Clothes Make The Man
Swiss novelist’s Gottfried Keller story tells about the fate of a poor tailor named Wenzel Strapinsky. Because of his elegant coat he is mistaken for a Polish count and courted by the rich. Trouble begins when the beautiful daughter of a well-respected citizen falls in love with him and Strapinsky does not find the courage to reveal his true identity. This story inspired me to write a short essay of what happened tonight.
Well I guess it all started when I took a stroll on Siam Square. I found some nice designer T-shirts which were about 1500 baht each. A bargain I thought, in Europe they sell for double. They looked a bit washed out, but it was part of the concept. Fine. I gave them to my tailor and they made them fit my body. When I got them back I just placed them in my cupboard and almost forgot about them because I either wear suit and tie (you can’t do without it here) or the 199 fake Polo shirts, which I love so much, because I hardly ever sweat in them. Fake Polo Shirts seem to be widely acceptable here, I see even older Thai business guys wearing them in their leisure time. I never bothered too much about clothing, until today. I'll tell you what happened.
Feeling a bit slaphappy about my trip to Hong Kong tomorrow, I put on my newly washed out designer T-shirt and combined it with a Daniel Hechter shirt which I chose to wear open. Diesel Jeans and Puma sneakers. The funny thing was, the whole bloody outfit was about 12,000 baht, if not more. Combined with my messy hair and the stubble I had on my face it looked to a Thai person less than 20 baht probably and I started to feel what it’s like to been taken for an underdog here.
But I did not think of anything and I went to Food Loft at Central. I usually don’t go there, only sometimes I meet a Chula girl there for breakfast, but she is now in Phuket on holiday. Ah, yeah, sometimes I also visit a friend of mine who is a manager at Central and join her for a drink or keep her company when she is having lunch. Then I go shopping with her and she lends me her employee card and I get like a special discount on whatever. So of course I am used to being treated fairly nice up there. But they don’t remember me, since I don’t go often. I don't really like canteens.
Tonight I experienced my fashion Waterloo. I came in a good mood and started to joke around a bit with the people working behind the counters. Oh, they did not find me funny. All the little jokes I usually get a lot of smiles from Thai faces were not valid this evening. Then I started to wonder what it might be and I quickly looked down on my clothes. Yes that must be it. Washed out T-Shirt, sneakers, jeans, open shirt, not shaved, messy hair (but washed, I insist). Then it hit me: I was a low class 'Farang' cowboy in a ‘hi so’ department store. I was totally out of place. I did not realize that it was so extreme in Bangkok. I knew it was a bit like that, but not at this magnitude. When I wanted dessert, I had to fight to get a small spoon from the waitress, she was just openly ignoring me. Normally I used to get prompt service up there. No, it can’t be that everybody was in a bad mood, there was some pattern behind it.
When I went to pay, I realized that I was out of cash and I paid the 400 baht bill by credit card. Not an amount I would usually pay by card, but the Thais even pay 99 baht per credit card, so that can’t be the reason why the cashier looked at my signature with such concentration. Normally I get the opposite. Nobody looks at the bloody thing. I often told the girls to check it with my card, because they did not even bother looking. But that was when I was in a suit and tie or in a ‘decent-fake’ polo shirt. Well the cashier then told me, my signature was not the same as on the credit card. I could not believe it. I had to show her my ID until she was halfway ok with it. By then, my slaphappy mood had gone.
I went down to the Starbucks, where most personnel knew me. "Saswadee kaa Khun Statler". You know what they added: “Wow, you look nice today, ten years younger”. I could have replied: “Yeah, I know, but tell them freaks upstairs on the 7th floor”. But I did not. I just grabbed my coffee, went back home and wrote this story. I took off my designer clothes by the way. I think the 199 polos will celebrate a revival.
I can see exactly how this would happen. So many locals are so shallow.