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The value of a little sanook

Tuesday September 19, 2006

Tony Burke

Sanook is not a word to be found in English dictionaries, or on street maps and restaurant menus. In Thailand, however, it?s everywhere. It?s a way of life along with huge beaming smiles and lashings of spicy Tom Yam Kung soup.

Having fun, or ?good Sanook?, permeates every aspect of work and play and is an intrinsic part of the very Thai-ness of Thai people. Laughing, joking and April fools are considered to be sanook, but being a party-pooper is definitely a case of ?bad sanook? and frowned upon.

It is also a good way of overcoming some of the cultural gaffes and language boobies made by both farangs and the Thai alike. So, if you get a verbal response of 'm fine thank you? when asking for names or directions, you shouldn?t be surprised. Just return the smile and enjoy the moment; share in the humour of translation howlers.

Having a sense of humour and a natural willingness to return a cheeky smile helps in all other walks of life, from ordering a drink to dealing with officialdom. It is similarly useful in dealing with frustration when things go a bit mango-shaped, like power cuts, traffic jams, or posing at the rear-end of an elephant during an inappropriate moment.

In which case, it's a good idea to learn some essential Thai phrases:

Many ben hah!
No problem/I can handle it!

Mai pen lai!

Don't worry about it, elephants dump on me often!

Kapoon-nah Khap/Kah!

Thanks! Your elephant is my friend too!

Tao rai?

How much will this mess cost?

Poot len chai mai!

You're having a joke aren?t you?

OK, chock de khap/kah

Yeah right-cheers and good luck!

Pope gan mai!

See you later OK? Cheques in the post!

Bye ghun dhurk-layo layo!

Lets get out of here quick before Dumbo goes bananas!

Learning to speak Thai is not easy, but lots of sanook can be had in trying. There are hundreds of phrase books available online, but the best ones are found locally for their use of everyday Thai-speak as the locals speak it. The rest, as they say, has got to be lived!

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