‘Send Back Soup’ – Meaning & Usage in English

Meaning of I Can’t Even Send Back Soup

In Friends Season 1, Episode 5, Rachel says “I can’t even send back soup.” Let’s do a quick English lesson about the meaning of this phrase.

Video Lesson

I Can't Even Send Back Soup (English Lesson)

Written Lesson

This is not a standard English idiom or expression. It’s just an interesting and honest observation that Rachel makes about herself.

However, like many sentences in English, she is describing a situation that’s unrelated to the current situation. She’s talking about ordering food at a restaurant, and then returning that food because it’s not good enough.

In North America, there’s an unwritten rule:

When you receive the food that you ordered, it should match the level of quality that you expected, based on the restaurant, or based on the description in the menu.

If the food doesn’t meet your standards, or match what you were imagining, then there’s an unwritten agreement that you could ask to have the food replaced, and the restaurant would not make you pay for the first dish. In other words, the restaurant would pay for any dish that you send back.

Because you didn’t eat it, I guess the idea is: Well, it was the restaurant’s fault, so they’re going to take responsibility for that dish.

So, anyone can technically do this in North America. You can do it. But the reason that Rachel says, “I can’t even send back soup”, is that it’s a really uncomfortable thing to do. It takes a lot of bravery, and a really strong conviction about what you feel.

You may also see in TV shows and movies, a warning that if you send something back, and then they bring you a new dish, that the people in the kitchen might be unhappy with you, and unhappy about your complaint, so they will sneeze or spit into your food.
This probably doesn’t happen. It’s just the way that we imagine what’s going to happen.

We’re not supposed to say these things to people. We don’t want to hurt their feelings in the kitchen. They’re not going to like this. So, what are they going to do to my food?

But why does Rachel say “soup”? Well, I think that’s because it’s one of the cheapest items on the menu. And so, there’s a bit of a low risk with trying to send back soup. If you ordered soup and you didn’t like it, then I think that’s probably the easiest thing to call the waiter over and say, “You know, this is not what I expected.”

Reasons for sending back soup might be:

  • It’s spicier than I expected
  • Your menu didn’t mention that there was onions in this, and I don’t like onions.

Yah! You could do that, and I guess technically most restaurants are going to honour your request to send the soup back and to not pay for it.
And that’s really easy, because soup is such a cheap item. So, it’s not a big deal.

Is It Common to Say “I Can’t Even Send Back Soup”?

Is a common expression? Not really. Firstly, the situation itself – the actual feeling that Rachel is expressing here – isn’t very common.

But, when that feeling does happen, and when you want to tell somebody this feeling… I think most people would be more direct in this situation.
They would just say something like:

I can’t handle confrontation like that“,
I don’t know how you do that. That’s amazing!

If you wanna try it, go for it! Remember that, if you choose to say this, it’s not one of those unusual ‘FRIENDS’ expressions that we sometimes hear. In other lessons, I’ve warned you not to say things like, “No snap in his turtle.“, because nobody will understand what you are saying.

In this case, however, because it’s not an idiom, people are going to easily understand what you say. 🙂

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