Short interlude from my Laos posts. I’ve always advocated learning as much of the local language as possible, and at a minimum words beyond the usual “hello” and “thank you” and “where’s the bathroom”. Even if it’s how to say “no problem”, it tends to go a long way in a strange and chaotic new place. But part to what makes learning Thai so story-worthy is how inherently difficult it is to learn the language’s many tones. There are 5 of them, and to a Western ear they are subtle enough that parsing through the auditory fog to truly grasp how they are meant to sound is difficult. For example, “mai” can mean 5 different words, depending on emphasis.

I recently learned how awkward these tones can be when I was informed that my polite attempts to say “excuse me / I’m sorry” while walking or apologize if I knocked into them was a huge fail. Instead of saying sorry, I was, in fact, asking permission to fart. Yes for the last few weeks I was asking people “May I please fart?” instead of simply saying excuse me.

I think I need to bring back ‘confused girl from Laos, because her face expresses how I felt when I was informed of my mistake:

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  • Jodi Ettenberg

    Born in Montreal, Canada, Jodi Ettenberg is a former new media and technology lawyer who quit her job after 5+ years of working…

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