Survive in Vietnam – Episode 1

What to say – Top 4 Vietnamese words/phrases

Pocket these few words and phrases for your trip to beautiful and exotic Vietnam. Warning: You will not find “Hello” or “Thank you” in this special list. The items included here, with rough pronunciations, are unlikely to be found in an ordinary phrasebook, yet I guarantee they are essential to your survival and enjoyment.  

  1.  “Ôi giời ơi!” /ooi zei ei/

The Vietnamese version of “Oh my God.” Even though we practice several religions and beliefs, we simply don’t say “Oh my Buddha!,” “Jesus Christ!” or “Oh Guardian God of our Land.” We all say “Ôi giời ơi,” “giời” meaning “the sky” – our general notation of all higher powers. The logic behind it is quite straightforward: because we think they all live up there.

 Why learn this? If you have never been to Vietnam, there will be a surprise or two that will make you utter these words.

Note: Common variations include “Ôi trời ơi!” You can also drop the first “ôi,” but the effect won’t be as strong.

  1. “Thịt chó” /thit tro/

Hint: a type of food that not everyone is willing to eat. Yes, I am talking about the scandalous dog meat [insert “Ôi giời ơi!” here]. If you want to have a taste, of course you approve its presence on the list. But if you do not, take notes anyway, because chances are the locals will attempt to talk or even trick you into trying this specialty. Know the word, so you can say no to it. Also helpful in case you change your mind later on.

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  1. “Đắt quá!” /dat kwaa/

This means “That’s expensive!!!” with all of those extra exclamation points. As tourists, you are targets for scams and bamboozles. Show them you are not that easy to fool!! Bargaining is the norm in Vietnam, especially when shopping on the street. Don’t hesitate to throw around numbers no matter how cheap you think the items are. If you are good you can get them 20-70% cheaper.

  1. “Một hai ba dzô!!!” /mooht hai baa dzooh/

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Etiquette in general is important. Beer drinking etiquette, in particular, can’t be overlooked. Vietnam is heaven for beer lovers. There is always a beer place around the corner. If you want the authentic experience, I recommend the ones where you can sit on tiny plastic stools on the sidewalk and enjoy beer for as cheap as 15 cents per glass. Then join a table of Vietnamese fellows and say “Cheers!” our way. Scream “Một hai ba Dzô!!”  (One two three Dzô!!) at the top of your lungs. Beware, there are always some tables nearby who want to compete and try to scream louder than you. Don’t let them win!

 Note: In case you are too excited to say the whole thing, skip “Một” (One). In fact, most Vietnamese people do. Despite (or because of) the Asian flush, we are never not excited when we drink beer.

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