Graphic Illustrators: Thida Sachathep & Ruksana Narang
Language barriers…oh, don’t we love them. You can most definitely bet that you will have some funny and frustrating experiences in Bangkok where communication is concerned, but take it all in stride. No travel is fun without a bit of struggle. Be a little patient with the locals, as they are either
a) trying extremely hard to understand you
b) trying extremely hard to pretend to understand you
c) praying that you stop talking to them because they are tired of pretending to understand you
A word of advice, if the Thais are nodding and smiling while you are talking, 60% of the time they have no clue what you are saying. The remaining 40% of the time, they are just too shy to converse back, but they do understand you… for the most part. And remember, English is barely a second language in Thailand, so your local food vendors, market shopkeepers, and taxi drivers are definitely not going to be able to speak it. But not to worry, I’ve put together translations for some key topics to get you started on practicing your Thai before you get here.
On Being Polite: Engrave politeness into your everyday language. Thai people are extremely polite, and even if they are angry, they will end their sentences politely by adding the word, “Kha” (for woman) and “Krub” (for men) at the end of each sentence. Although I have left it out of the translations in the graphics below (because repetitive words annoy me), you most definitely should add this word at the end of every sentence. Also, try and avoid addressing a person solely by their name. Always remember to add “Phi” or “Nong” followed by their name depending on if they are older or younger. By doing so, you are basically calling them your brother or sister, and thats how everyone addresses each other in Thailand. The entire nation is your family, so you’ll never feel alone!
Everyday Conversation: Thai is an extremely complex language with 44 consonants, 32 vowels, and 7-10 different phonetical tones. So even if you think you’ve got the words right, I guarantee you, you’re getting the sound wrong, but thats okay! Thais love it when tourists and travellers make an effort to be understood or to make small talk, so keep some of these easy phrases in mind for your everyday conversations!
Food: One of the main things you’ll find yourself doing in Bangkok is ordering food. It is literally all around you, at every corner of every street. It will be extremely tempting to try all the different things, so if you can’t eat spicy food or have a certain allergy, you want to be able to communicate that to the food vendor. Here’s a few phrases to get you started on your food journey in Bangkok.
Directions: To some extent, you should where you intend to go, or know when you’ve arrived at your intended destination. This is absolutely essential. Taxi cabs and Tuk Tuks can take you for one hell of a ride to every random place they get commission on, if you are not absolutely certain about where you want to go. Never enter into a Tuk Tuk or Taxi and tell them to take you anywhere that is good. They are probably not going to act in your best interest. Instead, do your homework, know exactly where you want to go, and tell the taxi driver to take you there. It also helps if you know a few thai words and aid in navigation, even if its only a bit of familiarity that you have with the roads. At least this way, the drivers know not to mess with you and take you for a merry-go-round before you arrive at your destination.
Bargaining: Last pointer, but I would say the most important is the bargaining. Even though you say you don’t plan to do any shopping in Thailand, you will be trapped by the amazing sales tactics and the guilt trip you’ll be put through, so if anything, at least know your way around asking the prices, and bargaining them down a bit. This will surely help ensure you, that you’re walking away with a “semi” good deal. Regardless, you’re always going to have the after-thought of if you overpaid, and if you could get a better deal. To that, I answer, yes. You can get a better deal, but there will be an entire post on bargaining and how to master it, so wait for it.
So, now that you know how to speak my language (or at least the essentials for your survival in Bangkok), come over and give it a try.