Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Speaking Like a Local.

One of the things I've been surprised about in Bangkok is the fact that people just don't speak English very well. I'm not complaining - afterall, I can't even say hello in Thai - I'm just surprised. Mrs. TBF once told me that everybody in Singapore speaks English very well. I thought Bangkok would be the same - it's not. Even staff members at large hotels with mostly English-speaking guests kind of speak a "velly bloken Engrish". For every four staff members, one speaks English pretty well, and the others get by with basics. For example:

Thai Waitress: "You want more coffee?'
TBF: "Yes, thank you. What is the origin of this coffee?"
Thai Waitress: (looking confused) "You want tea?"
TBF: "No...coffee is fine. Where does this coffee come from? Thailand? Sumatra? It's very good."
Thai Waitress: "Yes." (she walks away...)
Another Thai Waitress: "Is the coffee OK?"
TBF: "Yes, it's great. I was just asking where the coffee comes from."
Another Thai Waitress: "Oh...the coffee beans are from southern and northern Thailand."
TBF: "Oh...thanks. It's very good."

At this point I see the one waitress go behind a glass partition and explain in Thai what I was asking.

Thai Waitress: "Ahhhhhhh!"

Communicating with taxi drivers is even more challenging. The hotels give you a card to give the drivers. It has the hotel information in both Engrish (clap...now I'm doing it!) and the crazy (but quite beautiful) looking Thai writing...plus, a map. It's often the only way to communicate with the driver. Case in point...

We went to one of Bangkok's large shopping centers on Sunday afternoon. By the way...this is what Sunday evening traffic looks like in Bangkok. It was right next to a large hotel, so we just had a doorman at the hotel call a taxi for us.
The doorman asked where we would like to go. I told him "...the Metropolitan Hotel" so that he could tell the taxi driver. The doorman looked confused. I gave him the hotel card, and he said "...ahhhhh....The Metloporitan Hoter!" (I kid you not!). He explained to the taxi driver where we wanted to go, and the taxi driver looked confused. I gave him the card, the doorman and the taxi driver had a one-minute discussion about directions, the weather, football, who knows?...Twenty minutes, and 77 Thai Baht, later we were actually in front of our hotel. SUCCESS!!! I gave the driver 100 Baht (this is $2.50 U.S.) and told him to keep the change. He seemed confused (it's not really a tipping society here), and I just waved for him to keep the change. Of course, he then proceeded to put his hands together in a praying position and bowed about five times.
Mrs. TBF told me I shouldn't tip so much. It's not that she was being cheap - she just thinks it offends the locals. I don't care - I'm not walking around with a half pound of change in my pocket that's worth fifty cents. Now that that was resolved, it was time to head up to the room and resume the "battle of the thermostat"!

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