Despite the increasing number of expats in Da Nang, it seems people here still aren’t used to hearing a foreigner speak Vietnamese. Here’s a few of my favorite reactions I get when trying to order food.

The Interview

Me: (in Vietnamese) Can I have a bowl of noodle soup please?

Waitress: *gasp* Wow, you can speak Vietnamese?! Oh my god! How long have you studied?

Me: About three years.

Waitress: *another gasp* How long have you lived in Vietnam?

Me: About five years.

Waitress: Wow! How old are you?

Me: 28 (in Vietnamese years)

Waitress: *a third gasp* Are you married?

Me: Not yet.

Waitress: (mild disapproval on her face) You should marry a Vietnamese girl.

Me: Maybe.

Waitress: Marry a Da Nang girl! They are so lovely.

Me: Maybe.

Waitress: What’s your job?

Me: I’m a tour guide.

Waitress: Wow, so you have a big tour company and you take people around to Marble Mountain and the Cham Museum and Hoi An and Hue and Saigon and Hanoi and Ha Long Bay?

Me: No, I have a small company, and I only work in Da Nang.

Waitress: (more disapproval) You should have a big company. It’s better.

Me: Thank you.

Waitress: How much is your salary?

Me: Enough to live (with a smile).

Waitress: Where do you live?

Me: (getting quite hungry now) Near the beach.

Waitress: How much do you pay in rent each month?

Me: Sorry, um, could I please have my soup now?

transition to Time Bomb scenario

The Time Bomb

Me: Can I have a bowl of noodle soup please?

Waitress: (Face registers shock but then quickly returning to deadpan. Voiced strained trying to hold in excitement) Sure.

Waitress walk-runs toward the back of the restaurant, where, not quite out of earshot, the following conversation takes place:

Waitress: Oh my god! That foreigner can speak Vietnamese!!

Waiter: Really???

Waitress: Yeah, he speaks Vietnamese like a Vietnamese person. He speaks Vietnamese fluently! (I don’t.) He’s so good, it makes me scared! (It shouldn’t.)

Waiter: Wow!! I bet he’s been in Vietnam a long time!

Waitress: Yeah, he speaks Vietnamese so clearly! I’m so surprised! Go see for yourself!

Waiter: (Comes out with my soup. Places it on the table politely, but without a word to me and without looking me in the eye.)

Waitress: See, I told you!

Waiter: I didn’t say anything to him. I was too scared!

The ‘Shock & Awe’ Face

Me: Can I have a bowl of noodle soup please?

Waitress (Just stares at me, mouth agape. Doesn’t say anything or register my response in any discernible way)

Me: Excuse me, Miss? Can I have a bowl of noodle soup please?

Waitress (still staring at me, mouth slightly less open, nods her head twice in acknowledgement, but doesn’t move)

Me: (noticing the waitress is still standing there staring at me with her mouth open) OK, thanks, um, can I please have it now?

Waitress (still without saying anything, turns and walks back to the kitchen, where I hear the Time Bomb scenario take place)

The Retreater

Me (approaching the waitress, in Vietnamese): Hi, could I please ha—-

Waitress (Raising both hands in a defensive posture, palms outward in front of her face, while turning her head to the side and slightly down, as if ducking for cover from an eminent attack) I can’t speak English! I can’t speak English!

Turns away and runs to the back of the restaurant while shouting to her friend/co-worker) Who knows how to speak English?!?

Me (shouting after her as she runs away): Um, I can speak Vietnamese!

Waiter: (shyly approaching me, and in his very best but very broken English) Es kyoo mee, waa wu yoo lye too ee [= Excuse me, what would you like to eat]?

Me (in Vietnamese): Yes, can I please have a bowl of noodle soup?

repeat Time Bomb scenario


To hear a real-live foreigner speak Vietnamese and witness some of the above scenarios in action, book a morning or evening Da Nang Food Tour.


Shaun grew up in Southern California eating In & Out Burger and Pedro's tacos. In 2009, he moved to Da Nang and has been digging into the local food ever since. He pays his rent by eating and drinking at Da Nang Food Tour.