Thai Expressions and Attitude

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Mai Pen Rai Attitude

Mai pen rai, I don’t know how many times I have heard it or use it myself, at least once a day, and it is not possible that during your stay you will not hear it. It is an expression that is most often a response to “thank you” the equivalent of “you’re welcome” or “please”. But not only and like a lot of things in Thailand, it is not as simple as it seems, it means more than that, it’s okay… it’s all right… don’t worry… never mind. It can seem rather annoying and disturbing but useful because it can reassure Thai people that even if they messed up your order at the restaurant because he/she didn’t understand or wrote the wrong dish on his/her notebook, mai pen rai, you take it anyway, and with a smile. The taxi driver does not have the 10 or 20 bahts to give change, mai pen rai. Perceived as an “air of indifference” by expats, the mai pen rai attitude is just an outward expression of calm.

A Question

Pen rai is a shortcut for the question Pen Arai Mai? which means, what’s happening to you, what’s going on, what’s wrong?

Mai, means, no, pen means, to be, arai is the question word (cheu arai kap/ka? what’s your name?) so it can be translated as nothing is going on, everything is fine.

Cultural Symbol and Even a Philosophy

A belief that no doubt has its roots in the Buddhist teachings on impermanence and karma. We, mortals, do not control things, feelings, and thoughts of the other so it doesn’t matter, it’s like that, we can’t help it, what’s done is done. It’s an enviable way of doing things that could be said to deflect responsibility, on the one hand, or to leave room to accept what might happen, on the other hand. This is how Thai people deal with life’s problems and little hassles.

Politeness

Of course, you will learn to say thank you in Thai, kop khun kap/ka, and often the answer to your thank you will be mai pen rai, a way of saying “don’t mention it! It was nothing.”

To forgive someone else’s mistakes, it’s usually a response to I’m sorry. For example, in public transport or elsewhere, if a person steps on your foot, he/she will apologize (ko tot kap/ka), and you, mai pen rai kap/ka it’s okay. Madam, a lady in the subway kindly offers you her seat, you refuse out of politeness and savoir vivre, mai pen rai ka.

No Problem

Thai people believe that instead of scowling and making a fuss about what happened, they accept it, even if it may cause trouble or money, they think it is better to simply say mai pen rai. Sometimes it can be really annoying, all expats will tell you the Thai driving is me first, and the attitude, “so what’s your problem? For example when a vehicle stops on the side of the street and the driver or passenger goes shopping or talks with an acquaintance without worrying about the disturbances that he/she can cause to the traffic, better to smile, because anger or making a fuss, is an unacceptable attitude and a sign of weakness in Thailand.

You miss your flight, although it is not your fault, mai pen rai, there are other flights. A friend or neighbor invites you to drink coffee, and of course, without doing it on purpose you spill your cup. You are sorry and insist on cleaning up, ” mai pen rai don’t worry, no problem, it’s okay”. You have just been dumped by your boyfriend/girlfriend, mai pen rai. Thai people will use this expression to comfort themselves (and others) and encourage them to face difficulty in life and move on.

No thank you, yes, please

Sometimes the ambiguity of mai pen rai means yes, please. At dinner, you share a delicious dessert with your friend, you offer him/her the last piece and his/her answer is mai pen rai. In fact, he/she wanted to have it but didn’t say anything because he/she knows that you wanted it too, and doesn’t want to cause any arguments or hurt feelings.

Your friend’s hesitant “mai pen rai” when you asked him/her if he/she wanted the last piece of dessert was a “yes please” that you were supposed to grasp, and your interpretation of mai pen rai as no thank you probably hurt him/her.

But beware, the mai pen rai attitude can sometimes be dangerous and irresponsible, such as carrying 50 people on a boat that is limited to 30 passengers. Seeing parents letting kids 10-12 years old go on a scooter without any protection.

Social Tool

Often, instead of complaining, Thais just say mai pen rai, life goes on and in this respect, it is most of the time a precious social tool to avoid losing face and being kreng jai.

Kreng Jai 

Kreng, to fear, to be impressed, to dread, Jai, means heart, mind, spirit.

There is nothing like this in western culture and the fundamental meaning is not to cause discomfort or hurt another person’s feelings. There is no exact translation, so Thais think that foreigners (farang) do not possess the feeling of kreng jai.

Kreng Jai, which literally means “awe of heart”, an attitude that consists of trying to avoid conflicts or inconveniences from another person, to show politeness, respect, and consideration, and be attentive to the feelings of the person you’re talking to. Showing kreng jai is a way for one person to help another person to save face.

