Readers' Submissions

Arrogance Or Courtesy – Up To You

  • Written by Red
  • February 7th, 2004
  • 3 min read



To my surprise, my previous submission, “The other Expats” received some pretty nice feedback. The only sticking point for some seemed to be my views on the necessity of learning Thai (or the local language of whichever country one may be visiting). Now, I know there have been several submissions about this and Stick has expressed his own views on the subject so, much as I do not wish to repeat what has been said before, I felt compelled to post the following, initially written as an email response to those who complained of my use of the word ‘Arrogance’:

Of course it is (or should be) the right of everyone to do as they please regarding the learning of a foreign language. However I believe, I repeat, I believe that when visiting any foreign country an attempt should be made to learn at least some of the local language, if only the real basics. When visiting a country on a regular basis or living there surely it is simply courteous to make an attempt to learn the local language to a slightly higher level?

Imagine the reaction of the counter clerk in your local store in Farangland when someone who cannot speak your language walks in, and expects to be able to conduct their business in their own language and not yours.

Having myself worked in a shop in a holiday town in the UK I witnessed this first hand. I was quite taken aback by the reaction of some of my fellow employees when a French tourist, with no English speaking ability, walked in and tried to purchase some items. Well, they just considered that person to be rude and were most reluctant to serve them. Now, these people had never been outside the UK and had never found themselves in that situation. In their opinion that poor, unsuspecting tourist was just ignorant or being rude (or, dare I say it? arrogant). “What business do they have coming here when they can’t even speak English?” was, I believe, the comment at the time. (Of course some of this could just be put down to the historical animosity that does exist between a lot of the English and the French but I think you get the general idea). That incident has remained etched on my brain and, and I do not wish to be perceived in the same way when I am a visitor in another country.

I have been fortunate enough, in the course of my job, to visit many different countries and always make the attempt to learn some of the local language, even if it’s just “Thank you” or “Hello”. I find even a few simple words will ingratiate you with the locals and thereby put you in much better standing with them. Hey, I can say “Thank you” in 14 different languages, not much else in most of those languages but that's just me. I am pretty crap at languages.

Now, were lucky that quite a few Thais, especially in Bangkok, are able to speak passable English. But just as it is the right of the visitor to Thailand not to learn Thai it is also the right of the Thais not to learn English. Imagine if they didn’t. The fact that there'd be a lot less visitors to Thailand aside; we'd all have a much harder time here, right?

So why not meet them halfway, and at least be seen to make the effort? The process of learning itself can be quite fun and having a few words under your belt can make your time here all that more rewarding.

Stickman says:

The benefits in learning Thai are huge. Yeah, of course you can get by without it, but I think the benefits far outweigh the time, effort and cost of learning it.