Readers' Submissions

Writing in Circles

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • June 12th, 2012
  • 9 min read


This submission is based in part on Anonymous’s recent submission “Why You Sahpeak Thai?” where he quoted but failed to reference my submission. Well.. actually he never quoted me. No reference, and no quote, just a version of what he understood “BKKSW's contention that speaking Thai makes you suspect, and Stick's claim it gives you a magical edge with Thai women.” He then went on to ‘disagree’ with specific examples I never addressed. About the only thing he mentioned which would be accurate within the wider scope of my entire submission would have to be called agreements (Thai women immediately recognize bar girl Thai, overhearing Thai women speaking Thai can be entertaining or useful). Let’s look at the entire paragraph in context:

Stick regularly espouses learning the Thai language gives men a magical edge with Thai women. I disagree. I'd go so far as to say speaking Thai immediately makes you 'suspect' to the average Thai woman. Really? Yes! I can't count the number of times I've introduced Thai speaking farang friends to my wife or other women I know and as soon as they're gone, 100% of the time, they'll start speculating where they learned Thai. Being Thai women they're not coming right out and saying it, but unless the man was a diplomat or professor or some rather rare personality the immediate assumption was they learned Thai from other Thai women and are therefore immediately less desirable than a man who hasn't spent enough time with a Thai women to learn a language. Most "Thai speakers" actually aren't. Not really. Perhaps they're okay with basic conversation but they don't know the language well enough to know how to avoid 'giving away' the background of the women they learned the language from. It only takes one very minor slip.”

The way you use a word can have as much meaning as the word itself. Making someone ‘suspect’ does not make them “a suspect” or “suspicious” in the negative sense, or at least not exclusively. It means it raises questions, and to be fair you could even say it raises “suspicions.” But if you immediately follow the statement with a specific example of how you meant the word to be used then there should be no question left in the mind of the reader.

The meaning should have been immediately apparent as this sentence was immediately followed by a specific example and the following sentences supported this example. (I can't count the number of times I've introduced Thai speaking farang friends to my wife or other women I know and as soon as they're gone, 100% of the time, they'll start speculating where they learned Thai.) How anyone could have interpreted what I wrote, in context, to say speaking Thai makes you “a suspect” , or “suspicious” in a negative sense other than in the specific example given boggles the mind. An example BTW Anonymous went on to use himself in total agreement.

Without the opening line “This submission is based in part on BKKSW's contention that speaking Thai makes you suspect, and Stick's claim it gives you a magical edge with Thai women.” the submission was mostly agreeable. In fact, the examples he presented were almost generic in nature and anyone would have to agree with most of them.

So to be even more clear, Thai women (in the dating realm) will have questions about where you learned Thai, they will think you probably learned the language from another Thai woman, or maybe ‘gasp’ from a bargirl. Unless the way you used your Thai left no room for doubt. THIS DOES NOT MEAN every Thai in the Kingdom will be suspicious of you in general just because you speak Thai.

So I wonder why someone who can write well enough to do this, couldn’t put a simple sentence with a specific example in context? I suppose there are many reasons, but there are some common reasons I thought might make an interesting topic to discuss.

We’ve seen it often, one person writes something in a submission, a forum, or even a personal email, and someone misunderstands what was written. It takes skill to write something someone outside your circle will immediately understand in full. The further outside the circle you go (family, friends, workgroup, community, country, language, etc,) the more skill it takes and the more chance it will be misunderstood. This is because there are many cultural, regional, and national differences which deepen the further out from the circle you travel. Circles begin and radiate outwards from most any shared knowledge or experience such as co-workers at the same plant, attended the same high school, drive the same car, knew the same people, anything where you could say “traveled in the same circles.”

