Le Petit Grignotage
The French have been in Asia since the 1600s, when Jesuit missionaries forayed onto the ancient continent and established themselves among the natives. Although the Portuguese were the first to evangelize Vietnam, the French Jesuits left a more permanent mark. (French Jesuit Alexandre de Rhodes developed the Romanized version of the Vietnamese alphabet in use today.) In 1887, France officially occupied a tongue of land jutting just below China, encompassing Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, called L’Indochine. France remained, off and on, until she was driven out by the communist Viet Minh in 1954.
It was the French who westernized Vietnam, and her influence can be felt everywhere: in the architecture, food, music, and, language. The Saigon Notre Dame Basilica , for instance, was built by French architect J. Bourard in Roman-Gothic style, based on the similarly named cathedral in Paris. All the stones, tiles, and stained glass were imported from France. Vietnamese cooking has incorporated the baguette, patés chauds, cheese, butter, sweetened condensed milk (for its hot or iced coffee), and any number of other French elements. The Vietnamese people’s fondness for ballroom dancing can be attributed directly to exposure to French music, and a dialect called Vietnamese French is spoken in the country to this day, which, as the name suggests, consists of a combination of both tongues.