The huge billboard on the expressway to Bangkok’s old Don Muang airport always made me chuckle. I could picture the Thai workers diligently putting it up in the hot sun, but not really knowing too much about its message. The billboard graphic was of a muscular guy standing proudly in his underwear, six pack tensed and with the caption below reading “MEN SUNDERWEAR”.
For several years I entered my apartment block where a sign on the front door asked those who entered to be “QUITE PLEASE”. This was a sign brought from a business supply store and I can only imagine that several thousand of these erroneous signs were sold around Thailand.
I often wonder why many of these businesses didn’t have the English checked before putting signs up in public, like the restaurant near my home with the street sign out front saying “BOND STEET STAEK HOUSE” and the donation box for stray street dogs announcing “MEN’S BEST FRIENDS NEED HELPS”.
Another donation box I saw recently in a local department store asked people to “DONATE TO THE MENTALLY RETARDED”!
Some advertisements can be so politically in-correct as to be off the charts. Like the advertisement in the back of a motor-rickshaw in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Some entrepreneurial people had got their hands on discarded rocket launchers from the war and created a unique business. The sign in the rickshaw read “ROCKET LAUNCHER FIRING RANGE: YOUR CHOICE OF TARGET, CHICKENS OR COWS”. I only hope the cow at least had a chance to run away.
Some food menu’s can really make you think twice or at least consider what you are about to eat. The “NOODLES (THICKEN SOUP)” sounds tasty but may have been tough to swallow.
For years my name appeared in Davis Cup programs and on my team tracksuit as Pual Dale.
But the laughs can happen both ways. I have also had my share of embarrassing gaffs with the Thai language.
I was presenting tennis awards to a large group of young players once and announced a girls name incorrectly. As soon as I said her name I saw a horrified look descend over the entire gathering. Instead of pronouncing her name correctly I had mixed my tones up (Thai is a tonal language) and instead of saying her name I had described the act a lowering a coffin into a grave. Not a good thing in ghost sensitive Thailand!
I also got things horribly wrong many years ago when I was learning to speak Thai. I was particularly keen to learn the Thai National Anthem so that I could sing along with my players at the opening of International tennis events.
My wife taught me The Thai National anthem which I was able to memorize ok, but I didn’t know the meaning of the words.
The first chance I got to actually perform the song to a live audience was in Pakistan for Davis Cup. Both teams were assembled along one service line and the national anthems were played while the crowd stood silently as a mark of respect. As the Thai National anthem started up I was pretty confident I could go through the whole song without a problem. I could also sense that some members of the crowd were watching me to see whether or not this foreign coach could speak Thai or knew the words to the national anthem.
I began to sing but immediately realized the words I was singing were not the same as the rest of the team. The player to my right, Narathorn Srichaphan, gave me a sideways glance which caused me to stop singing.
It turned out that my wife had taught me the words to a children’s nursery song which went something like “Chang, chang, chang, chang, chang, nong koey hen chang lue plaow”? This roughly translates into “Elephant, elephant, elephant, elephant, elephant, young boy have you seen an elephant before”? Very embarrassing at the time!
So, while I see Thais' butchering the English language all the time I think back to my embarrassing first attempt at the Thai National anthem knowing that it's not an easy thing to learn a second language!