Talking about others in public is risky business. 99% of the time, someone might get away with it due to language barriers or a noisy atmosphere…but in those 1% instances when they get caught? Pure gold. This guy took down a rude doctor in just one sentence.
I lived in Thailand for about 2 and half years from 2009-2012. I was there in a language exchange program where I learned Thai in a school 5 days a week and taught English at 3 different universities. Part of the exchange was that you were supposed to live with Thai people so I was placed with these 3 Thai guys that rented a house near one of the universities. I absolutely loved it and really became a part of the community around my neighborhood, and I knew almost everyone from the couple that ran the restaurant in my soi, to the som tam lady (papaya salad), and even the fruit stand guy.
So one day I’m at the fruit stand and there are about 6-8 people there. One thing that is different in Thailand than in America is that no one lines up in a line. They sort of just crowd around and it’s your job to fight to have your order heard.
This never really sat well with me and in an effort to try to be as kind and polite as possible, I would always wait my turn so as to not offend anyone.
So on this particular day about 3 or 4 of the people at the fruit stand were doctors and nurses from a nearby hospital. By this time I had been in Thailand about a year and half and between the language school and living with my roommates had become basically fluent in Thai and I was just standing there listening to the conversations around me. So up walks this lady who is a doctor, and she starts loudly and extremely obnoxiously conversing with the other people and starts shouting out her orders to the fruit guy.
He kind of looks at me waiting and tells her in Thai, “Wait just a moment the farang (white guy) was here first.” She looks me up and down with the most insulting glare I received from anyone the entire time I lived there and tells him in Thai, “Oh just give me my order now, he doesn’t understand us and has no idea what’s happening, he’s just a stupid tourist.” Again she is saying this extremely loud and obnoxiously and at this point everyone is shocked she has said it because people just generally aren’t rude like this in Thailand. A few people look at me but I can tell they’re also assuming I can’t understand what’s going on. I can see the fruit guy look at me (again he knows I speak Thai) wondering what I’m going to do and this is where I get my revenge.
I look at her for the first time and loud enough for all to hear announce, “Actually, I DO understand what you’re saying, and actually, I WAS waiting patiently long before you arrived, and I WOULD like some pineapple and some guava!” Then the fruit man starting laughing so hard I thought he was going to fall off his stool. Her expression changed immediately and she just said “Oh how nice you speak Thai very well.” As though nothing had even happened.
It might not seem like much but this petty revenge packed a punch in Thai culture. They have a phrase called “naa theck”, which literally translates to “broken face”, kind of the opposite of when we say “to save face” in English. It’s when someone is embarrassed in front of others and they are made to look stupid, and it’s a BIG deal in the culture. All of these other doctors and nurses now had a story to tell about how the annoying, obnoxious doctor who suffered broken face at the hands of a simple ‘farang’ boy at the fruit stand.
One other funny thing about this whole ordeal is that the word ‘farang’ which means “foreigner/westerner/white person” is the same word for a “guava.” When I said I want a pineapple and “GUAVA,” I was really hammering home the word “FARANG,” which made everyone giggle because it was like icing on her cake of embarrassment.
How did she get through the rest of the day? If she had said this in front of strangers, maybe it would not have been so bad…but she acted this way in front of her colleagues! I’ll bet that they still joke about it to this day. What goes around comes around.
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