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Time to end the days of being rude, crude

Update: September, 25/2013 - 09:40

Hang Nguyen

My 28-year-old sister (we Vietnamese usually call our female cousins "sisters"), Tran Minh Hue, considers delicious food is one of life's big pleasures.

Recently, she took me to a grimy restaurant in Ha Noi's Ngo Sy Lien Market for breakfast. The restaurant is famous for its food and the rude attitude of its female owner, but the strange thing is that it is always crowded.

My cousin/sister, who has lived overseas for several years, always tells me that Vietnamese food is the best, ordering another dish of pig's trotters and vermicelli.

"The wonderful smell of the broth and the soft flesh of the trotters are irresistible," said Hue.

She reckoned this made it OK for the owner to shout at every customer who wanted more meat - or vegetables. There was no choice but to sit back and wait.

She was, as they say in the West, a bit of a character, fat, loud-mouthed, but really quite special.

One customer, Do Quynh Anh, said: "At first, her nature annoyed me, but after a few visits, I got used to her shouting: ‘Why do you ask for more vegetables? If you do not want to eat in our restaurant, go away'."

About a month before the Mid-Autumn Festival, which ended last week, the media reported that about 300-400 people queued daily for hours to buy mooncakes from a traditional bakery in Thuy Khue Street.

The queue created daily chaos in the street. The bakery staff were rude, and customers also shouted at each other as they shuffled slowly forwards.

Duong Van Hoan, a student at Ha Noi University of Technology, queued for hours to buy mooncakes. He wanted to buy three boxes (four to a box) for her parents in northern Bac Ninh Province.

"I heard that the cakes here are good and hygienic so I wanted to try them," he said.

Hoan only bought two packages because this was the limit imposed by the baker, adding that it cost VND40,000 (US$2) for one cake.

"It you want to buy more, you have to go back to queue up and wait", the baker said.

Civil servant Nguyen Thanh Tung, 26, said he couldn't understand why people waited in wet or steaming weather to buy mooncakes or eat pigs' trotters from rude proprietors.

"We pay money and deserve better treatment," he said.

Early this year, Cat Barton, a journalist from Agence France-Presse AFP, wrote that: "In Ha Noi, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the best pho noodle soup is found in the grimiest restaurants, where the staff are rude, the queues long, and the surroundings spartan at best."

What if the writer is correct? What if customers are genuinely bored by the over-blown attitudes of some proprietors? I mean, should customers consider going elsewhere?

It might be best to end the rudeness before it spreads and tarnishes the image of a capital with a thousand-years of culture.

Ngo Duc Tam, a manager of a marketing company in Ha Noi said that "the-customer-is-god" was an important prerequisite for doing business.

"If the principle is not obeyed, the business will fail sooner or later," he said.

Bui Thi An, a deputy in the National Assembly, told online newspaper Dan Tri that food at quite a few "rude" restaurants was really good. "It's easy to understand why they attract customers," she said.

However, cultural researcher Nguyen Vinh Phuc said that restaurants should treat customers as benefactors, not servants to be shouted at. He said the only way to treat those who were rude was to boycott their establishments.

But where did all this cultural rudeness begin, such as the pushing and shoving at counters and the rudeness of some restaurant owners?

When my father was in his twenties, he had to queue up from early morning to get a ration of rice and meat.

This was known as the Viet Nam Subsidy Period and it ran from 1975-86. Experts believe the phenomenon started then.

Sounds a likely explanation, but no need for the custom to continue. In those days, if you weren't patient, you and your family would go hungry, but things have changed. Today, delicious food and good service should go hand-in-hand. — VNS

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