Monday, February 6, 2012

"Up To You!"

I recently noticed this gum in the US, and it made me laugh. If it were on sale in Thailand I'd call it a targeted market!

The Thai are overall a very gracious and easy-going bunch of folks. Generalizations always leave room for debate - and as the fine print often says "your results may vary" - but I've found it to be true a good 90% of the time, and that's a far higher ratio than here in the USA. There are exceptions, of course. City life and interactions with tourists (read: the unpleasant or boorish) can warp most anyone, and there are bad apples in every barrel.

To make another generalization, if you look like a tourist in any type of tourist area you're liable to have a difficult time getting yourself where you've hired a tuk tuk to go without being pressured to stop at a jewelry store, a tailor or perhaps a whorehouse of some sort. If I'm offering suggestions to anyone traveling to Bangkok alone for the first time one of them is to just enjoy watching them howl noisily by from the sidewalk, actually. Away from tourist areas they're better, if you can make yourself understood - but that's another topic for another day.

Thai hair gel at BigC in Bangkok
Today's topic really is more for interpersonal exchanges, and (usually) not for business deals. A fruit cart may well have a hand-made sign showing that something is Bt20 per kilo, but business deals are often open for some bartering. In fact, you're usually expected to barter some. A tip for a Rented Admirer, while intimately personal, is still a business deal, although most times you'll still be left to decide what you think is a fair gratuity for time and effort - "Oh, up to you!"

You've read examples of their good nature here before. They don't want to disappoint or displease you because you're a guest in their country. For example, if you're pointing off to the right while asking a Thai at an intersection  "Is the post office this way?" and they don't know they're just as likely to smile, nod their head and perhaps even say "yes". It may sound charming to you reading this, but if it's 95F/35C and you've already walked a half mile looking for the post office and then go another two city blocks in the wrong direction it isn't as endearing, trust me. At that point, even if you did decide to throw all common sense to the wind and lose your cool  about it [a social No-no] they're long gone, and there's no satisfaction to be had.

I have dear friends there who, after having already discussed and agreed that "I don't know" or "I don't understand you" is a perfectly fair and acceptable answer, will still indicate they understand something. It then soon turns out they didn't, and we back up and try again.  Mai pen rai.

Some of you reading this will hear today's title phrase in Thailand; probably often. "Where would you like to go on your days off?", "What do you want to do?", "Where would you like to have lunch?", "How much should I tip?" and other questions that involve a decision (or a preference) tend to generate the blanket reply of "Up to you".  With a couple of folks there I've learned to say "You know what I'd really like?  I'd like to give you my choice and let you decide."  It's polite, shows some respect, shows generosity (genuine or not) and puts the ball back in their court, so to speak.  It's usually met with a pleased smile and a proper answer.  Usually.

I'm planning a trip there this Spring and have a couple of those returned questions still hanging, awaiting an e-answer.  Adds a little suspense to the plans, I guess. Who knows? I may end up with a free week or two on my hands. I always have more folks I'd like to see than time to be there, so we shall see what happens.

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