SURVIVE IN VIETNAM – Episode 6
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Learning these following taboos might save you from committing faux pas during your trip to Vietnam. Following the latest article, we will now discuss scenario no. 2: joining locals for a meal. What can go wrong around the dinner table?
- Using chopsticks
We don’t exactly have elaborate dinner sets with multiple forks and knives. Even so, don’t let the humbleness of chopsticks fool you into taking etiquette lightly. The first no-no is tapping chopsticks on bowls or plates. This is often an unconscious act to keep our hungry selves occupied, and the delightful clinking sounds do match our excitement in the anticipation of great culinary pleasure. However, unless you want to get a slap on the wrist, this isn’t the time and place to show off drumming skills. Back in olden days, beggars were tapping chopsticks to ask for food from passers-by. The sounds are also believed to summon ghosts and evil spirits. We are not particularly fond of fellas from the beyond. Hope you understand.
Several other chopstick taboos are related to death as well. During the meal, if you want to free your hands, whatever you do, don’t stick your chopsticks vertically in your food bowl out of convenience because they then will look awfully like incense sticks burnt for the dead. Also, Vietnamese hosts are keen on showing hospitality by passing food to guests. If you are on the receiving end, don’t take food from their chopsticks with yours. Let us put the food in your bowl directly instead, since we “nối đũa” (connect the chopsticks) only when we pick up and place the remains of the deceased in an urn after cremation.
- Food and luck
Craving thịt chó? Hold your excitement while we check the calendar. If it is the beginning of a lunar month, Vietnamese people are convinced that eating dog meat as well as squid, duck, etc. will bring you misfortune. Plot twist: the very same food can be a bad luck preventive if eaten at the end of the month. There is no real explanation; it is pure wisdom passed on from generation to generation. Our forefathers must have had some real unpleasant coincidences to have arrived at that fascinating correlation between food timing and fate.
Interestingly enough, if you are a student facing important exams, be careful with your diet choice. Sure, eat all the brain food you can find, but also, we advise you against eggs, bananas, and carrots, among other things. In Vietnamese, “ăn trứng” (to eat eggs) is a figure of speech for getting mark zero, similar to how “trượt vỏ chuối” (stepping on banana peels) means to fail miserably. Carrot in Vietnamese is “cà rốt,” which sounds a lot like “dốt” (stupid). Come on, who would eat “stupid” food before exams? That’s suicide right there! “What should I eat then?” you might wonder. The answer is red beans. Đỏ (red) is associated with luck, and the Vietnamese words for bean and to pass are homonymous. Yes, red beans – the Asian secret to acing all exams… Just kidding!
*Next time on Survive in Vietnam: the Series Finale. Stay tuned to pick up more travel and culture tips and say farewell to the series.*