For a long time staying in Vietnam and contacting the local people, I have found that Vietnam is a country where saying “I love you” is impossible. It isn’t because the Vietnamese are not as passionate as others in the world, but it is because there is no word for “I” and “you” in colloquial Vietnamese.
In Vietnamese, people do not address each other by “I” and “you” but address according to their relative ages: “anh” for older brother, “chị” for older sister, “em” for younger sibling and so on. This is why many foreign often see that Vietnamese quickly ask strangers at their first meeting how old they are so that they can use the appropriate pronoun and treat them with the correct amount of respect. So that, if you are foreigner and are asked by the same question, don’t be surprised and think that they are impolite. It is just a habit in their culture.
A typical declaration of love might be: “Older brother loves younger sister.” If, however the woman was older, it would be: “Older sister loves younger brother.” But it has to be said that when a man and a woman are in love with each other, the woman often prefers to be called “em”, regardless of their age.
There are more than 40 different pronouns describing the relationships between individuals and groups of different ages and positions. Most sound a lot better in Vietnamese than in English.
- location: Mu Cang Chai- North Vietnam