“Don’t underestimate the tolerance to alcohol of Vietnamese people. Despite their small physique, they can drink a lot.” said Ryan.
Ryan, who lives in Toronto (Canada), used to stay in Vietnam in 2016. He and his girlfriend Sara experienced the culture of drinking beer and shared his story on Itchy Feet on the Cheap blog.
Drinking beer is a popular hobby and habit in Vietnam. Many restaurants even serve pre-ordered beer kegs by the table, with a bucket full of ice, for guests to drink as much as they want. My host enjoyed drinking with us. Whenever we met, he invited me out for a drink.
When drinking with Vietnamese people, you need to keep in mind the following:
Beer with ice is not a bad idea
The weather in Vietnam is quite hot; hence ice is people’s “best friend”. If beer is not chilled, you definitely want to add more ice. If you drink a bottle from a refrigerator, you may still want to add ice because the melted cold water helps you stay on the table.
Besides, ice does not spoil the beer taste as you think. One cup only needs one big stone, and you will soon finish your beer before the ice melts too much. A female staff will dip ice tongs into your cup to get the melted stone to replace it, she uses the same tong for many other cups. The more you drink the more you see this as normal.
One person drinks, the whole table 100%
Before drinking, everyone must raise their cups. When holding your cup, observe and follow Vietnamese people. Sometimes I have to pretend to be a gunman from the wild west. I’ll reach for the handle of the cup, insert my fingers gently and see if anyone is reaching for their cup. At this point I will hold the cup completely and hold it up for everyone to touch.
“Mot, hai, ba, do!”
In English, people say “cheers” when raising their cups, while Vietnamese people say “one, two, three, dô“. “Dô” is often spoken in unison when standing around the drinking table, meaning to put beer in your mouth – it’s an explanation from a drunk Vietnamese so I don’t believe it.
A small race competition
If you notice the opposite person looking at you when you are both drinking beer, understand that they are watching when you stop. They don’t want to be the one to put down the cup first. Sometimes the challenge is “hundred percent” – meaning “Bottoms up!”. A person with good tolerance to alcohol in Vietnam is considered a true man. A Westerner is usually assumed to be good at drinking, and this will be verified. Do not underestimate the tolerance of Vietnamese people. Even though they look small, they can drink a lot.
If you’re invited to a beer meeting, there’s no doubt that the dining table will have a lot of foods for drinking. Vietnam has many delicious dishes that can satisfy an empty stomach and make you want to drink more, such as frog thighs, chicken wings, snails, clams, shaken beef and flipped duck eggs. This is a great way to try new foods – when you have more courage after a few beers. Moreover, there are many others who will help you if you do not like something. Vietnamese friends are always happy to show you how to eat something.
Go too far
More beers call for more challenges. Once, a man who was drinking with me gave his cup to a waitress, and asked her to raise it with me. The girl was forced to pamper her guests, though she clearly did not like the drink and shared the glass with the guests. I said “no need”, but he insisted. I tried to help her by only clicking for a second.
What’s worse is the habit of driving after drinking alcohol in this country. I used to drink about 8-10 glasses of beer with a Vietnamese friend. He drinks equally well, despite much smaller than me. At the end of the day, I walked home and he climbed on his motorbike to go home. Friends in Vietnam used to say “everyone does it”, but I don’t think that’s the reason for this to continue.
If you go out with friends, call for a taxi no matter how short the distance. Taxis are cheap, life is precious. On a Saturday night, there are many people drunk on the street, do not let yourself be one of them.
Despite having many competitions on the drinking table, most Vietnamese just want to enjoy leisure time. In the middle of the night, you will see people blushing and laughing happily and constantly praising you. Don’t be surprised if they put their arm around your shoulder or even hold your hand when you leave, especially if you were drinking enthusiastically with them. A drinking party usually ends at around 10 – 11pm. You’ll sleep soundly like a baby and wake up feeling like a dying 90-year-old in your hospital bed. But, that is the rotation of life.