6 little differences in Thailand

6 little differences in Thailand
By Christine Bedenis
Dec. 10, 2014

Like Vincent Vega rhapsodized about in the Quentin Tarantino film “Pulp Fiction,” “You know what the funniest thing about Europe is?… It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same [stuff] over there that we got here, but it’s just… it’s just, there it’s a little different.”

Here too, in Thailand it’s the little differences. And I know you are sitting there, like Jules, asking for an example, so here are six examples of the little differences of Thailand.

  1. The noise made when you want someone to be quiet. In the States, the understood sign to indicate to someone to be quieter is a finger to your pursed lips and a “shhhh!” Here in Thailand, it’s a sound almost as if you were tsk tsk-ing or clucking your tongue at someone, as if you were judging them. You’ll hear it on the bus, with a mother and young baby. You can even make this sound at dogs when they are barking.
  2. Beckoning people over to where you are. With your palm up and a waggle of either all your fingers or just one, someone in the States knows that you want them to approach. But in Thailand, that is a very aggressive way to call someone over and can insinuate that you want to fight them. The proper way to motion for someone to approach is with your palm down and flapping your hand toward the ground. Actually, when we first got here, my friend Carly‘s host mom did this to her, as a westerner, she thought it was a “go away” motion. So she kept stopping and backing up each time her host mom did it, until she went and got her, and laughs were had by all.
  3. Typing out laughter online. LOL. LMAO. Haha. Hehe. Bwahahahah! We have a lot of different ways to type out laughing in English online. But the Thai will type 555. Maybe 555+. Why do Thais type 555? Well, this is a fun one. The word for five in Thai is haa and the tone is a falling tone, so your voice goes up and then down. Now read 555 aloud. Pretty neat, huh?
  4. Verbal cues of listening or agreement. When you are having a conversation with someone, often one person will tell a story or talk for a while. You want to make sure they know that you are listening, so you maintain eye contact, nod your head and say “uh huh.” In Thai, the sound to make is “uuhhln.” To a Western ear it sounds pretty rude. But, it’s become my smile and nod. I just “uuhhln” my way through interactions and Thai people love it and tell me how well I speak Thai, even when all I said the whole time was a kind of grunt moan and “ka” (yes). I’ll take the compliment though.
  5. What to do when someone doesn’t answer the phone. Most cell phones do not have voicemail and I don’t know anyone with an answering machine. So what do you do if someone doesn’t pick up? Well, the phone will ring and ring and ring. Eventually, your call will be disconnected. But what then? Well, immediately call them back, of course. It is not unusual to come back to a phone with 17 missed calls, all from the same person, all around the same time. Thai people will answer their phone anywhere – in a meeting, in the bathroom, in a training, in the middle of a conversation with someone else – so of course anyone who is calling would expect for the person to pick up, even if they didn’t right away. They just didn’t make it to the phone on time.
  6. Learning the law ling. There is a “l” sound in Thai, the letter is known as law ling. But when this letter comes at the end of a word, it makes the “n” sound. So when you transliterate words like “little” or “example” using Thai script (and these are words that many Thai people know), they become “littln” and “exampln” You can also Googln some more words with the “l” sound at the end to get an idea of it.

Christine Bedenis

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