All About “Di Nhau”

For months I was excluded from the post-work di nhau sessions. My Vietnamese colleagues would tell me – usually the next day – how they sat around on tiny plastic chairs on the sidewalk, drinking, downing a range of tapas-like snacks and swapping tall stories with the boss. One of only five foreigners working at the company, and the only one who had never been asked to join the boss for an after-work drink, I felt quite left out.

Eventually, my boss extended an invitation and there I was finally in the in-crowd, settling into a baby-sized chair at 2am as delivery guys behind us organised sky-high stacks of newspapers on their motorbikes.

Completely unaware of the conventions of these gatherings, usually the domain of men, I committed faux pas after faux pas, cementing my boss’s belief that inviting a big foreign woman out drinking was a bad idea.

Get Into The Drink

A nhau session usually starts with a beer order. Watch what the host orders and drink the same brand he does. Locals consider Heineken to be a ‘high class’ beer, so cans of Heineken on – and under – the table is a sign that these revelers have class.

The host will often order a few of his favourite dishes, along with what he thinks the assembled drinkers will enjoy. Anyone can order anything they like, even though they’re not paying, but it would be very impolite to order the most expensive dish just because it’s expensive.

The key thing to remember when going drinking with Vietnamese people is that every sip of beer should be toasted. Initially, the toasts will be the famous “mot,hai, ba, vo (pronounced yo)!” The toasts are often shortened to simply “do” and the ritual gets messier as the hours pass by, especially when a stronger spirit is introduced.

Whoever presents the bottle of tequila, rice wine or scotch is usually in charge of the distribution of the fiery liquor, and everyone generally shares one shot glass. The bottle owner will pour and down the first shot, and will then pour another one for his nominated victim, who, out of respect, is expected to drink.

And it’s about now that the drinking games begin. The most popular game is for one drinker to lift his glass, shout out someone’s name and then offer a challenge of “100 percent,” meaning the intended person has to match the challenger in emptying his glass. If you’re picked, it’s sometimes possible to negotiate it down to 50 or 20 percent.

While it’s acceptable not to drink alcohol at all, trying to switch from beer to soft drinks can be met with a bit of ribbing – anything from good-natured jesting to relatively aggressive insistence that you drink more.

While a drinking session can simply be a group of friends splitting the bill evenly with the richer or more generous ones perhaps throwing in a little extra, they can also be ‘hosted’ with whoever doing the inviting also doing the paying. If you’re invited, don’t try to grab the bill, but graciously allow the host to pay as he would graciously allow you to pay if you’d issued the invitation. It’s considered poor form to even try to see the total of the bill.

Leaving early is an option if you want to stop drinking, although if you’re out with your boss, it could be considered quite rude to leave before he has had enough. However, if leaving seems the only way to avoid lethal alcohol poisoning, by all means leave. Just apologize profusely and confess to being very weak.

Curious about a dish or food-related custom that you’d like to see featured in our column? Email us at food@oivietnam.com

Image by QUINN RYAN MATTINGLY

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