Monday, February 1, 2010

Thai Me Up in Guilt and Shame

ฉัน ไม่ พูด ภาษา ไทย.
I don't speak Thai.

I am one of those embarrassing expats.  I admit it.  I can't speak Thai.  When I first moved here, I looked down on people like me.  "How colonialist to live in a country as an expat and not bother learning the language," I'd rant.  I have now lived here for almost four years and my Thai language skills have not progressed beyond the taxi/restaurant competency level.  I took lessons for a few months and made moderate headway, but then life got in the way and the future was up in the air.  My mentality has been: Why invest a lot of time and energy and money in learning a language I find difficult, aurally unpleasant, and rather useless outside of the country if I will be leaving soon?  But I have been thinking that way almost since the beginning.  When it comes down to it, I'd rather study French or Spanish or Italian.

I'd like to rid myself of this constant guilt/inertia surrounding Thai lessons (or lack thereof).  (I know the easy answer would be to start lessons.  I assure you that I have planned on doing so for months now.  No dice.  Yet.)  I'm ready to hit the road and return to a country where the language is accessible, familiar or simply beautiful and where I have an easier time relating to people and have more in common with my peers.  Being closer to my family would be a bonus, too.  

So, with my limited Thai skills and the utter foreignness of tonal languages, I find communicating here a bit like trying to remember a forgotten password.  You know there are only so many variations and you begin trying them all, making singulars into plurals, changing punctuation and numbers, adding capital letters.  When I speak Thai, if my first attempt elicits a blank stare, I embark on trying other permutations --changing to a rising tone or a falling tone, softening some consonants and making others stronger-- until a spark of recognition appears.  I then breath a sigh of relief, grateful that I have broken the code, but, feel a pang of remorse at not having taken the time to learn the native language.   

Yes, I am ashamed. 

Image via


Anonymous said...

I've been the same way about bringing my level of Thai up. I keep thinking, why bother learning a language that is useless outside a country I want, at least, most of the time, to leave?

Bangkok J said...

Thanks for posting and commiserating, L. It's so strange how some days I really love living here and some days I'd rather be on Mars. Taking random photos of things that have become somewhat commonplace to me sometimes helps renew that childlike awe, novelty, and newness of Bangkok. Maybe it would help you, too?

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