“That’ll be 15 baht ja,” said the merchant. “Ja” is an informal, common tongue addition to a sentence like “krub” and “ka”.
“Here you go, Pa (older-than-your-mom aunt),” I said as I handed the lady money for the sweets I bought.
“Kob khun, Pa”. I said thank you before I walked away.
Aunty Merchant nodded and gave me this look of pure confusion. Before I turned away, I read this off of her face…
“Why the heck did she thank me for?”
When I’m in Thailand, I would see the same expression from the waiters when I said thank you for bringing me my food and pouring me water, when the sales attendant at the mall showed me things, and as I walked pass the doormen who held the door open.
It’s like a shock to them, I guess. Thai people don’t thank them like that.
I’ve been taught all my life that there are people “beneath me”. The servants, the merchants, the waiters, the store clerks.
It is their job to serve you, I was told. You are their customers and you are of “higher class” than them, and therefore you treat them accordingly.
It doesn’t mean that I treat them like garbage or anything. But you don’t have to “wai” them or thank them. You are of higher stature.
The U.S. teaches me that everyone is human and you need to be polite to everyone, not just the people you know or respect.
I do say thanks to the Starbucks baristas, the guy who washes my car, and the parking attendants. I say thanks to people who hold the door open for me, to my bus driver when I get off the bus, and to the restaurant greeters on my way out.
I do appreciate what folks do for me and I thank them for it. I know what it’s like to have to have to earn your paycheck, after all.
I mean, growing up a middle class Thai young adult myself, getting a part time job working for money is just not a thing to do.
When I came to America, I did want to get a job because everyone around me seemed to have one. At first my folks thought I was crazy, but then the economy hit rock bottom, and my lowly job actually was helping my folks sending me only tuition and rent while I took care of my own expenses. (I know, I know. Other people had it a lot worse than me.)
Having worked with the masses, I have come to realize that first of all, these folks deserve respect. And that everyone, despite their jobs and their status, are all human and are deserved to be treated nicely.
One thing America has done to me, oddly enough, is making me super polite in Thai eyes.
So now when I come home, I thank people for all the little things they do for me. And my hands are “softer” too. It’s a Thai saying of Mue Onn, literally soft-flexible hands, means that you wai people easily. Apparently nowadays doesn’t matter who it is, if they are older than me, my hands instantly go up.
My behavior is a puzzle to my mom. She reminded me once or twice that I didn’t have to thank everybody or wai everyone. No, my mom is not being ridiculous or classist. It’s just the way the culture is.
Odd how a country with a culture that paying highest attention to respect, courtesy, and gratefulness wouldn’t say thanks to the working class.
Being so-called “Americanized” opens my eyes to see people on the same playing field as myself. I guess that is one of many things I am thankful for on this American holiday. 🙂
P.S. Funny how I opened Thai-Blogs up to see Richard has just posted an entry about Wai! That is purely unplanned, kids. But it goes to show how great minds think alike. 😉
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