For most visitors – and long-term foreign residents for that part – the Vietnamese language is a tricky beast to get a handle on. With six tones and a bewildering plethora of vowel sounds and nuances to grasp, it is hardly surprising that many foreigners opt not to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the alien linguistic maelstrom.
What’s more, visitors will likely be surprised at just how easy it is to get by with English alone. That said, there’s no reason why anyone can’t pick up a smattering of stock phrases to ingratiate themselves with the locals.
When greeting locals say chao anh (m) or chao chi (f) and to ask how they are doing try out anh khoe khong (m) or chi khoe khong (f).
To express gratitude, the right thing to say is cam on and when saying goodbye you can either try tam biet (goodbye) or hen gap lai (see you soon).
Mutual puzzlement will obviously come into play at some stage so if you don’t understand something then you would say toi khong hieu (I don’t understand) or toi khong biet (I don’t know).
In restaurants when you need to attract the attention of the server a call of anh oi (m), chi oi (f) or em oi (m or female but younger than you) should suffice and when you want to pay then a request for the tinh tien should suffice.