How a misspelling of bánh mì inspired me to save the world with a single Tweet but…
This morning, while writing an email to an editor, I misspelled something.
I meant to write banh — as in banh mi — but I typed ‘b’, ‘a’, double ‘n’.
And that’s when I saw a confused Gmail had autocorrected the misspelling to ‘bahn’.
I dropped everything.
In my perception, the world started to turn more slowly. More ‘whoa, I’m-in-the-Matrix’-ly.
I knew what was happening.
This was my coming of age, Twitter RAGE golden opportunity, which coincidentally was great timing, as I really had nothing else to do for the next 15 minutes/ 24 hours.
Finally, after watching so much vitriol from the virtual sidelines, here was my chance to TRIGGER A TIDAL WAVE OF WRATH on the internet, one that would terrify everyone inside the Googleplex out of their wits.
Because? Bahn is a wonton abomination by Americans — WHITE ones! And now the Eye of Google had inevitably seen it, consumed it and therefore taken a very large step towards sanctioning it.
Now don’t ask me who first started spelling banh as bahn (let’s agree that the first person to do this was most probably a guy called Todd, and if we knew where he lived… we’d call him out on Twitter, too).
Or maybe somebody Stateside once wrote ‘bahn’ down on a piece of paper so ‘American dudes’ stopped walking up to Vietnamese immigrants and making the same pitiful joke: “bang me, long time?” and it spread like a rash from there.
However it started, now this blasphemous, flagrant insult to the motherland of bánh mì has been spotted across the internet and even printed in the hallowed pages of the New York Times… or was it the Newyorker? Some ‘prestigious publication’ that is run by WHITE people…
Quick interjection from you — yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “Um, hey Connla, aren’t you like entirely WHITE and, like, not very Vietnamese, and why do you, you know, like, even care?”
Well, actually, as an Irishman, for the record my skin tone is not WHITE, I’m FRECKLED PASTY, and sure, I am not Vietnamese but as a bored dilettante of the country’s cuisine, one who speaks elementary level Vietnamese MOST FLUENTLY, and most importantly as an idle expatriate who has nothing better to do for the next 15 minutes/ 24 hours, I felt, well, who better to stir up the ire and take a tilt at the windmills with this one… right?
Not that I saw this as entirely quixotic. Deep down in the smithy of my soul, I truly felt if I struck the right INDIGNANT AND RIGHTEOUS tone everyone would RETWEET THE SHIT out of my unwritten tweet and…
Quick interjection from me: When I say ‘everyone’, I mean all of my followers who aren’t bots (somewhere between a dozen and two dozen human beings, but hey, they say in the future, thanks to social media, everyone will be famous to 15 people, so job done).
…unless — and this is where my social media alter ego whispered seductively over my shoulder — this Tweet cracked the United States of America…
Because in the American Twittersphere, there’s a giant angry floating mob of relatively anti-establishment (read: using Twitter to rant about the evils of Google + FaceBook + Trump) banh mi enthusiasts, all of whom would jump at the chance to berate WHITE people and Google for meddling with the orthography of words related to an ethnic cuisine.
If I nailed the Tweet with pitch perfect outrage and sarcasm they would gladly follow me (virtually speaking) to the gates of the Googleplex with their (virtual) pitchforks, torches, molotov cocktails and angry yet whimsical banners.
Because to right this wrong, the most RIGHTEOUS and FAR-REACHING tool we have at our disposal in the year 2018 is MASS TWITTER INDIGNATION, and I, for one, was not afraid to light the fuse (insert GIF of ‘Ezekiel 25:17’ by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction here). I was woke.
I spent what felt like hours working on drafts. I wanted the tweet to be pithy yet vituperative. I wanted it to inspire opprobrium in the form of scathing comments but also HILARIOUS memes and GIFs from movies and comedy shows I have never seen.
