Discover the Meaning of 'Mot Hai Ba Yo' In Vietnamese Drinking Culture

Does the phrase “Một hai ba dzô” or “Mot hai ba yo”have any special meaning that Vietnamese people say so frequently, especially when they drink beer or wine? That’s the question many international tourists bear in mind when they travel to Vietnam. Let’s read through this article to find the answer.

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mot hai ba yo
Source: Internet

If you are a foreigner traveling to Vietnam, just take a walk along a crowded street at night and you will hear the phrase “Mot hai ba yo” shouted from time to time. You are probably curious about its meaning. In this article, Vietnamtrips will make a thorough explanation about it so that you can better comprehend the culture of this nation.

1 - What does “Mot hai ba yo” mean?

To analyze it in depth, “một, hai, ba” is just the way Vietnamese people count from one to three. This is a popular way they get themselves ready before doing something or inform someone else that they are about to take action. And as for “dô”, it is believed to be a synonym of “vào”, which means “go” or “get into”. Overall, “một, hai, ba, dô” in Vietnamese is equivalent to “Cheers!” in English.

mot hai ba dzo
Mot hai ba dzo in Vietnam- Source: haymora

However, this pair can’t be considered as a total equivalent. “Cheers” is just a gentle, friendly expression while “Mot hai ba yo” seems to contain much more energy and spirit in it. When pronouncing, people often increase their volume gradually, a bit low at “Một”, higher at “Hai” and “Ba” and then highest and loudest at “Dô”.    
In parallel with shouting the phrase, drinkers raise their glass and make a toast. The way they make toast is a bit noisy. The whole crowd will have their glasses hit each other heavily to produce the clinking. This sound lifts up their mood very effectively.

2 - Mot hai ba yo and Vietnamese culture

Beer restaurants are sure to be the place where you hear the saying “Mot Hai Ba yo” repeated most frequently. The reason is that it is closely related to the drinking habits of Vietnamese. Vietnamese people like to drink together rather than alone. When drinking, they often shout loudly to lift up the mood. And the phrase is a legendary one that all people in the group can remember to shout in unison. 

mot hai ba yo meaningMot hai ba yo sounds - Source: VnExpress

You guys may consider it weird and a bit impolite to take away the quietness of the restaurant but it’s just a matter of cultural differences. In your country, the utmost privilege is privacy but in Vietnam, that’s unity. Because Vietnamese people uphold collectivism, they would like to do things that help tighten their strong bond. 
A friend of mine said, once his company went eating at a restaurant, while waiting for servants to set up tables, the whole atmosphere was relatively forced. However, after the beer came, all people stood up and synchronously shouted the phrase “Mot hai ba yo”, it was like an ice-breaking. People appear to be more comfortable talking and laughing with each other. 
Even though you can’t speak Vietnamese fluently, you can still drink with native people. Wine in word out, the alcohol will find a proper way for  words to reach the object. It is believed that on the drinking table, everyone is close friends; after a drinking, all problems are solved. Therefore, “Mot hai ba yo” is the spell for you to open the door to be friends with the native. 

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3 - “Mot hai ba ” - An implication of Vietnamese drinking habit

mot hai ba yo in vietnamDrinking culture in Vietnam - Source: VnExpress

Actually, “Mot hai ba yo” is just the shortened version of a chorus. The full version is: 

“Một hai ba dô
Hai ba dô
Hai ba uống
Uống thế nào? - Uống hết
Hết thế nào? - Hết sạch
Sạch thế nào? - Sạch sành sanh
One two three dô
Two three dô
Two three drink
How do you drink? - Drink up
What do you mean? Clean out
How clean? Droplessly”

In Vietnam, drinking is considered a communal activity that brings people together, fosters friendships, and strengthens social bonds. It is customary for the host or the most senior person present to propose a toast using "Mot hai ba yo" and everyone else responds with a hearty "yo!".
“Drink up”, “Clean out”, “droplessly”, these words have obsessed a great number of foreign visitors. So, this chorus can be understood as encouraging participants to try to drink up the glass of alcohol. There is a statement that Vietnamese people take the amount of alcohol as the measure of affection. The percentage of liquor friends take in shows how much they love each other. So, those who can consume 100% are praised while those refusing to serve are outcasted. 
And when sitting with Vietnamese drinkers, besides phrase “Mot hai ba yo”, you may easily bump into some terms such as “trăm phần trăm” (100%), “năm mươi, năm mươi” (50/50), “không say không về” (no drunk, no go). This perception has caused a wave of criticism amongst the public both globally and locally. People say that alcohol is not good for health. Forcing each other to drink can lead to unpredictable consequences. The government has issued a heavy penalty for those driving after drinking. However, people choose to take a taxi or ask for a pick up rather than giving up this habit.

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Debatable as it is, shouting “Mot hai ba yo” has become a signature, a specialty of every party, big and small, in Vietnam. Now you know what it means, you won’t be in a daze when joining a drink with Vietnamese friends. However, choosing to follow it or not is your decision to make. 

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Being born and living here in Vietnam, I got a chance to see lots of beautiful places, try countless great dishes, & experience many interesting things in places I visited. And It's so great to share all things I know about Vietnam to you.

Giang Pham — Giang Pham



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