Even The Best Thais Won’t Tell You
Thais do not have bad breath. Ever.
I’m not sure exactly what the factors are that contribute to the pristine zephyrs emanating from the mouths of Thais, but you can take it from me, an old Thailand hand who has been around this bedazzling country for the past 35 years, that even after a night of slurping up rotten fish and guzzling cheap Chang beer, your average Thai will give you a beautiful smile and a puff of air that rivals an Alpine morning.
Perhaps it’s all that volcanic chili they put in everything; it probably burns away every stinking (literally!) germ in the Thai mouth and innards. And Thais rarely worry about anything under the magnitude of Halley’s Comet landing on Bangkok, which, I have read in grocery-store periodicals while waiting in line, lack of worry keeps the intestinal track clean as a hound’s tooth. Toothpaste and mouthwash may be a contributing factors, but not much. Thais religiously brush and gargle every morning (or in the case of most of my former Thai ESL students, brush and garble) but after that they pretty much forget about their teeth for the rest of the day.
I used to think it might be the betel nut paste that so many chewed in Thailand, but that habit, thank goodness, has died out in the past 20 years.
What I do know for certain is that we farangs most definitely have bad breath, though the Thais are usually too polite to say anything about it. Unless you have a Thai gf. Then you are referred to, sometimes playfully, sometimes not, as good old “Dragon Breath.”
When I first began as an ESL teacher in Thailand I was very conscious of my breath. I brushed like a fiend, scouring off the enamel in my zeal to eradicate halitosis. I flossed. I gargled with the Thai brand of Listerine, which is highly flammable and leaves your mouth feeling like you’ve been hatching centipedes in it.
I was very confident of my breath, never scrupling to pull back from my tete-a-tetes with ESL students or fellow faculty members.
And then I acquired a Thai girlfriend (or perhaps she acquired me – we are still debating the point, especially on paydays.)
“You stink” she said breathlessly, after our first prolonged kiss.
What? I furiously denied her accusation. My pearly whites were immaculate and my throat was practically scalded with frequent libations of Listerine.
Nevertheless, she insisted, my breath would choke a water buffalo.
She knew why, too. It was all that red meat, milk, and bread I had grown up eating. It festered in the stomach, producing noxious fumes and infiltrating the very tissues of the farang body until the smell became a continuing stench.
I bristled at her insinuation that the American diet produced nothing but human stink bombs. But if I wanted the romance to continue (I mean the smooching) I had to figure out a way to clean up my, um, act.
I switched to a totally Thai diet, staying away from burgers, fries, pizza, and milk shakes. I chewed on twigs from strange trees that my gf gave me. I increased my chili pepper intake.
But nothing seemed to work. I had already put my dark suspicions that I was being cozened to the test by asking around at school if my breath were less than refreshing, and was assured cheerfully by students and staff alike that it was indeed nauseating.
This had an immediate effect on my teaching style. I became remote, nearly inaccessible to my students, fearing my breath would stun them into new depths of stupidity. I avoided my colleagues, not wanting to subject them to the dry heaves.
And then, ladies and gentlemen, I discovered The Cure . . .
(At this point in the narrative I should inveigle all you gullible farangs out there to send me ten dollars for the secret, but my current job pays me such good money that I never cavil over a few paltry ticals here or there . . .)
It was by accident. The gf and I were going out with another couple, so I wanted to gargle first. But we were all out of mouthwash. In desperation I grabbed the ubiquitous bottle of white vinegar in the kitchen and took a swig. It didn’t taste as bad as the Listerine. On my way to the sink to spit it out I tripped, and swallowed the vinegar. Oh well, I’d swallowed worse in my time in Thailand.
When I gave my gf a peck on the cheek on the way out the door, she stood rooted to the spot, and then came at me with the lovelight burning brightly in her almond brown eyes. What had I done? My dragon breath had disappeared!
We were very late meeting that couple for dinner that evening.
Ever since then I have swished and swallowed a mouthful of white vinegar as part of my daily routine.
It works like a charm, but the Claussen people have been prowling around lately, asking if I eat much dill weed and if I would consider trying on a large glass jar, ‘just for size, you undertand.’