When learning Vietnamese, one of the first verbs you absolutely need to learn is “ăn”(“to eat”). Considering people eat throughout the day every day, of course, this is a good Vietnamese verb to know and once you learn it, you’ll hear it spoken everywhere! However, it may not be used the way you think it’s used.
Vietnamese people often say “… ăn cơm chưa?”. This literally means “have you eaten yet?” or “did you eat?”. Most of you may wonder why Vietnamese people are so concerned whether you had your meal and you may think how nice Vietnamese were to care so much about your daily eating habits…
But, are Vietnamese people really asking if you’ve eaten?
Probably not. It holds a deeper meaning than whether you had a meal or not.
In Vietnamese culture, asking “… ăn cơm chưa?” is a form of a greeting. It’s another way to say “How are you?”. It’s an expression that Vietnamese people use as a warm and friendly greeting. But this expression is only used to those who have known each other.
When you meet a boss, teacher, acquaintance, friend or any number of people, they will probably ask this out of habit and nothing else.
How about the answer?
If you don’t want to get into a whole conversation about why you hadn’t eaten something (when it’s over breakfast/ lunch/ dinner time), just acquiesce and respond with, “… ăn rồi” (“yes”).
However, around meal time, your friends might actually be asking if you’ve eaten and then it’s just up to you to figure out the appropriate response.
Many countries actually have this culture such as Korea.