Rachel's Daybook

An individual story or a Vietnamese norm?

I came across an article called “Why I’ll never return to Vietnam” written by an American backpacker.  As you can tell from the title, it was not a very pleasant article to read and it definitely made me feel sad and embarrassed about how this guy and probably some other White folks were treated during their trip to Vietnam.  Being ripped off and overcharged is nothing new and it happens everywhere in Asia.  But the part about the Vietnamese laughing at him and speaking to each other in Vietnamese brings back a lot of memories.

Last Sunday, I hanged out with a friend from out of town.  We decided to have a rowboat ride in UW and went to Chinatown first to buy something to chew on while riding the boat.  He wanted Vietnamese sandwiches in Seattle Deli but we couldn’t get any because we had no cash and they only accepts cash.  So we went to Saigon Deli right opposite.  It is also my favorite place to buy bubble tea and avocado smoothie.  The sellers are usually very nice.  However, we did not have a very pleasant experience.

I picked “bot chien” and asked my friend to order Vietnamese sandwiches here but he shook his head and whispered:

–          I don’t want to.  This place is nasty.  They wear gloves to make it look like they are very clean but I’ve been watching them, they don’t replace their gloves.  And that lady just picked her ears, with her gloves on.

I was a little bit offended because I like this place.  And I know my friend well, he’s obsessed with cleanliness.  He can’t stand anything dirty; I understand that.

When we checked out, I was told they won’t accept credit card if the purchase was under $5.  I said: “Fine, I’ll also get avocado smoothie then.” 

While I was waiting for the drink, there was a White lady around 40 to 50 ordering three Vietnamese sandwiches.  While they were making the sandwiches, she said sorry and told them she decides to only get two.

–          Sorry, can I just order two sandwiches please? (Then she described what she wanted in the sandwiches)

The Vietnamese guy who was a cashier responded in Vietnamese.  But he was saying not to her but other Vietnamese staff in the store.

–          Bà mập này mua nhiêu thì lấy nhiêu đi.  Đợi làm xong gần hết rồi nói không mua nữa. – Big fat lady, if you order this much, why don’t you get and pay for this much?  Why did you wait until we almost finished and said you want to change?

When they gave the sandwiches to her, she asked:

–          Could you please cut them in half?

This time, the guy almost yelled, but still in Vietnamese, to other staff.

–          Trời ơi, còn cắt làm hai nữa.  Mấy bà, mấy bà, ra xáng bả bạt tai liền cho tui coi! – Oh my god, cutting in half?!  Folks, go slap her in the face!

The Vietnamese staff were laughing and said:

–          Thôi mày ơi.  Mày nhìn tướng bả kìa.  Tao xáng sao nổi! – Uh uh, look at her body.  How could you think I can slap her?

I quickly finished my purchased and got into the car.  I still couldn’t believe that’s how they treat their customers, ones that don’t communicate in their language.  I was so embarrassed that I didn’t talk until my friend broke the silence:

–          Why don’t you drink your smoothie?

I poked the plastic cup with the straw and asked if he wanted to try it first.

–          Nah, I don’t know what’s in there.  Didn’t see they cleansed their blender before each use.  I don’t know what crap they put in there before they made the smoothie.

This time I was not offended anymore because what he said was true.  It’s just that I never paid attention.  But that’s just how it always works in Vietnam and the same applies for Vietnamese stores here.

About the White lady, I think she knew that they were talking about her.  She just didn’t know it was THAT bad.

My friend is a Vietnamese-American guy.  When we eat out in Vietnamese restaurant, especially if the servers can speak Vietnamese, he wishes to not speak in Vietnamese and he tells me also not to speak Vietnamese to him.

–          Why? – I asked

–          Because they are very nosy. I don’t like that they know I know Vietnamese.  They’re gonna ask me about my parents, girlfriend, where I live, work, my salary, etc.  They’re nice but they’re just nosy. – He answered.

Later, I did start talking about Saigon Deli, as I wanted to apologize to him in an indirect way.

–          I saw them talking bad about that White lady in front of her face in Vietnamese.  It was not like that when I go there.  And the people I met were different from the ones we met today.

–          Yeah, yeah.  Vietnamese people are like that.  Not all of them but some are basically just, rude!

Then he told me a story when he went to have a haircut at an Asian barber’s.  He spoke English to them of course and they thought he didn’t understand Vietnamese.  And I think you can guess what happened next.  They chatted with each other in Vietnamese, commenting about his hair, face, clothes and making fun of him, thinking that he doesn’t understand a word they said.  He was very pissed but did not said anything.  After signing the bill, he spoke to them:

–          Cảm ơn vì dịch vụ “vô cùng tốt”.  Hẹn một đi không trở lại.  –  Thank you for the great service.  Hope to never see you again.

And of course, he never sees them again because he never came back.

I heard about it but never actually saw it with my own eyes until that incident in Saigon Deli.  I guess next time I should just stock up some small cash in my wallet to not come back there again.

So it is some individual stories about people having bad experience with Vietnamese customer service or is it a norm?  I still don’t know the answer.  But I hope it’s not the latter.  This is not the only bad thing about Vietnam that were mentioned by foreigners.  And I know a lot of people said:

–          There’s nothing to be ashamed of.  I’m not like that.  And most of us Vietnamese are not like that, either.  You can’t just generalize all Vietnamese people like that.  These bad people do not represent anything about our country, our culture.

Well, if someday you are in the same situation, I wonder if your answer will be the same.  People, especially foreigners don’t look at that Vietnamese dude and say: “oh that dude is impolite“.  If they know he’s Vietnamese, they think: “Oh, that Vietnamese dude is not very polite!” and when they see more and more of the same thing from the Vietnamese, they jump to conclusion: “Hm, so Vietnamese people are like that.”  That’s just common sense.

So yeah, it’s just something I want to share but it might be disturbing to some people.  And it’s sad to know.  I clearly understand that.  But I think it’s better to have awareness and avoid doing that so that others realize:

–          There are just some bad apples.  Many of the Vietnamese I know are very nice, and Vietnamese girls are beautiful! (Just kidding! :P)


Đây là phiên bản Tiếng Việt.  Mình dịch sát nghĩa chứ không đúng từng câu chữ để gần gũi với văn hóa Việt Nam hơn nhé.

>>Một câu chuyện đơn lẻ hay văn hóa Việt Nam<<

This entry was published on June 11, 2014 at 6:22 pm. It’s filed under English, Life in US and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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