An example: Today my son and his uncle visited my home and we were talking about his new satellite television service. The uncle and I ask at the same time “did you order the Hopper and some Joey’s?” We get a blank look. You see, his uncle and I have been held hostage by our current programmers commercials and Dish network was advertising their new “Hopper” satellite receiver and a “Joey” was a smaller device used on extension televisions to bring them into a system. They named it the hopper because it can jump through commercials, I suppose like a Roo. And a Roo’s offspring are called Joey’s. See, now it all makes sense. It might have kinda/sorta made sense to an Australian reader as they’re left scratching their heads wondering why Yanks want to start raising roos (they think we’re nuts anyway), but it made zero sense to my son because he hadn’t seen the new commercials we’d viewed. In this case the “circle” were those who saw the commercial, we’d all shared the same set of information in context.

Because misunderstandings happen for these and other reasons an experienced writer takes extra care to ensure they’re understood to the intended audience. They’ll choose a universal word or term over the local version, they give examples, and sometimes (such as myself) they become too verbose. But in my defense, this entire submission addresses why I’m verbose.

I think we all do this automatically in the daily course of our lives. We walk into the mechanics shop to discuss the A/C isn’t working and it’s assumed unless otherwise specified we’re referring to the car we just parked in front of the service desk. “Unless otherwise specified” implies you don’t give them a specific example to the contrary.

This topic brings to mind Stick’s weekly concerning “Using The ‘F’ Word in Thailand.” Man did I have reason to cringe and I’d bet Stick was grinning knowing this when he wrote it. You see, I’m retired from the World’s most powerful Navy. But I do want to say this, “Officers” rarely had tattoos and the even more rarely acquired the habit of cursing in the course of their daily conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, they can be masters of cursing when dressing down a deserving subordinate, when in port and out on the town (drinking the bars away), or when something unusually negative happens, but never would they curse in the course of normal conversation. The Navy Officer prides himself on the image he / she presents, which is why they are immediately suspicious of young Mustangs such as myself who progress from an enlisted man to an officer. The more time as enlisted, the more they worry you’ll have developed a ‘sailors’ vocabulary. Probably more worrisome is you won’t know when not to use it. In fact, I would personally doubt the veracity of a man’s claim to have been an Naval Officer who presented as Stick describes. <100% sure, this guy was an officer – seen many photos etc. – Stick> You’d be surprised by how many times someone has told me they were an officer, and when learning of my background quickly backpedaled.

Back to Stick’s weekly. I agree with 99% of what he wrote, but with some caveats related to what I’ve already talked about above. While Thais take the F word seriously as described, there are many places in this world where the use of colorful language isn’t regarded with the same level of disdain.

Yes, it shows your upbringing, or your “pedigree” so to speak, but I’d disagree it necessarily makes a person bad. In the same way you should understand the Thais are hyper-sensitive concerning the F word, you should try to understand that to many people it’s not such a big deal. Where I grew up someone who “cursed like a sailor” was almost always from the pool of uneducated, uncouth, and undesirable. But having lived and cursed with the finest of most western Navies I’ve learned it’s not the same everywhere. Still, the way Stick’s “loo doot” used the F word didn’t demonstrate the intelligence nor the decorum you’d expect from an officer. It’s just plain stupid to knowingly bring violence upon yourself and reprehensible to bring it on those around you, and it shows a general lack of culture to do it in this way while visiting another country while representing your own.

Bangkok is one of the most diverse cities I’ve ever experienced. When I bother to think about it I realize my friends are Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, Germans, Dutch, Thais, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Argentinian, and even the occasional American.. ;o) Anyone reading Stick’s weekly or the many submissions must be quickly struck with just how diverse. The exposure I get to their “circles” is priceless and I try to use this knowledge when I write submissions here, or for my own site which is aimed at the same diverse cultures.

I’m far from the only one who does this, I think most people who write more than the occasional submission understands how much care is required to be well understood. And I think they put a lot of work into them.

When you look at things from this perspective doesn’t a careful and attentive writer deserve a careful and attentive reader? I think so.

Until next time….



Stickman's thoughts:

One of the things I have found writing my weekly column is that no matter how hard you try to articulate a point, some people just read into it what they want to, and often project the ideas written on to themselves. This can result in some fairly colourful and amusing replies! And I don't think my writing is quite that bad or that loose!