In the past few months, I’ve been friends with this guy who is half Thai, half Caucasian-American. Apparently, Jay has very minimal knowledge of Thai language even though he was raised by a Thai mother along with several of half siblings, who are pure Thais, from his mother’s previous marriage. Apparently when Jay was little, it was that time when his mother wanted to learn English. So she never really spoke to him in her native tongue. Jay has mentioned to me he would like to learn Thai to get in touch with his Thai side. He has been frustrated since people around him tend to leave him out when they are chatting away in the language he knows only 10%. As bad as I am at teaching, I volunteer to teach anyway. Better than nothing, right?
The problem with Jay is that even people around him (who are Thais and yes, can speak Thai) refuse to talk to him in Thai simply because they know he can barely understand it. So they never bother. When they never bother, he never learns. Since he has already had some basic knowledge about the language, I told him that I will, from now on, speak to him in Thai, except when explanation needed for certain words.
Jay came up to me last week, asking what does “Kreng Jai” mean?
Me: “Um…what a good question Jay!”
Me: “What do you think?”
Jay: “My brother says I am too harsh of a person. I need to learn how to be ‘kreng
jai” to people. But heck, he speaks in English until saying kreng jai. When I ask,
he says he doesn’t know how to explain it.”
The thing is that until today, I still struggle daily to explain what “Kreng Jai” really is even in Thai. What exactly do these two simple words really mean?
I told Jay that apparently, a lot of Thai are Kreng-Jai individuals. Personally, Thais feel Kreng-Jai too much. As much as Kreng Jai is a charming quality, at times, it can be very annoying. But hold on, that isn’t the point. What is Kreng-Jai by any means?
While we are chatting away about the words in a restaurant, waiting for other two Thai friends, we order a combo appetizer. The dish is too big that we cannot even finish half of it, so I figure I will leave some for those who are coming. One shows up, so I mention to her that she can have this stuff we get. Conversation goes:
Me: “Plenty of food here, why don’t you just eat this?”
Other: “That’s okay. I will order mine.”
Me: “If you don’t eat this, we are gonna throw them away anyway.”
Other: “Thanks! That’s okay.”
A few minutes later, the girl orders the same combo—I mean the same exact one. Jay asks why she didn’t have ours in the first place. She smiles, saying ‘that’s okay.’
By the time another friend shows up, we all have been talking about Jay’s mother who is in the process of filing a divorce with Jay’s dad. When the guy walks near the table, we suspect him overheard the conversation, and then he walks right to sit by the bar. Jay walks right up to him saying he can join us now. There is no secret or anything. The guy says, “oh! that’s okay. I don’t want to interrupt.”
After dinner while we are walking back to the parking lot, Jay mentions, “what’s up with all the Thai people being too polite…almost way too paranoid?” I look over Jay, pondering: “Now you know what Kreng Jai really means, eh?”