As I sat one night, waiting for my pizza, I was thinking that I have noticed in places, like Pattaya, that the Thai’s speak very good English- they have to because most of the tourists that come here are western- UK, USA, Russian etc., and it is in their interests to understand the tourists (at least for business purposes- to know a few English words to entice the customers in to restaurants or bars. And we all know that some races are very lazy when it comes to learning a language and will want to speak in their own language when they are on holiday). So as someone who is trying to master the Thai language (both spoken and written) I always try to speak Thai, so when I say “hello” and ask for a beer and an ashtray (Sawadee Ka, Leo kwuad yai, tikkia burree ka), they almost look surprised and I can see them thinking –“huh? the Farang speaks Thai”. I do think they appreciate it though, although once I say a few words they reply back to me in Thai and then, with a cheeky grin on my face, I have to say “Mai Kow Jai, pood pasa Thai nitnoi” (I don’t understand, I only speak a little Thai). It never fails to get a laugh.
However, it is a very difficult language to learn, there are five different tones and most westerners, including me, struggle with them. If you get the tone wrong you can find yourself asking for rice whiskey (lao khao) rather than rice-which is what happened to me on Koh Samet a few years ago (I didn’t drink it I might add). Also the word for rice is “khao” but it also means white in a different tone- so “khao khao”-white rice. Confused? I am, yes! The Thai word “maa” means horse, dog, and come (here) all with different tones.You get the picture?
But when you live in a country, learning the language helps a lot, especially if you live in the provinces that are not on the tourist trail. You need to know the basics for when you want to go food shopping, or to the market, and it certainly helps when you get in a taxi and they don’t want to put the meter on. Or a persistent tuk-tuk man who wants to take you to the nearest jewellery store. A simple “mai ou” (I don’t want) usually works, even if it is just a bit of banter about how you can speak (a little) Thai.