those inscrutable orientals

September 8, 2006

A few years ago (in the pre-Blair era) I had a meeting with my counterpart in a Thai Ministry. She came into my office, lay down on the floor saying her back was killing her and said ‘i just don’t understand you English. You say one thing and you mean another. Just now I had a meeting with X and after I had explained my proposal, he said “that’s interesting”. I thought that meant he liked it but then somebody else told me it means he didn’t. Who do I believe?’ I started to explain that it depended very much on his intonation when he said ‘that’s interesting’ but she cut me off. ‘Why do you have to make things so complicated? You English, you’re so inscrutable.’ I told her that Thais, too, are famous for not saying what they mean, sometimes to avoid confrontation, sometimes to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or just show respect. Most of the Thai reticence I think comes with a difference in status as equals can be very frank with each other. I imagine most languages can veil meaning and use truth economically, the thing is whether you know the code or not.
Still, there was one big cultural difference between us. She and her husband had just bought a flat near Hyde Park in case they tired of their houses in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Paris. I was struggling with a 90% mortgage for a one bedroom flat in Deptford.


One Response to “those inscrutable orientals”

  1. Dr CJ Says:

    And of course you can’t own land here, flat yes for 99 yrs only, it’s lovely to live in the land of xenophobics … Wait aren’t Chinese outsiders? So why is 80 % of the government Thai-Chinese or better put first generation Thais? “farang does not understand Thai culture” … And if you do then they tell you goodbye because you know too much! Damned if you do and damned if you don’t – welcome to Thailand : P

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