Today I was getting my nails done and the woman doing my nails was from Vietnam. I started asking her questions about her life, her heritage and we ended up having a wonderful conversation. She was more than happy to talk about where she was from and to tell me things about the country she called home for so many years and as we were talking I got to thinking, I wonder how many opportunities I have missed to talk to someone and learn something about another country?
I come across people in my daily life from all over the world. I often hear people speaking English with an accent and lately I have become fascinated with trying to get to know a little about them and the country they come from. What about you? Are there people you come in contact with that aren’t from the country you are in? Have you taken the time to try and get to know them, maybe asking them questions about where they are from?
In our talk today I asked Michelle (not her real name) about her childhood in Vietnam and I got some fascinating answers. For example, did you know that it wasn’t common to have hot water in Vietnam? I didn’t ask Michelle’s age but she told me enough information about her life that I can estimate she must be almost 40. She has vivid memories of life as a child in Vietnam and she said that in the houses when she was growing up, there was no running water. There was a well in the backyard and the adults would get the water from a well with a bucket on a rope, then pour that water into a container that was in the house. The container had an opening in the top (there wasn’t a nozzle, just an opening at the top).
When they wanted water to bathe they had to fill a small bucket and take that into the bathroom where they would pour the water over themselves and wash their bodies. In the winter they would boil some water so they could have warmer water to wash with. I then asked her what happened at school and she said:
We had bathrooms and had the same type of system with the containers. We would take a bucket with us into the bathroom but there were no seats. We had to squat and go into a hole in the ground then pour water over it to make it flush. We didn’t have toilet paper so we had to use our hands or sometimes we used newspaper to clean ourselves. Then we had lime soap to wash our hands.
When she said they used their hands I was a bit confused so I asked her about that again and she laughed a bit and said:
Yes, we had to clean ourselves with our hands. You just have to accept it.
We talked for my whole appointment and because I am fascinated with Vietnam and I want to spend 6 weeks there soon, I was totally enthralled by what she was telling me. She also said that in Vietnam bathrooms always have tile because since it gets so hot in the summer, when people go into the bathroom they often pour water over their feet in order to cool themselves off. And this makes the floors constantly wet so there won’t ever be carpet in a bathroom.
I then started thinking about all the times I have been to the nail salon, how many chances I had to learn something about another culture and I didn’t. When we open ourselves up and talk to people from different countries, it gives us a global view and helps us to become broader in our scope. I have never heard of anyone cleaning themselves with their hands after they use the restroom. I am not saying anything derogatory about that, it’s just new information to me. She told me that because she grew up with cold water, today she can’t get enough of hot showers. But that’s understandable, wouldn’t you agree?