ơi is an endearing word

You should address him as "anh ơi" unless you're sure he's younger than you. If that's the case you can use "em ơi".

Getting a waiter’s attention. By the way if you’re not sure about your relative ages, it’s politer to address him as “anh ơi” rather than “em ơi”.

A common phrase and useful to anyone spending time in Vietnam, yelling ‘anh ơi’ at a waiter to get his attention sounds rude to an English speaker’s ear because the word ‘oi’ in English has negative connotations.

Not so, for ơi. It’s used all the time for getting someone’s attention but also can be used when talking to someone – such as to address your teacher. Or, literally speaking, to address the heavens in the universal exclamation ‘trời ơi’.

Even more surprising is that ơi is used as a term of affection. Between parents and children. Between friends. Between lovers. Calling your special someone ’em ơi’ or ‘anh ơi’ is actually very sweet and endearing! Like saying ‘dear’.

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  1. Daynne@TravelnLass

    Most interesting Ruth. Turns out – “em ơi” was the very first Vietnamese expression I learned (from my VN chum Hang).

    And it never occurred to me that it might be rude ‘cuz I presumed it was much like the waiter attention/check-getting gesture in Latin America where one purses one’s lips and makes an inward sucking “kiss” sound.

    Furthermore – I only learned the “em” version (never before heard of an “anh” variation) – likely b/c I’m so old, my friend Hang knew that I’d never have use for a version addressing an older person(?) 😉

      • Daynne@TravelnLass

        Thanks for the added tip. But of course I’m soon (happily – can’t WAIT!) to be struggling instead with Senor, Senora and Senorita. 😉

        (I booked my flight to Ecuador hoy!)

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