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Parlez-vous francais?

Early this week we had a new customer from Laos seek our services. This is nothing new since there is actually a sizeable Laotian population in Holland. It was told to us that no one in the home spoke English. Our first delivery seemed to bear this out when one of the ladies in the home tried to ask our driver for a cushion by saying, "Squishy squishy?"

One of our customer service representatives tries very hard to be helpful, but makes some head scratching decisions. In an effort to try to communicate with this family she typed a message into a translation program. The message was to inform the customer that they needed to speak to their doctor before we could distribute a cushion to them. There was only one problem; the translation was in French. Why? Because the girl sort of remembered that in school she learned that "France occupied Laos during World War II." This is the sort of B-minus history lesson that most Americans (myself included) are famous for giving. Actually, I give her some credit for even being in the ballpark. My knowledge of the history of Southeast Asia is pretty dim.

Laos was once a "French Protectorate," but gained full independence from France in the 1950's. But why she thought they would speak French as their primary language (and over 50 years since being associated with France) is beyond me. When I told her that I went there and, as I suspected, they didn't speak French she was flabbergasted. I informed her that, believe it or not, they speak a language known as "Laotian"

It also turned out that one lady there spoke and understood English so we didn't need a translation anyway.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
halphasian
Sep. 22nd, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
Ha! People can be pretty ignorant. (I do not exclude myself from that statement. I'm ignorant about a lot of things.)

But that's even sillier than assuming that a Vietnamese person speaks French. As far as I can tell, hardly anyone in Vietnam speaks French anymore, and the French put a whole lot more effort into "protecting" Vietnam than Laos. (Vietnam was the larger, richer, more educated, more strategic country — with better food and an actual coastline. I think colonizing Laos was just an afterthought.)

It's funny though, a lot of older people in Vietnam (say, 70+ years old) who DID grow up under French rule will assume that any white person visiting their country surely speaks French. I've had numerous non-conversations in Vietnam that started with "Parlez vous francais?" So I guess it goes both ways!

Is there really a big Lao population in Holland? I did not know that. (See, I'm ignorant!)

This is a sweeping generalization, but I really liked the Lao people based on one week in their country. They generally seemed more laid back than other Southeast Asians.
clyde_park
Sep. 22nd, 2009 01:32 am (UTC)
There are "pockets" of Laotian folks scattered throughout Holland. "They" seem to try to put "them" together, because they tend to all live the same neighborhoods. There are at least three "Laotian neighborhoods" that I know of. They're relatively small neighborhoods though.

Our church here actually has a Laotian group that holds services in a separate room. There are probably about 25-30 Laotian members.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )