Readers' Submissions

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Word

  • Written by Anonymous
  • May 16th, 2006
  • 10 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By Bluetail

Do you work in Thailand? And if so, are you in a position where what you wear is important? That would include most. I worked in Bangkok for about two years myself, in an office located on Sukhumvit. Fairly fancy place, a few better-known businesses had their name-plates in the reception of the building.

This was my first regular job in Thailand, and the first where I was to be in a office at regular hours. I knew well that it would be important to dress up, so off to the tailor's I went. Standard conservative looking business suits, white shirts. A few slightly more daring ones, with thin light blue stripes and such. Silk ties, no experiments with odd patterns or shouting colors there.

Black leather shoes, and a pair of brown ones to go with cotton trousers for more informal needs. Belts accordingly.

I was taking no chances with the appearance. Never one to have had much style I regardless found it easy to handle this. Just copy everyone else. Little or no creativity was needed, luckily, on my part.

My whole new wardrobe, including socks and shoes and accessories set me back some 30,000 baht. Later I found I could have spent a bit less. A couple of dress jackets too much, I actually ever used but one for those occasions that demanded it. Too hot to wander around in, and it was ok in the office to go without apart from the odd meeting where some high-so folks where involved.

So I felt confident with my new business-like Bangkok style appearance. After a few weeks I also felt fairy well settled in. No major problems with anything, it helped that I already knew a bit about the country and the city, the culture and the people. Got along well with the others, one of the local guys from then remains a good friend today and my regular first to call when I am back in town. All joy.

A no-smoking policy was in place for the whole building, I think they where fairly early on with that. I smoked, still do, and had to go down the elevator and back out whenever I felt for a whiff of poison in addition to what the air in the big city offers all for free. During these small expeditions outside I gradually got to be on nodding terms with other inhabitants of the building, exchanging nods and little pleasantries in the elevator and in the designated smoking area outside.

Gradually, I began to feel that something was missing. Through meetings and regular office hours, and not the least while going on cigarette expeditions, there was something that felt slightly wrong, sort of "off" in a way. This kept nagging me slightly. Nothing like titinus or a constant migraine or anything really bothersome. But there was definitely something.

And one fine day I got it. The pen! I had missed getting one crucial part of the executive's standard inventory of accessories. Not that I did not have one, mind you. I had several. And I always had one with me, positioned correctly as it was, in the breast pocket of my shirt, right side of the pocket, just above my heart.

I was equipped with standard, cheapish ball-point plastic things. Which performed their designated tasks just fine, technically. But I had totally missed the "point".

Frequently in Thailand, performance comes second to appearance. Appearance is everything. I knew this. I had researched. I had spent good money dressing up. I had good cuff-links and I shined my shoes every morning. Hell, I had a quick-shine sponge standing by at the office in a drawer, to be safe.

But I had managed to miss the pen. Nobody had told me, off course. And here I had been making an utter fool of myself for weeks. A clown, a pariah. At the least, an outsider.

I had to remedy myself, and fast. So I undertook studies. I noted as best I could what the other chaps around the place were armed with. I went on the net and did research. On the BTS I was on the look-out. What did the more affluent looking types sport? What did the less well dressed ones carry?

I came to the conclusion that a bit (but not too much) gold would have to be involved. And it would have to be real gold. It has a special shine to it, and I expect most Thai people would note the difference from anything fake there.

It should be a major brand, something recognisable among the initiated. Yet not too flamboyant. That would suit neither my taste nor position. So nothing all-gold, a few details would do. Less expensive as well. You pay enough for the brand name alone on such things anyway, I think.

After a brief but intensive period of investigation – I was eager to join the proper pen-owning ranks – I made my choice. And the investment paid off. Only the first day at the office properly decorated, going down for a cigarette, I exchanged actual words, not only nods, with one of the more prominent manager types in the building. He had obviously noted my pen. I had certainly noted his, I had chosen the exact same model. How nice.

I attended meetings with higher confidence, always eager to sign things, to show off the pen. This made me more popular all over.

If I ever felt at a loss for anything to contribute I would put on a philosophical face and play nonchalantly with the pen, making sure everyone could see it. Worked like a wonder. Who would dare put to the test someone armed with such a respectable caliber in the scale of the businessman's arsenal?

I greeted restaurant bills with their accompanying signable credit card slips with a whole new and far more positive attitude, and I made yet more friends.

I would always be there, if someone asked to borrow a pen. With an air of slight detachment I would hand the beauty over, like it was nothing for me to let someone just borrow such a thing, hey, you need a limousine for the weekend, it comes-with-the-pen attitude, that was me.

At your peril you ignore the pen. Never mind the words, never mind what you write. Except perhaps in the field for adding tip on bills.

Should any of you professionals out there have missed the point then this is a letter to you where you are prompted to take immediate action.

Without the pen you are nothing. It is more important than having the latest cellphone, even actual literacy comes way after. Apart from being able to sign stuff.

Remember, appearance is everything. You can always learn to actually read and write later. Nobody can see if you can write or not, unless you are caught off guard and get cornered into some odd situation where such skills are needed. What people cannot see is irrelevant.

If you are a man of the world you will know what is available in different kinds of restaurants, for example. Italian places will have pasta and so on. Easy.

Ordering without consulting the menu indicates that you are a confident man, perhaps a regular, and one who does not need to check the price tag also. Quite posh. No need for literacy. Just make sure your pen is properly positioned in your breast pocket, highly visible.

Contracts? There are legal staff and secretaries for such. And it is the company's money, right? You just sign. Hence the pen.

Business presentations, like PowerPoint-explained things, are mostly vocal. And mostly boring. The accomplished executive can sleep through it all, while looking like he is paying attention. He will know how to position himself so that both ambient light and flashes from any screens will be reflected from the little piece of gold holding the pen in proper place. The pen insures that anyone of lower ranks will be in proper awe and not likely to upset equilibrium with anything more than offerings of donuts and more coffee.

Avoid meetings where higher-ups and especially younger than you higher-ups are present. You can take the odd chance with older, experienced leaders. They are probably not very literate themselves, and even if so not very likely to understand – and much less enjoy – much of meetings. Watch their pens.

The younger ones, and this goes also for taxi drivers, are more volatile and apt to cause trouble and embarrassment. Stay away, they may not recognize the pen. In Bangkok, blame traffic.

Sometimes you do have to be a bit clever. Coming to Thailand from elsewhere is one of those times. There is that annoying declaration to contend with. You may be able to struggle your way through it on your own, but there is really no need. Where you sit, in business or first class, you are likely to be recognised as a fellow as long as your pen is on prominent display. Claim poor eyesight and forgotten glasses and have someone else do it for you. Lend your pen. The task will be considered a privilege.

If your flight is full of non-English speakers you go to plan B. When at immigration proceed directly to the counter, especially if there is a long line. Then make enough notice to attract someone of higher ranks. Such a person should be able to recognise your pen and will assist with the paperwork. You also save time. Sometime there are desks open exclusively for first class passengers. You may then want to watch their pens before annoying anyone important by by-passing the line.

Any hotel check-ins are a joy. Where you stay it will be taken for granted that you cannot be bothered with any registrations forms. Here, you need few hints. Just hand over your passport and credit card. And make some notice, ensure that some sort of manager level type gets aware of your pen and you. You do not lend your pen to reception staff. This would be the equivalent to offer deep wais to drivers and maids. No good.

In any dealings with officialdom the pen is essential. Even you will have to turn up in person at immigration, for one. Perhaps not very frequently, after all you have people doing the legwork on your behalf. But that lot of those officers, they can be funny at times. So apart from your immaculate dress and flock of assistants you present yourself by signing whatever necessary with you good pen. Take your time here. Do not stretch it, that will only serve to annoy the stamping staff. But obviously you want to make sure your pen is noted. This will ensure a nicer attitude, perhaps even hints of politeness, from the moderately salaried officials. You may be offered water. I was, once. Actually.

In your leisure time, apart from picking up bills at restaurants, there is a fair chance that you will be sitting at some bar from time to time. Map out the expat favourites. These places will have better service and offer less hassle, in general. Find the spots where humanoids hailing from your own strata hangs out. Here, your pen will be noted. Staff may not be on to the pen itself. But the respect and including attitude from your peers will likely be noted, and so you will, even as a newcomer, be able to enjoy the extended level of service reserved for old-hands and regulars.

So you understand, the pen is mightier than the word. It is in fact essential. If you try to survive without one you will be doing something stupid. You will needlessly subject yourself to the ridicule of others, and that after having been explained clearly, through logic and enlightening examples, the importance of conforming with set standards. Neglect the pen, and you will be considered on a level with those who cries over lost bargirls after having read the advice posted, as in before you ventured out to frolic. Your reputation may never recover. Invitations to important functions will be conspicuously absent. Your contract may not be renewed.

Think of this.

While I am thinking of another submission, a possible title is "Never mind the time, mind the watch"

Cheers!

Stickman's thoughts:

So, how is your pen shop doing these days?