Jun 29, 2015

No Refunds, No Returns

One of the challenging things (for me) about living in Việt Nam is that with few exceptions, there are no returns in stores or restaurants. Of the past eighteen months, I've spent 12 here and exactly twice I've talked my way into returning something that I ordered; one was a book and the other a bowl of phở that had what looked like veined orange testicles and white sweet breads (organs) in it
I'm insufficiently gastronomically adventurous to knowingly chew and swallow either...

The restaurant owner knew me from many previous visits and when he saw that I was stirring up my phở without lifting anything to my mouth (and probably making faces), he took away the bowl and replaced it with my usual phở gà... and a smile. Since I ordered the mystery food, I tried to pay for both and he would have nothing of it. I've gone back many times since, the most recent, last night.

The store manager refunded my money on the book after I calmly explained that the sign he kept pointing to that apparently said something like "All sales final" or "No returns" was only in Vietnamese and I was unable to read it. After probably five minutes of back-and-forth—him in Vietnamese and me in English with neither of us understanding the actual words—he went to the checkout girl and told her to return my money.

These are the only successful returns I've experienced. Unfortunately, there have been a number of unsuccessful attempts. The most egregious of these was at a Đà Lạt restaurant called Ocean Palace. It is on the main road into Đà Lạt from the south at 28 Đường 3/4. Please read further before going there...

Three of us went there for dinner one night and ordered a number of different dishes that we intended to share. I also ordered a glass of a Đà Lạt red wine that came filled with ice cubes. Sangria is the only red of which I am aware that ever comes with ice and I tried to ask for a glass of wine without ice, please. The waitress did not understand my request, so she sent over the manager who laughed at me when I told her the wine should be room temperature. She took away the glass and it was the last wine I saw that evening.

The first few dishes were pretty good, but the manager kept coming back and hovering—until I used Google Translate (a.k.a. GT) to tell her that I would appreciate it if she didn't stand over my shoulder while we ate. At this point, I told my dinner companions that although "the manager is a pain in the ass, the food is good. I'm glad we came here."

The final dish ruined everything that came before. One of our party is a young Vietnamese man who, in previous and later meals shared, ate anything and everything put on the table. Even he wouldn't touch the chicken

It is charitable to say it had the consistency and flavor of an elastic band... so I called the waitress over and told her—again via GT—that we would please like the dish replaced. She actually laughed aloud and said, "This is Việt Nam, there are no returns."

"Are you fcuking kidding me???" asked one of the voices in my head.

Out loud I asked her to please get the manager for us. I repeated my request to the manager and she looked at me like I had three heads before vigorously shaking her head as she walked away mumbling something in Vietnamese that my friends refused to translate. Looking back, that was probably a good idea.

I carried the plate of rubber chicken over to where the manager now stood and said (via GT), "I understand that this is Việt Nam and there are no returns. You serve whatever shit you want that we cannot eat and call it food. I am not a tourist. I live in Đà Lạt and know a lot of foreigners with money. I promise I will tell every one of them to never eat here." I put the plate on the bar and went back to help finish the edible food.

The manager came back to hover and glare over my shoulder as we finished, so I turned to her and said, "You need to leave us alone and bring the bill." She did so and both the un-drunk wine and the rubber chicken were on the bill. I protested and told her that I would gladly pay for all of it if she would personally eat just one piece of the chicken. She refused, of course. I pay the bill, including 230,000VND (US$11) for the wine and the garbage. It was either that or chance having to explain everything to the police and probably end up paying them off so I could leave without the handcuffs.

When you're in Đà Lạt, I suggest you go to Nhu Ỳ for a good meal—it's two doors to the right of Ocean Palace.

Just remember that, in Việt Nam, there are NO RETURNS regardless of how disgusting the "food" is that they put in front of you. I don't even ask anymore.

The good news is that such crap is the exception and not the rule.

One more related item... last week this was on one of the web sites I read regularly: Bad Meat.

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