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Ode to a corner cafe 22 May 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Vietnam.
Tags: , , ,

I, like all other Vietnamese I’ve met, have a favourite cafe. In fact, it seems the Vietnamese have a favourite just about anything.

Let me take you to the best pho street stall in Hanoi.

You can buy cloth elsewhere, but don’t let anyone make you an ao dai other than the 2 by 5 metre shop I go to. It is the best in Hanoi.

I could have a coffee here, but let’s go across to the other side of town to the little old lady with the basket. Her coffee is the best in Hanoi.

And so on.

A friend of mine theorised yesterday that it must stem from the plethora of choice that is available in this city. The overwhelming choice makes you go to one place, try it, if it’s good, it’s not only good enough, it is the best in Hanoi, saving you the anguish of ever having to try it anywhere else.

There may be some truth to that, but I also think there’s more.

I won’t go as far as to say my local cafe is the best in Hanoi, but I am certainly very fond of it.

It is, in fact, located directly next to another cafe, which I have also been to, but which I don’t like as much.

On the face of it, the cafes are identical. Both are an open room, with near identical umbrellas and wicker chairs outside on the side walk. Both serve coffees, juices, smoothies, salted pickled apricots in syrup and coconuts in summer.

Yet one day, early on, I came to realise that at one cafe, coffees were 15,000 dong per glass, whereas the other only charged 12,000. Their coffees tasted identical to me, so adopted the cheaper one.

So the initial choice was callous, a financial incentive (nominally only, as 3,000 dong is in fact around 15 cents). Nothing to be too fanatical about.

But then, it became the place where they know everything about me but my name: every day they would smile, nod, humour me and my language abilities. And ask questions.

Age, height, nationality, marital status, if I have children.

They are happy to see me. They like it when they see me go past. They noticed the one time I ran home.

And then it no longer was an unemotional decision for me. I started going for the familiarity. The wonderful woman running the shop (whom I call younger auntie) knows my usual orders.

And I have become a favourite after the day I came with a Vietnamese colleague who swore black and blue that the other shop had better coffee. To settle the matter of where we went, we had a very public rock paper scissors match, which I won. So she loves me, too.

The coffee has gone up in prize. But I still go to the same shop, because we have a rapport.

So perhaps that’s why people want you to come to their favourite shops. It’s the place where everybody knows your name.