People often ask me how my Thai is after 4 months in Thailand. I’m sorry to say that it’s virtually non-existent.
Before you get too judgmental you should know that Thai is a tonal language – mid, low, falling, high, and rising – meaning that you can say one word five different ways and it will mean five different things! The script is also completely different from the English alphabet, which is why I had no way of knowing that my papers requesting a 3 months visa (which were written entirely in Thai) were addressed to the Thai Embassy in Laos…and I was in Singapore.
I’m not taking Thai classes and I work in an English-speaking office, however I can say say a few words, such as faith, hope, joy, love, pray, and God bless you, thanks to my friend Rose. And I can also say something rude that got quite the reaction at a recent dinner outing, thanks to my friend Gigsy. But other than the most basic expressions, common courtesies, and a few numbers, I really can’t say much.
Suffice it to say I had too much confidence when I was in the bathroom at the Asia Hotel yesterday, because when the woman washing her hands beside me asked if I could speak Thai, instead of saying “mai dai” (cannot) I said “nit noi!” (little). HA! What I learned: my version of “little” is vastly different than hers.
She got pretty excited and startled rambling for the next minute. I had no idea what she was saying. But there was this sliver of hope in me that believed if I concentrated really hard, then maybe I would be able to pick up on something, anything. But unfortunately faith, hope, joy, love, pray, or God bless you were not a part of her dialogue.
The lady paused expectantly for a response. I shook my head and spoke gently, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”
“You’re face,” she said in English.
Uh oh. I thought, as my mind went into overdrive. What about my face? It’s fat? Chubby? Round? Is she going to pinch my cheeks? Brace yourself, Natalie! Of course this would be the first thing I think of when I live in a country of (mostly) thin people who tell me “no size for you!” when I rifle through the clothing racks at the market.
“You’re face,” she continued (as I held my breath), “is beautiful.”
“Oh!” I said, exhaling. I brought my hands together in a prayer-like fashion and gave a slight bow. “Khopkhun ka!” (At least I have “Thank you” down!)
She walked away, and I wondered what else she talked about besides my face during our “conversation.” Next time I’ll refrain from being over-zealous when it comes to my Thai language skills. “Mai dai” is the way to go!