knew the existence of the word “Xin chao.” However, I have never used it before. Generally, Vietnamese people only use the greeting “Ban co khoe khong?” which is “How are you?” in English, if they have not met their friends for a long time. Furthermore, Vietnamese students think those greetings are just redundant because they will see their friends at least one time per day. At school, they stay in the same room and with the same people for every subject; hence, the Vietnamese students from elementary to high school know one another very well. This custom makes them think “How are you?” is not a good start for every conversation. Obviously they know if their friend is healthy or sick. If a student sees a friend disappointed, that student will come ask and cheer up the friend. Or, when they meet each other, they will go toward their friends and start a conversation. In the situation of greeting friends on the sidewalk, if they are busy or have an appointment, they will wave and pass by. The behavior of waving and walking by becomes a natural thing to Vietnamese students; they never think verbal recognition is necessary because conversations require more time during the day. Therefore, life’s movement in Vietnam becomes more relaxed.
“On time” is the American principle of time. However, my country uses the time principle like a rubber band. Life in Vietnam isn’t rushed because people stretch time in order to relax. Therefore, being late is alright in some situations. Once, I left for class at 7:50 a.m., which is difficult for getting to an 8 a.m. class on time. American society is very strict about getting to places on time, but in Vietnam, it is okay if you are a few minutes late. Growing up with this “rubber band” time shaped me into someone who, by American standards, is slow. For example, when I first came to America, it would take me half an hour to take a shower. I thought it was a normal length for a shower until I noticed my roommate Lexi. She just grabbed her stuff, and ten minutes later she was back in the room. I was really amazed at how quick she is at showering and going places.
In Vietnam, whenever I went to weddings I always arrived an hour later than the time set on the invitation. I bet you think that I am not a responsible person. Well, being an hour late was still too early because parties usually don’t start for another hour. So actually, I arrived earlier than most people. If I was on time, I would have awkwardly sat alone at a table and would have waited at least two hours before someone else came. If the guests don’t come early, the wedding is delayed until almost every guest is present. People are very relaxed at weddings, so the delaying is not a bad thing. Even though I did not like waiting, I didn’t want to leave the wedding early, because I spent most of my day preparing for it. Moreover, leaving the wedding is not respectful to the bride and groom. It is hurtful for the hosts when a guest they invited leaves early.
To me, waiting is the worst part. When I attended the wedding of my aunt’s Vietnamese friend in Virginia, I was so surprised that the other guests didn’t arrive on time. I thought that Americans were always on time. Since they were Vietnamese Americans, I thought they would be at the wedding on time and that I wouldn’t have to wait for everyone to get there. So when my aunt and I got to the wedding on time and no one was there, I was frustrated that I had to wait for other people. Being frustrated tempted me to leave the wedding before it even started, but I couldn’t leave early because it would be rude and inappropriate to the hosts, which would make my aunt feel embarrassed and ashamed of me. Therefore, I expected Vietnamese Americans, who had lived in the United States for many years, to change their lifestyle when they came to a new and rushed environment. The principle of relaxed time is so deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture that even the rushed environment of America could not change it. I wish Vietnamese Americans would adapt to the American concept of time.
I thought they would be at the wedding on time and that I wouldn’t have to wait for everyone to get there. So when my aunt and I got to the wedding on time and no one was there, I was frustrated that I had to wait for other people. Being frustrated tempted me to leave the wedding before it even started, but I couldn’t leave early because it would be rude and inappropriate to the hosts, which would make my aunt feel embarrassed and ashamed of me. Therefore, I expected Vietnamese Americans, who had lived in the United States for many years, to change their lifestyle when they came to a new and rushed environment. The principle of relaxed time is so deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture that even the rushed environment of America could not change it. I wish Vietnamese Americans would adapt to the American concept of time.
Overall, completely changing who I am and how I act to adapt into a new culture is not necessary. I do not want to be fast like a New Yorker, or be slow like who I was. In my view, stretching time needs to be balanced; it shouldn’t be like a stretched rubber band like in Vietnamese culture, but it shouldn’t be too rushed like it is in America.