Learn to speak Thai . . . or maybe not

So, I’ve been here for a year and a half, almost, and my Thai is, well, ok. I can do basic things like ask questions, directions, order food, take taxis, and have the most minimal of conversations. I really should be better at this point, but my old age (well, 38), combined with having a Thai girlfriend up till a couple of months ago put me a bit behind. I really did try to practice, but for the past year I always ended up deferring to my girl and let her do most of the talking. Plus she was a fluent English speaker as well, so our conversations in Thai quickly fell into the ease of English.

Now that I am single again, I have to in some ways start over again in Thailand, and I have started my lessons again and really need to be serious so that I can take care of myself here. But it has felt good to start to do some of the things I used to rely on her for, and I just made my first solo trip for a wonderful vacation on Koh Sichang. And I probably made a fool of myself at times, but the majority of the time I have been able to get my point across, get what I want to eat, get where I need to go, even if my Thai sounds like shit!

But what I wanted to talk about was the general state of Thai language acquisition amongst farang here. For first time tourists you can expect no Thai. This really makes no sense to me. Whenever I have travelled to another country, whether it was France, Cuba, or Japan, I at least learned the basics like, “hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” excuse me,” “I’m sorry.” It’s not that hard and it’s the most basic of being culturally considerate. But the knuckleheads that show up here. No. Most of the tourists here have the classic western idea that if you yell it loudly enough in English eventually a non-English speaker will understand you.

And as far as longer term residents, you can meet foreigners that have lived here for 5, 10, 20 years, and couldn’t be bothered to learn Thai. Well, maybe they know a few jokey phrases to use on their bargirls/girlfriends when not secluded in British or Irish pubs on Sukhumvit.

But what I have noticed lately amongst some acquaintances is the even more disturbing trend of farang learning Thai speaking and/or writing with no other point other than to pick up women. People that have no clue about Thai history or culture, but will post witty phrases in Thai on Facebook about how hung over they are after the full moon party or even better, the age-old farang favorite of asking their friends whether they woke up with a girl or a ladyboy. Hilarious . . . But don’t get it twisted. Farang loving Thai girls eat this up. So, more power to them, I guess.

All that being said, if you plan to visit Thailand, please learn the basics and don’t make yourself look like a culturally insensitive idiot. And if you plan on staying in Thailand for some time, do learn Thai. When it comes to speaking a new language with people, Thais are some of the nicest people and will forgive you of your mistakes. Thais are so used to foreigners not speaking Thai that they really enjoy it when you do try, even if your tones and pronunciation are all wrong. Unlike, say, when I was in Brussels, and was scolded for my bad French pronunciation when I was trying to buy some cigarettes. Assholes. But if you are learning Thai for the wrong reasons, and don’t add shit to this country that needs all the help it can get, I say to you what I say to most of the farang here: go home.