Happy to Service You
When I travel I love to read signs and menus in that have been printed in the English language. They often are a veritable feast of mispronunciation and inadvertent innuendoes. My most recent find was in Hanoi Vietnam. A shop had “please cock here” pasted to its window. I think they meant please stop here and look at our merchandise but one can never be too sure. Other gems I have come across include “happy to service you”, “chessburger, seebuger”, “Creepes” (crepes – to my delight it was halloween, I was in Bolivia so presume no pun was intended). Today I found a “humburger”. It certainly puts a whole new spin on entertainment while you eat and I look forward to ordering a whistling hotdog and a singing sandwich.
Not all errors are delightful though. Hanoi restaurants seem to be particularly masterful at using incorrect English to sell substandard food. On our first night unbeknown to us we fell into such an establishment. We listened to a guy ordering his dinner in an exasperated tone. He was extremely specific about what he wanted and called the chef over to make sure he had been understood. Pumpkin soup, vegetables on the side – not in the bowl, no chillies, no salt or pepper and could the waitress spoon feed him as well? No please or thank you – just a fuck off and get on with it attitude. My partner and I made faces at each other, commented on the ignorant behaviour, generally put him down and smugly agreed that we would never behave like that. When his dinner came there were no vegetables just a small side salad and the soup had chicken in it. He didn’t handle it well.
We ordered and this is what we discovered. Vegetables = salad = one piece of lettuce and 2 slices of tomato. If you choose mash potatoes over the chips, chips will be served anyway. You will be overcharged for a scant meal when you were expecting – according to the menu – “a feast”. The next day we ate somewhere else. Again we learned something new. Pork chop in sweet and sour sauce actually means pork rib bones with a bit of gristle on them. Sweet and sour sauce = hot chilli sauce. Mash potatoes still means chips. I began to empathise with Mr fustrated, he’d probably been in Hanoi for a while and had lost all patience. I decided to follow his shining example and complain – the meal after all was not cheap. There followed a heated conversation with the waitress and owner. Gesturing at different body parts for emphasis I debated the difference between ribs and chops. But they insisted that the ribs- all five one inch long bits of bone and gristle – were in fact a chop. I began to believe that it was genuine language mistake and feeling bad for making a fuss, paid the bill and left.
At breakfast the next day, having ordered eggs, bacon and toast and received in return an egg and processed ham sandwich, the conversation over the table turned to food experiences in Hanoi. Someone mentioned that they had the same rib/chop saga a few days earlier than mine. I had been conned. In future I will send anything back that does not match the description in the menu. Silent humbugers, chess burgers that don’t make a move or creepes that fail to frighten me will all be returned to the kitchen and if staff really are “happy to service” me there will be no problem.