June 16th, 2012

Ain't technology grand?

Tonight Tom and I had dinner at Tu Lan in San Francisco. It's a really divey hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant on one of the skankiest blocks of the city, but the food is phenomenal and dirt cheap. Plus, you can get all of the drugs you could ever want just outside the door.

We ordered imperial rolls, a lemon beef salad, some sort of grilled beef dish, and Vietnamese iced coffee. Just after our food started arriving, we noticed that the people at the table next to us were struggling to order-- they obviously didn't speak much English. A couple of times one of them pointed at our food and made a quizzical sound, or just pointed and shook his head yes.

"Espanol?" asked the Vietnamese waiter.


They were very very puzzled by the coffee, and couldn't figure out quite what it was. I wanted to tell them, but couldn't figure out how. Hrmm. I routinely have conversations on my backgammon server in a few different languages that I don't speak, but that's in text. If only... aha! I pulled out my phone, typed a few things, and handed it to the gentleman sitting next to me. He got a Google translate screen showing both the English and Portuguese for "It is 'ca phe sua da', Vietnamese iced coffee."

He lit up like a christmas tree! Then he pulled out his phone, pushed a button, and had Google translate at his disposal. We both laughed. Tom called me a geek.

They'd ordered pho, but weren't quite sure what to do with the big plate of veggies that came next to it, and turned to us for help. We gestured to them that they should mix it into the soup, and they did. They then noticed the big bowl of peppers and asked us in gestures whether they should put them in the soup or not. Hrmm. I nodded my head yes, but held up a finger cautiously, then waved my hand in front of my mouth.

"Muito picante!" one of them said.

"Si!" I said, hoping that was the right word. (It's actually "sim", but they seemed to understand anyway.)


"You're welcome."

When we left, I pulled out my phone again and translated my wish for them to have a good dinner and a pleasant stay in San Francisco. On the way out, the waiter thanked us for helping them. And I thought about how much I enjoyed having technology that makes it easier to communicate in other languages.

And that reminds me. I like knowing at least a few conversational pleasantries in as many languages as possible. I guess it's time for me to learn them in Portuguese.