Lake Lake

Lac Lake in Vietnam. Lake Nyasa in Malawi. Did you know they both mean Lake Lake?

It’s the kind of interesting little anecdote that spices up your adventure. However, I have to ask myself – why do spectacular, natural lakes around the world end up being called something as uninspiring as Lake Lake?

This beautiful, Vietnamese lake could do SO much better than being called Lake Lake.

Well, what did the great big, discoverers do when they came to a new and wonderful place? I am only guessing here of course, but I reckon they must have made use of some sort of primitive sign language like pointing to the lake they had just ‘discovered’, followed perhaps by raising their shoulders to their ears as if to ask ‘what is that gorgeous lake called?’

The natives must have understood this and replied that it is a lake. So when the Vietnamese said it is a lac and the Malawis said it is a nyasa, it made perfect sense to the likes of Livingston to name them Lac Lake and Lake Nyasa.

Lac Lake in all its glory:

Today we can have a giggle about it. It sort of illustrates the essence of communication and even more so – miscommunication.

On the same trip to Vietnam as the one where it was our turn to ‘discover’ Lac Lake, I encountered a similar type of dilemma.

To cut a long story short we were driving through Vietnam, starving for breakfast. So when we spotted a little road side café we were only too happy to take a break. Now, try and explain with no menu available and in no language known to you, that you fancy a cup of coffee, some toast and some scrambled eggs. We knew they had eggs because there were lots of chickens running around.

Well, we tried by pointing to our (very empty) munching mouths. They did not understand.

So we pretended to be holding a piece of bread in our hands, and using the other hand to spread the butter. It may sound easy peasy, like something you’d get in a split second if we were playing charades. However, in a country where they eat with chop sticks, we found that our ability to imitate daily actions fell short.

Lady, we know you serve food! Could we please please please have some breakfast?

By now, our stomachs were doing the talking for us. They were rumbling in a language louder and clearer than any sign language lost between cultural differences.

How difficult can it be to make them understand that we want breakfast? It’s 9 am, this is a café and we are tourists. What else could we possibly be asking for? said the boldest out of our group.

She decided to make them understand once and for all by pointing to one of the chickens, imitate the actual process of laying an egg (facial expressions and all!). She then proceeded to air mixing the eggs together and finally pretended to eat it.

The staff changed their look. They looked happy to finally know what we wanted, and went into what we thought was the kitchen. However, they didn’t even give my sister in law the opportunity to revel in her claim to an Oscar, before they returned with two rolls of toilet paper.

We never got our breakfast. They had obviously mistaken my sister in law’s egg laying skills for another need one may have as a tourist in Vietnam at 9 am. My husband however, made the most of it, grabbed the toilet paper and headed straight to the loo. Next time we’ll bring flash cards with us.


Planning a trip to Spain? Save yourself the embarrassing sign language and find out exactly how to order breakfast as a local.