Work Like a Water Buffalo

Water buffalo plowing the field

Water Buffalo Working Near Phong Nha.

The couple who own the local Vietnamese market stay in the shop from open to close, six days a week. “I’m working like a dog,” Nguyệt said to my husband as we checked out.

“You mean like a water buffalo,” my husband corrected.

“Yes.” Nguyệt smiled at me from behind the counter. “We say a lot about dogs but not work. Dogs like to lie around a lot.”

Dog sleeping at an outdoor market in Càu Mau.

Dog sleeping at an outdoor market in Cà Mau.

Curious, I asked my husband what other sayings there are in Vietnamese for dog. There’s ‘bark like a dog,’ if you’re scolding people and don’t know when to stop. And there’s ‘don’t treat me like a dog.’ There’s also ‘born of a dog’ for people who don’t have manners.

“Is that like son of a –”

“Yes, but it manages to insult the whole family for not having brought you up properly.”

“How about sayings about other animals?” I ask.

“We have ‘dumb as a cow,’ ‘treacherous as a snake,’ and ‘drink like a dragon.’ There’s also ‘brag like a cricket’ and ‘bothersome like a fly.’ Oh, and there’s ‘silly like a monkey.'”

“What about something like ‘smart as a fox’?” I ask.

My husband shook his head. “Animal comparisons tend to be negative. Although we do have ‘swim like an otter’ and ‘sing and dance like a bird.’”

“How about ‘happy as a clam?’”

“That makes no sense to me.”

It didn’t make sense to me either, so I looked it up. “It’s from ‘happy as a clam at high tide.’ Because clams can only be dug up when it’s low tide.”

“That makes more sense.”

It reminds me the Vietnamese expression ‘Don’t be the crab rolling sand balls in the East sea.’ For an explanation of this and other sayings, see “Like Water Falling on Taro Leaves.”

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