Category Archives: Thai Ways

Learning Mai Bpen Rai

It all started with a salad. When you start seeing eyeball to eyeball with 40 plus years of living and eating you start putting on a few extra pounds, but in my case just a few mind you. Seriously!

Like most people I’ve reached a certain age where it’s easier to put the ounds on than take them off, so much so that I decided I really needed to watch more carefully what I eat. Hence I’ve started eating salads a lot which are actually pretty good even though they would by no means be mistaken for Thai food. That being said let’s keep my salad munching a secret ‘k? I’ve got my reputation as an all-things-Thai fanatic to think about!

I needed a few things from the store to make my salad so it was off to the Safeway. This was Saturday night so of course the place was packed and it’s a small store so there is not much room to move anyway. The lines at each register were very long. I took my time getting what I needed then browsed some more until the lines got shorter so I would not wait long to pay and get back home.

When I finally got in line a lady was in front of me with a shopping cart. We were in the ’15 items or less’ lane so I counted my selections twice to be sure I didn’t go over the limit. I’m kinda weird on the consideration thing that way. I didn’t notice how much the lady had but I did notice the cart. I remember another couple was in front of this lady but not 5 feet away in front of our register was the corral for putting your cart when your done with it.

Imagine my surprise when this lady finished emptying her cart then instead of holding onto it until the couple in front of us finished so she could return it she started backing it out of the check out lane, turned it around and pushed it over into one of the food isles! She actually went out of her way to push the cart FURTHER away into everyone elses way than if she just pushed the cart over to where it belonged! How rude and inconsiderate! She got back in line in front of me and I just stared at her for a minute.

I know it’s not a Thai way to start a confrontation but I couldn’t just let this go without saying something. I looked at her and said “You know that’s not where that goes don’t you” to which she just ignored me but looked like a kid busted her hand caught in the cookie jar. “Well?” I prodded but still she said nothing. She knew she was wrong but she blithely just paid for her stuff then left. I said something to the cashier about it and he replied ‘oh she’s a regular’ like that makes it ok!

Maybe I’m just a naive country boy living in the big city too long but things like this really bug the crap out of me. Where are peoples manners? What about being considerate of others? Am I being too uptight or have things really gone down the toilet here as far as we treat people? Someone get me to Thailand! I knew I needed to get a grip but I griped about that ladies rudeness all the way home with my groceries. I WAS being too uptight and I needed some stress relief. I needed Mai bpen rai!

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To Wai or Not to Wai …

..that is the question.

Searching through my mental backlog of blog ideas I remembered this was one of the first I thought to write for Thai-blogs I just never got around to it 😉

The Wai is one of the most famous of symbols that people recognize as being ‘Thailand.’ To do it right is almost an art form and something that many Thais take great care to express properly and sincerely because not only is it ingrained from an early age into Thai culture it also comes from the heart and it is literally a true measure of how much respect to show someone.

From the foreigners perspective if you want to socialize in Thailand so Thai people will a) be somewhat impressed and b) prove not all farangs are uncultured bores only into Thai women (or men if the case may be) and ruining Thai culture with our western ways then take the time to learn some Ways of the Wai. Sounds cool doesn’t it?

At first glance the ‘Wai‘ looks simple and easy however to understand the rules to a proper Wai you soon realize this is no simple slick Thai style ‘handshake’ or even an exotic-cool, ala Vulcan ‘Live Long and Prosper’, salutation. Oh no. But I’ll get on with the rules alittle later, for now I’ll get on with the jokes. 😉

For me making a proper Wai was almost, if not more, nerve wrecking in the beginning learning Thai culture than trying to say maai mai mai mai mai ไม้ใหมไม่ไหม้มยั้ (a Thai tongue twister meaning “New wood doesn’t burn, does it?”) in all the right tones while learning to speak Thai !

To make things more interesting I’ll let you in on a secret. However you might imagine me to be like according to my blog personality in real life I am very much the opposite. Not shy but reserved and quiet most of the time preferring the sidelines and keeping to myself in crowds rather than draw a lot of attention. Hence my ingrained American reluctance to do something publicly that would look odd to any one other than a Thai.

But I do have my moments where you put me in the spotlight especially if I know what I am doing, or blogging about, and I can take center stage no problem! In fact I hope this will be a good skill for pursuing a future teaching career in Thailand when I finally break orbit from Planet America.

If you ever watch a Thai perform the wai it is amazing the skill they have. They can gracefully and respectfully wai carrying anything! Imagine trying to see an American do that with a mobile phone in one hand, Starbucks coffee in the other and always rushing somewhere because we Americans are always late for everything. In the beginning making my first attempts to wai I was doing good just to manage a wai with two bare empty hands but I felt so awkward and self conscious! Yes even with something as simple as pressing your palms together in greeting I would do it so fast my hands made a clapping sound and it looked like I was trying a strange new way to swat mozzies! With practice though eventually I got more smooth and graceful at it and my bathroom mirror, kitchen refrigerator and the mailbox down the street on the corner have never been shown so much respect! 😉

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