I dreamed the ultimate dream of everyone who writes an ANGRY TWEET-cum-CALL TO ARMS, which is that people would RETWEET THE SHIT OUT OF IT, so much so, maybe Twitter celebs like ANGRY ASIAN GUY would retweet the tweet with a quote Tweet: “DYING… [INSERT WEEPING WITH LAUGHTER EMOJI x 5]”.
Others would write things like, “LMFAO. Google just got EVISCERATED by a banh mi eating WHITE dude in Viet Nammmm.”, “Sir, you won the internet today!”, et cetera.
As the retweets and likes went into overdrive, and my comments and mentions BLEW UP, I would write directly under the historic-for-less-than-24-hours-tweet, “Wow — that escalated pretty fast. Hey by the way I’m not actually WHITE, my skin tone is freckled pasty. Please check out my cover versions of songs by Father John Misty, Iron & Wine and Sufjan Stevens on Soundcloud…”
From there, who knows? Perhaps a movement would begin. Maybe the Angry Virtual Mob I had inspired to form would agree to boycott anything, anyone, any place that misspells banh mi.
Maybe MASS TWITTER INDIGNATION (sparked by little ol’ me!) really could save us all and smite this bastardisation of a misspelling from the face of the earth.
Or… maybe news of this whole furore would travel all the way back to Vietnam.
VNexpress would want to run a story.
Their young reporters would hit the streets. They would solicit quotes from a number of locals.
One would note that ‘banh mi’ is sometimes spelled ‘banh my’ in Vietnam.
Another would note that ‘banh my’ was sometimes spelled ‘banh mi’ in Vietnam.
An editor from the north would debate with another editor from the south about which spelling should be considered more correct.
A Vietnamese-Amercian food writer would be quoted in the story that followed. He or she would hazard a guess that the misspelling in the US was probably because foreigners can’t pronounce Vietnamese tones and spelling it out as ‘bahn’ might help them to say something closer to bánh rather than bang. It wasn’t right, and no, they didn’t like it, but they would be sympathetic, compassionate, i.e. not filled with spite or frothing at the mouth.
Someone else, someone ‘traditional’, someone ‘of a certain age’ — probably one of the reporter’s kind aunts— would say, and yes I am paraphrasing an imaginary reporter’s imaginary kind aunt here, “Troi/ Gioi oi, I am very proud Americans eat banh mi so much that a misspelling has been popularised to the extent that so many people are really upset about this…”
At the end of the article a professor of linguistics would weigh in with the big picture and really kill the mood by noting that all spellings of Vietnamese were once the subject of great debate by scholars, who transcribed the tonal language from logograms into a Romanized alphabet, and languages were living entities, thus, Vietnamese was still growing and morphing today with much debate among academics and apparatchiks over the spelling of various colloquialisms and vernacular speech when transferred to the written word.
And it’s around about now that I, imagining all of this unfolding in my mind, start to realise that maybe I’m not really very angry about this at all. Just bored and actually, maybe a little hungry?
As a freckled pasty person, living in Vietnam, there are most probably other ways to spend the next 15 minutes of my life, like going out to eat a banh mi, or a banh my, earning some money, learning Vietnamese, anything that involves avoiding Twitter really…
But because I’ve gone ahead and written this post, I might as well post this post, too, thereby boosting the SEO results for ‘bahn mi’ by precisely 0.000000000000000000001%.
So in 20 years time, when a slick, trendy sandwich bar on Dong Khoi Street called BAHN opens it doors, I’ll have to admit I played my part. Oops.
And to be honest, if they have a supercool typography and façade it might look pretty cool.
“Todd Jr.,” I’ll tell the owner, as I gorge on Bahn’s signature roll, the storied VND495,000-miso-marinated, black cod banh mi with shiitake mushrooms and house-pickled pickles, “I gotta say, you’ve nailed it.”
And hey, at least this imaginary sandwich bar of the future isn’t called Bang.
That would be the fucking worst.