Our latest guest blogger, Connie Mudore, tells us about a confusing “language lesson” that she received while settling in in her new hometown of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Living in Thailand is a daily non-stop language lesson. I keep discovering new meanings for English words I thought I knew and learning Thai words I have never known at all.
Take the word “trendy”, for example. I live in a condo in a trendy neighborhood in Chiang Mai. Here as elsewhere, trendy means that there are many boutiques, cafés, restaurants, banks, and other services all within short walking distance. Given my neighborhood’s proximity to the airport, as well as to lots of nightlife and traffic, trendy means pretty noisy, too.
My neighborhood also has some of the same features as regular non-trendy ones in Chiang Mai. These include having no real walkable sidewalks, trash on the streets, thickets of overhead electrical wires, and more than a few stray dogs.
Before I start to sound like a crusty and critical expat, I want to point out that there is a real community in the condo building and on the soi (lane) where I live. Although I’ve only resided here for a short time, I know many neighbors in my building that I could ask for help and vice versa.
The building security guard and receptionist greet me with genuine pleasure when they see me. There is a wonderful masseuse in the lobby of my building whose seven-year-old son loves to tell me about swimming and his pool adventures after I get massages from his mom.
When I told the Thai shopkeepers on my soi that I was concerned about the health of the stray dog that lives on our lane — I was carrying a plate of food for the dog and searching for him at the time — they started looking after him as well.
There are two restaurants on my soi that I frequent regularly. One is a place called Mu’s Katsu, operated by a gracious young Thai couple named Mu and Paul. The food is excellent and inexpensive. I eat at Mu’s about three times per week.
“Where is Gally?” Paul asked one evening recently while I was dining at the counter.
“I don’t know Gally,” I replied.
“Yes. Yes, you do,” Paul said.
“Really, I don’t.” I smiled. Smiling is very important in Thailand.
Mu’s Katsu is a small restaurant popular with Thais and foreigners alike. On this particular evening, most of the patrons were Thai.
“Gally. Gally. You know Gally.” Clearly, Paul was not going to let this go. I looked around. All eyes were on me. “Please just tell him you know Gally, so he will be happy and we can eat in peace,” they silently pleaded.
But I really did not know Gally and had no idea where he was.
Mercifully, Paul suddenly added, “Gally. The guy from Australia.”
“Oh, Gary,” I said. Paul smiled. The whole restaurant breathed a sigh of relief but remained curious. Gary is a condo neighbor, who is also a Mu’s Katsu regular. We had eaten there together several times.
“Gary is coming back from Australia next week,” I said.
“I tell you you know him,” Paul beamed triumphantly. I did indeed. Silly me.
Oddly, the other restaurant patrons now seemed more interested than ever. Somewhat daunted by all the attention, I finished my dinner quickly and left.
“You know that in Thai language ga rii means a woman who sells her body for sex?”
No wonder everyone in the restaurant had been so interested in my remarks.
No, I did not know. Ga rii. Gary.
I doubted that it would be a term I would need to use. But how wonderful to have added yet another meaning to an English name and a new word to my fledgling Thai vocabulary, all at the same time.
Have you ever experienced similar misunderstandings abroad?