“Mắt to hơn bụng”
Literal Translation: His eyes are bigger than his belly
The informant first heard this from his mother when he lived in North Vietnam when he was a young boy, about age nine or ten. The entire family of six had been eating dinner together for some time when the informant became full. However, he still had food left over on his plate. His mother then said to his father, “mắt to hơn bụng” and made him finish the rest of his food. This proverb essentially means that the person wants more than he can handle. The informant remembers laughing when his mother said this, because he had never heard such an odd saying. The informant remembered this proverb until now because it sounded so strange. “How can one’s eyes be bigger than one’s stomach?” he thought to himself. So whenever his children put more on their plates than they can eat he reminds them not to have eyes bigger than their stomach and makes them eat it all. He thinks this proverb is very popular in Vietnam where food is scarce because it reminds people who are blessed enough to have food on the table to not be greedy and wasteful when so many people are starving in the world.
Because the Vietnamese people are starving and hungry in Vietnam, they have learned to appreciate the importance of food and how hard it is to come by. The Vietnamese people who generally use this proverb are adults who have experienced that hunger and try to convey that experience onto their children, who generally have not experienced hunger to the most extreme yet in their lives. When people are hungry they tend to crave different types of food. “I want this and this and this and that,” when in reality they want it but don’t have the stomach room to eat all of it.