Written by Claire Haigh, Saturday 18th Jun 2011

After two and a half years out here my Thai is getting pretty good but man, the different tones still kind of baffle me. I have lost count of the times I have stood in a restaurant saying “kao kaa moo…kao kaa moo…moo…kaa moo, dammit!” before finally pointing “That, okay?” only to be told “Eeeeuuuuu, kao kaa moo!” which to me sounds exactly the same. No?

I have a better hang of it then when I started out, though, which I am thankful for. When working at the university out here, I had a student whose name was Kee (rising and falling tone together) which probably means bunnies or puppies or flowers or something equally fluffy. I, however, called her Kee (flat tone) which means shit. None of my students corrected me until, EIGHT WEEKS into the term, a brave soul quietly came to see me after class to clarify things with me. Poor girl! No wonder the class giggled everytime I asked her to do anything. “Shit! please answer question four. Shit! Where is your homework? Clean the board, please, Shit” and so forth.

I have also sailed into the teachers room intending to announce “Sorry I am late, I am very busy” only to get my tones wrong on busy and accidently saying “Sorry I am late, i am a big mosquito” to a room of confused Thai teachers.

Over time I have found that a firm but friendly stare combined with an unwavering belief that the Thais will eventually stop giggling at me and work out that I am not ordering large or small breasts but large or small cartons of milk sees me through in the end and, most of the time, the Thais like it when I speak Thai. However, nothing on this earth will persuade me to use the word “koy” as opposed to “law”. Both mean to wait but “koy” (not sure which tone) also means penis. I can just imagine what the response would be every time I tried to say “Wait here a minute!”, “Wait and see!” or “I am waiting for someone”…

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