Friday, September 01, 2006

I’d like to teach the world to shout oi”!

Without the slightest shred of evidence, I’d say, with a fair degree of certainty, that if you shouted out “oi!” quite loudly you’d probably get anyone’s attention anywhere in the world. But the difference between the rest of the world and Vietnam is that it wouldn’t be considered even remotely rude here. In fact, it’s like, ‘hey’, ‘excuse me’ and ‘yoo hoo’ all wrapped up together into one beautiful word. As you might know it is to be said with a name to grab their attention, for example, “Paul oi!" or “Osama oi!” or for a complete stranger with a pronoun “Anh” (for older man) or “em” (younger man or woman), for example. If the person hears them they reply, like a charming little echo, with another “oi”, which is itself a “what?”, “yes!” “I’m over here” all rolled into one. I think of the powerful simplicity of “oi” every time I go home and stand at the bar while your typical surly barman cleans a glass and steadfastly refuses to acknowledge me. It would be so much easier if I could just holler out “barman oi”. But as tempting as it is I’d never dare. An English friend once said the main difference between Hanoi and London was if you stuck two fingers up at someone in a bar and said “oi” in Hanoi you’d get two beers, whereas in London you’d be punched in the face. So if you’re reading this outside of Vietnam then, please, remember, don’t try this at home.


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This short piece was originally written for Raised Eyebrows, illustrator Paul Oslo Davis' magazine, which is based in a town called Melbourne in a country known as Oz. You can discover all about Oz culture here - fascinating.

1 comment:

oslo davis said...

I really like the example use of the phrase in the on-line dictionary for the term 'raised eyebrows': "There were raised eyebrows and coughs of disapproval when the speaker turned up drunk for the lecture."