Lobby of the PIlgrimage Hotel in Hué

For the last couple of days, my friends and I have been in Hué, Vietnam. The days are getting closer and closer to Tet, the new year holiday, and everywhere we see people getting ready. They’re patching up and painting their houses, building family altars, buying goldfish (carp) to assuage the kitchen gods, and carefully choosing their mandarin orange trees from the orange tree lot, then carrying them home on the backs of motorcycles.

We stayed at the Pilgrimage Hotel, a few miles out from the city center. It’s quiet and lush, much nicer than we’d expected, and the food has been fabulous. The staff are so eager to serve that when we arrived we were mobbed with people wanting to help us. They’ve clearly been well-trained in the customer-centric philosophy. Unfortunately, they’re so eager to please, they’ll say yes to anything.

On the grounds of the Tu Duc Mausoleum in Hué

When we checked in, we asked for a reservation on the hotel shuttle van to the center of town at 5:30pm. “Yes, yes, okay you for shuttle bus 5:30pm.” Perfect. We ran upstairs to drop the bags, fighting off more staffers who wanted to give us operating tours of our rooms, ply us with candied ginger and just generally chat us up.

Back in the lobby, we asked where we should catch the van.

“Shuttle bus gone.”

“But…but…,” Merianne spluttered. “We asked for a reservation on the van. Didn’t you save us a space?”

“So sorry. I shamed. So sorry. No reservation.”

We quickly learned to ask everyone to repeat our requests back to us to make sure we’d been understood.

On the last night in Hué, a soft-spoken women staffer came up to our table to ask for feedback about our stay. We were glowingly complimentary. But no, she pushed, “Please tell us what we can do better.”

“Okay,” Chuck said, really stretching for some helpful feedback, “the planter’s punch recipe could use some improvement; the bar is using the wrong kind of rum.”             That didn’t satisfy her; she wanted more.

Reluctantly, Lynn said, “Well, there is this one thing — everyone says, ‘yes, yes,’ even when they don’t understand us. They say yes and then they don’t do what we asked, and it frustrates us. It would be better if they didn’t say yes all the time.”

“We know it’s a cultural thing,” Chuck added. “To make that happen, you’d have to change the whole country.”

“Yes, yes,” she said. “Change the whole country.”