Avoid Making the other person feel uncomfortable by Lying to him or her.

A colleague, who like you plays tennis, promises to exchange a few balls with you after work. An appointment is taken, but on the course, no one.

Why is that? He didn’t feel like playing tennis and told you to agree just to make you happy. For him to refuse would mean being offensive and he’d rather lie.

You ask a “friend” to help you move and he answers, of course, see you tomorrow. The next day he is not there. You see him again a few days later and kindly ask him why he didn’t come. After endless explanations, he ends up saying that that day he had an appointment at the hospital to have X-rays. Why didn’t you tell me that you couldn’t come? His answer, kreng jai, he didn’t want to upset me.

If you ask for directions, often they don’t know how to explain or don’t know where you are going, there is a great chance that he/she will send you somewhere else instead of saying I don’t know, but will have the feeling of kreng jai.

Respect

At home from an early age, children are encouraged to practice kreng jai. By behaving in a way that pleases and shows consideration for their parents and elders. It is the same at school with the teachers, as well as kreng jai with all those who represent the authorities and wealth.

It can also be frustrating because it doesn’t encourage Thai people to really say what they think, they have learned over generations that ignoring conflict is a better solution than facing it. They say what they think you want to hear, or an evasive answer, like “it’s up to you”.

In the sense that kreng jai shows your concern for others, and also that you have received a good education, it is excellent quality. But it can also be an obstacle to development or a shield to mask reticence or even cowardice sometimes. As an expat, especially for those who come to settle in Thailand without really knowing the Thai culture, it is often very difficult to understand these attitudes, but let’s not forget that it is up to them to adapt to the culture of the host country and not the other way around. Kreng jaI, smile (yim), and jai yen.

Jai Yen Stay Calm

Hua jai “heart”, Jai alone is more often used in a psychological context to express different feelings and to address issues of personality, attitude, or disposition. Yen literally means “cool” and like the English word cool, refers as well to the way people think and act. Jai yen characterizes calmness, serenity, and patience, mastering the ability to “keep cool” in times of tension. On the contrary, a person who “loses his temper” is Jai Ron, and can react with anger and violence, which can happen if an aggressive remark makes the person lose face. In general Thai people are very slow, they walk at the speed of a snail (sabai), take their time to do things, they do not always understand your questions and you have to repeat or even explain several times…jai yen yen.

Jai is also a deep term in Thai Buddhism. It is used in expressions, for example, you know someone who is “bad” you will say that he/she is Jai lai. Son jai, care, or interest. Man jai, to be confident, sure of what you are doing but also a statement that the person is sure of what he/she is saying, in this sense nai jai is also used. In the broader sense wai jai, means that you are sure that someone is honest, fair, and reliable, on the fact that the information is true or correct. Of a generous person, one will say that he or she is nam jai, if a Thai says that you are jai dee “good heart” is one of the best compliments, but, *dee jai is commonly used to express a feeling of happiness. Gentlemen/ladies if you meet a sweetheart, don’t call him/her waan jai (sweetheart) until you are sure that he/she feels the same way towards you. The word tirak, which is more common for my darling, is used by westerners and girls from the hot nightlife spots. You are sabai sabai on your beach chair, your son comes out from behind and utters a scream that startle you, tok jai.

 *Happiness, the word kwam suk is popularly used as well as sanuk, fun.

Sabai

Sabai, the word you are most likely to hear when you’re in Thailand. To greet you, sabai dee mai ? (how are you ?) in answer, sabai dee kap/ka, I’m fine, thank you. The word has multiple meanings depending on the context, to be relaxed, to be comfortable, to be satisfied, to be easy to live with.

It is often repeated twice, sabai sabai, to say that everything is really great, perfect.

Tonight it’s cool, its nice, yen sabai, we should sleep well, lap sabai

I just bought these pants it’s really nice to wear, suam sai sabai

When a person is sick they will say, mai sabai

We’re really good here, the environment is great, sabai sabai

As noted above Thai people walk slowly, at work stress is not a good way to do things. Not that the work is not done efficiently but with the attitude, calm, serene, relaxed, keep the balance of sabai.

Whatever the situation, jai yen, don’t worry, mai tong gloom jai, or sad sao jai, but dee jai happy and relaxed, sabai jai.

You got it all figured out, kao jai.

Bai, cheu kan, bye, see you

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