1000 Star Hotel

So you’ve been in Vietnam for years but still only know a few useful phrases and how to order your favourite dish. And yet for all your will, talent, research and experience, there’s still a bunch of Vietnamese people giggling or laughing at the other end of your Vietnamese. Let’s all admit that there’s always room for improvement. Even Vietnamese people don’t know the entire ocean of idioms, metaphors, innuendoes, slang words and vocabulary that exist in their language. Not to worry — although I’m no “sư ph” (master) of the language, I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve to keep your Vietnamese fresh. For my inaugural piece, we’ll work on a basic common term that most locals use at least ten to 100 times a day — ri.

Ri has a number of meanings, including ‘okay’, ‘understood’, ‘already’, ‘then’ and ‘well’. It is quite versatile, just throw it at the end of most of your sentences to emphasise that you’ve done or understood something ‘already’. Ri is pronounced like the name Roy, but instead of just saying it, moan it, so you draw out the lower toned diacritic. It’s a shape-shifting word that acts like a conjunction and an interjection. Here are some common phrases that use ri:

Đưc ri, đưc ri (Alright, that’s enough) — Say this if your vendor’s putting too much pate in your banh mi

Tri ơi. Đi lâu quá ri! (God. I’ve been waiting a long time!) — Say this when someone shows up really late to an appointment

Đến ri (Arrived or I’m here) — Say this when you’ve arrived at a place before your date

Ri or hiu ri (Okay or I understand, or I got it) — Say this when someone is belaboring a point you obviously know already

Ri sao? (So what’s next? or What happened next?) — Say this when someone’s telling a story and paused or when you’re figuring out what to do next

Chết toi ri! (I’m screwed!) — Say this when you’ve left your house only to find that your motorbike keys are back inside

As you can see, ri has many uses. Don’t be afraid to try it out with longer sentences and similar contexts.

Now that you hiu ri we can move onto our idiom of the month. This vinaphrase gives us an even deeper picture of what is happening in the language — khách sn ngàn sao (1,000 star hotel). This type of hotel is what Vietnamese commonly refer to as where homeless people have the privilege of living — under the open sky and beneath the stars at night.

If there are any particular phrases, idioms, vocabulary, slang, etc. that you think should be featured in this column, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or find me on twitter.com/caligarn.

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