"Your hair is beautiful. Like a dog." and more Miscommunication in Thailand

11:54 Amy Lou 5 Comments

Two days ago, Eve, a sweet girl in my best class, came to me with a request I'd never encountered before:  


"Teacher, can I touch your hair?"

"Er, yes, OK.  Why?"  I asked.

The girl started stroking my hair.  Bit weird, but whatever.  Living abroad is supposed to be all about accepting different cultures after all, and she didn't seem to find it strange, so why should I?



"Because is beautiful hair, Teacher.  Like a dog."

It was so funny. At first I looked at her like she'd just fallen from a coconut tree. Then, I laughed, and she soon realised that her compliment hadn't been fully understood. Desperate for me to understand, she quickly repeated herself.

"A dog, Teacher, a dog!"

I laughed some more.  Then, her friend came over and all became clear:

"Doll, Teacher, she mean doll." .... Ahhh ;)

Miscommunication happens nearly every day.  

I'm quite embarrassed to say that can't speak much Thai. Sure, I can order food and a frappe, and I can tell a red car (Chiang Mai style shared taxi) where I'd like to go, but I couldn't have a real conversation in Thai - not at all. This means that I'm often absolutely sure that my students are sometimes saying incredibly rude things in Thai. Usually it turns out that it was perfectly innocent ('"I asked to borrow her pencil, Teacher!"), but sometimes I'll have them begging not to say it ever again it when I ask if I can say it to a Thai teacher. Miscommunication happens so often, in and out of school, that I usually don't bat an eyelash, but every now and then it's memorable.  

Probably the worst is when you accidentally call a child various Thai words for male genitalia.


As in the English language, there are many different words for it.  Same here in Thailand.  I don't know many, but I do know that 'goy' or something like that must be one.  A female student has the nickname Goy - she wrote it herself.  Whenever I do the register and call out her name, I use the wrong tone, or something (though I have tried so many different tones), and get it wrong. The entire class bursts out laughing, every time, and poor little Goy blushes bright red. After realising that she must absolutely dread coming to be my class only to be called a penis by her teacher, I now have the class leader take the register for me.

'Kollum' is another one.  Kinda problematic when you're asking the class to look at column one and they can't see it through tears of laughter.

My male students are obsessed with kite flying.  In modern Thailand, this is not an innocent hobby to enjoy on a windy day.


When a new teacher comes along, and inevitably does a lesson about Favourite Hobbies, one or two boys in each class will enthuse about their love of flying a kite. 'Odd,' thinks New Teacher, 'I don't think I've seen kites in Thailand.' So New Teacher asks some more questions: "OK, kite flying!  Excellent. Who else here loves to fly a kite?"  The whole class explodes in a fit of laughter. It's only when New Teacher relays her experience to Experienced Teacher in the staff room later on that she finds out that 'flying one's kite' is Thai slang for pleasuring oneself.

Andy (my fiance) accidentally spent a good twenty minutes talking to Thai students about kite flying.  Whilst tutoring two guys from Chiang Mai Uni, one of them mentioned it.  Andy thought this was quite interesting and so went on and on about flying kites, asking them if they fly their kites together or alone, if many people in Thailand do it etc, wondering why they were acting strangely.  He only realised what he had been saying when I told him a couple of weeks later.  Oops!

Now whenever a Cheeky Boy tells me he flies his kite, I smile and good-naturedly ask for more information: "Really!? Wow! So how big is your kite? How often do you fly it? Do the girls know you fly your kite?" Cheeky Boy realises that I'm in on the joke and everyone has a laugh. Kites are never mentioned again in my classroom ;)

How would you deal with a Cheeky Boy in your class?

Groups of young Thai boys at tourist attractions love to call you a buffalo.

This is a common Thai insult, meaning a stupid, slow, dim, plodding person.  The Thai word is 'khwai'.  It's the insult of choice for students to call each other in my class.  When we're out adventuring, it's happened to us a few times, and I've seen it happen to other tourists too.  The tourist will say "Sawadee khaa/khrab" to the lovely little Thai boys, who will sweetly say hello back, and then when they're a metre or so past you call you a buffalo and burst out laughing.  Don't take it badly, they're just little boys having a laugh after all :)


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