Learn something about the culture by memorizing some common expressions and words
1. mai bpen rai, mai mee bpunhaa
The first phrase roughly translates to “it doesn’t matter”, the second to “no problem.” Together, they typify the Thai approach to life: don’t get troubled by small obstacles, don’t worry, take it easy. If a Westerner protests, he is swiftly reprimanded with calm down = jai yen.
This word is usually translated as “happy”, but its use is often closer to “comfortable”, “relaxed”, or “well.” To Thais, happiness is not a state opposite that of sorrow. Rather, it is more akin to tranquility. Sitting by the seaside with the wind blowing your hair is sabai. Winning the lottery is not. This difference is underscored by the fact that mai sabai, or “not sabai“, does not mean “sad”. It means “sick”, “ill”, and can even be used as a euphemism for “hungover”.
Suffix the word dee, or “good”, to sabai, and you get the standard Thai greeting: sabai dee mai?, or “Are you well?”
The Thai people are usually described as sentimental, encountering life emotionally rather than intellectually. This is not meant to disparage them, and in any case they often disparage Westerners for being too cerebral, too cold. The linguistic centerpiece of this worldview is ruk, or “love”. Just about every Thai pop song will be propped up by ruks, often in the form of pom ruk ter, or “I love you” (ter is the informal “you”, like “tu” in French).
Ruk is also the root of the common word naruk. The prefix na is the equivalent of the English suffix “able” – thus naruk means “lovable”, “adorable”, or “cute.”
Ruk also gives us suttiruk, a term of endearment roughly meaning “sweetheart”. (N.B. Not to use indiscriminately, especially as part of the phrase suttiruk ja, which means something along the treacly lines of “sweetie pie”)
Another word to express Thai sentimentalism – the close etymological connection between Thai words meaning “heart” and “mind”. Jai, “mind”, spawns the word hua jai, “heart”.
The word jai forms a number of compounds that describe human emotions. Some of the most common are:
jai rorn — hot-tempered (hot mind)
jai yen — calm (cold mind)
jai lai — cruel (bad mind)
jai dee — kind (good mind)
kao jai — to understand (enter mind)
korp jai — thank you (edge mind)
Thais take eating very seriously, no doubt in part because of the strong Chinese influence on their culture.
Gin can mean “eat”, but it is more akin to the word “ingest”: one can gin nahm (“drink water”), gin kao(“eat rice”), or gin ya (“take medicine”). Gin is also used to describe the taking of a piece in chess.
Because rice accompanies just about every Thai meal, gin kao is usually used instead of gin to mean “eat.” It is perfectly acceptable to use gin kao to describe the inhalation of a cheeseburger, for example.
Deriving from this preoccupation with food is aroy, which means “tasty”. Thus does aroy appear in the names of many a Thai restaurant. A common experience among newcomers to the kingdom is to be offered a food they have never seen before, together with the pronouncement aroy. Thais are very proud of their cuisine, so the follow-up question aroy mai? (“tasty?”) is usually not far behind.
Sanook, meaning “fun”, is a guiding principle of Thai social life. If you have recently returned from a trip, whether from Malaysia or the mall, you are likely to be asked sanook mai?: “was it fun?” An experience that is merely educational, or, as slang has it, “intense”, would probably be given the swift Thai denunciation: beua, or “boring”. If it’s not sanook, it’s not worthwhile. Thus sanook and sabai are a common element of the names of Thailand’s many watering holes.
Westerners often receive – and deserve – the charge of ba!, meaning “crazy” or “mad”. You are ba if you do anything stupid or unexpected, like driving poorly or dancing spontaneously. Tellingly, the Thai phrase for methamphetamine – the country’s most destructive drug – is ya ba, or “mad medicine”.
A third way of Thai greetings is with the word pai, or “go”: pai nai mah, or “Where have you been”. As with “have you eaten” is really little different in intent from “What’s going on”.
Pai is also the source of pa, which ostensibly means “let’s go”, or “get a move on”, although a Thai will often say pa a hundred times over the course of an hour preceding actual departure.
10. sawatdee, chohk dee
No collection of essential Thai phrases would be complete without sawatdee, the all-purpose Thai salutation. No need to bother distinguishing between “good morning” and “good evening”, “hello” and “goodbye”: sawatdee covers them all. But there are alternatives for parting, like chohk dee, meaning “good luck”. Chohk dee also serves as a fair substitute for “cheers”, not in the evolved British sense of “thanks”, but in the old-fashioned sense of “may the road rise to meet you, may the wind always be at your back.”
|Food and Drink
|Basic Greetings and Phrases
|Days of the week
|I want to go…
|yaak ya pai…
….. yoo nai?
sa-tanee rot mae
sa-tanee rot fai