"I ordered steaaaaaaamed rice, not sticky"
The waiter nods and walks away. End of discussion.
The logic behind this: I was out of steam rice, you're still getting rice, yes? What's the problem? Just eat.
I love that. This waiter would get stabbed in Montréal.
This happened every week in our bar and is a reality in Laos restaurants. You might not always get the food you ordered. You won't get a warning. Sometimes, they totally ran out of food but you won't know unless you ask a waiter after about 2 hours of waiting.
I have identified two factors that influence this "eat this instead" outcome.
First: the Laos people don't prepare food for the future, don't over-stock. At the market they buy what they think they will need for the day. When they run out of food, no problems, let's just close the business for the night!
Second: Losing face. This is pretty much the worst thing that can happen in a person's day. It brings terrible shame upon a person and to avoid this they will ignore a problem (you will NOT get food until you order something else), find a debatable solution without asking you (let's bring him chicken instead of fish. Same same) or simply go bat-shit crazy, forcing you to back down (I have heard of the cook coming out of the kitchen with a broken bottle in his hand, ready for a fight). And so, instead of the waiter coming back to tell you they don't have what you ordered (seen as "we fucked up" from the waiter's point of view) they will just bring you something else or more accurately, nothing at all.
This has led me to witness a broad spectrum of emotions displayed by foreigners.
It's not what I ordered but I'm hungry, fuck it. This usually ends with no further problems until it's time to adjust the bill. You see, the cook will usually replace the item with something easier (thus cheaper) to make but you will still be charged the previous meal's price since there was no communication between the cook and the waiter.
It's not that I ordered and I'm going to complain about it. Ah, 'murica. This usually ends with either the waiter simply walking away mid-sentence, or the waiter listening to everything you have to say with a composed face and then just walk away. Your table will probably not be served until it's time for you to leave.
It's not what I ordered. I WANT WHAT I ORDERED! Vive la France! This usually ends with the foreigner walking out in frustration or an argument that will go nowhere for an extensive period of time. Sometimes the foreigner will ask for a discount and he will never get it. I was faced with this situation once, as the barman and liaison between waiter and cook. The client would simply NOT accept that we did not have any pizza dough left and demanded that we make him one. I simply told him that he should go look for a pizza elsewhere.
It's not what I ordered and it's hilarious. This is my favourite one, usually happens when a young happy couple is the subject in question.
I love this attitude. What? Why are you complaining? There really are worst things in life, don't you think? Besides, you are white and rich, so fuck you.
To be more realistic the real reason is probably that Laos was poooooor for a very long time and it probably influenced the way they react to problems with a "Next Best Thing" attitude.
Another example of the "Next Best Thing" mentality:
One night I was cleaning the bar after closing time and found a Laos business card lying on a table. I picked it up and read the person's name and contact information simply hand-written with a blue pen on a white background.
Out of curiosity I flipped it to discover on the other side a genuine business card printed, complete with graphics and colours.
A big X marked across it with a blue pen.
I couldn't help but laugh.
"No, the information you want is on the other side! Don't bother with this"