Does this happen to you, too?
In Thailand, do you suddenly find yourself in situations where you think – why? Why is this happening to me?
I just ordered a pizza. Actually it was three, and no, it’s not because I’m prepping for that new Thai TV show that started last night called, of all things, “Dance Your Fat Off.”
(Haven’t seen it yet but loved the pre-publicity: “Fat people take to dancing to lose weight. Each week, the person who’s lost the least amount of weight gets booted off.” Looks to me like the bastard, sadly-deformed-at-birth child of “Dancing With The Stars” and “The Biggest Loser.” Expect a column out of it when I do get to see it.)
No, I had my staff over for our annual beginning-of-the-year meeting. I called it our “2013 Vision” meeting, or “Wi-chun” meeting as my graphic artist kept calling it, which is ironic since his name is “Wi-chien”.
Anyway in my generosity I ordered pizza for lunch on the strict proviso all my staff obeyed my every command for the rest of the year.
Ordering a pizza over the phone is something I haven’t done in ages. This is the conversation that took place in the Thai language.
“Hello Khun Suthon, may I take your order?” the sweet voice answered and enquired.
“I’m not Suthon,” I said.
“You’re not Khun Suthon … hmmmm. According to our records, this cellphone number belongs to Khun Suthon.”
Oh my goodness. I remembered.
Some years ago, the very first time I ordered a pizza in this country, I was required to give all my personal details.
The memory is hazy, but I do recall being on the phone for the time it would take to deliver a pizza to Pattaya, answering all manner of personal details such as my marital status, age, weight, favored position, income and body type.
In that way, I was told, every time I called after that my order would be processed far more conveniently. It had nothing to do with the pizza company’s ability to sell that information to some evil telemarketing company. Of course not. In my ignorance I relented.
That day I wasn’t only wallowing in ignorance. My memory was hazy because I was also wallowing in the effects of one too many Absolut Vanilla screwdrivers so I gave a fake name. Suthon Jaidee.
Ah, the hilarious things we do while under the influence.
“Wait!” I replied. “I remember now. I am Suthon. That’s me. Khun Suthon.”
“No, really, I am,” I said quickly changing the subject. “And I want to order three pizzas.”
“Which toppings would you like, Khun Suthon?” she asked in a tone of voice suggesting she didn’t believe in ghosts or UFOs.
“One ham and pineapple, one spicy chicken, and one deluxe.”
“One ham and pineapple, one spicy chicken, and one de-look” (เดอลุกซ์).
“No,” I said. “Not de-look.”
It was at that moment I could feel myself saddling up my high horse. Funny how that equestrian always rears its ugly head in such situations.
“De-LUX.” I added. “It’s de-LUX. Like the soap.”
“So … you want to cancel the de-look?”
Now I was in trouble.
“No! No. I don’t want to cancel it.”
“You said ‘no de-look’.”
“No I didn’t.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand you, Khun Suthon. You want three pizzas, and the last one is a de-look.”
“The last one is a deluxe,” I replied. “We don’t call it a de-look. You Thais made that pronunciation up yourself.”
“Oh … you are not a Thai, Khun Suthon?”
Man, was I digging myself a hole.
“Well no, but my name is Thai. I, er, grew up overseas. I’m a displaced orphan from the Vietnam war era.”
“That was a joke,” I said.
“Repeating your order: one ham and pineapple, one spicy chicken, and one de-look.”
“Correct?” she asked, saying it as if she was plunging a spear into my chest.
Correct? Correct? How could I say yes to that, dear reader? I’m a linguist, dammit … how can I say that the word “deluxe”, when pronounced de-look, is correct?
There was something definitely evil, almost dominatrix-like, going on here. That pizza operator was playing head games with me, I know. (And of course, by using the name Suthon, I wasn’t playing head games with her, was I?).
I have asked this question before in this column but I will ask it again — Why is it that perfectly good English words get ripped to shreds when pronounced in Thai, especially on days when I haven’t had a good night’s sleep?
I can handle the omission of that final “s” because the Thai language doesn’t have such words. But why do we change a perfectly good vowel sound like “u” as in “but” or “cut” into the more flimsy pathetic “oo” sound of “look” or “cook”?
Isn’t it funny how we all have our pet peeves? I can’t stand any shop assistant who announces: “No have.” My friend Stuart nearly pees his pants if somebody says “Same same.”
Meanwhile Eilat has Siamese kittens when she hears “I no like,” and Craig goes ape-fecal over the pronunciation of “buffet” as “boof-fay” (บุฟเฟ่ต์).
And me? I’m a “de-look” kinda guy.
“Can I just say something here?” I said by way of answering this clearly manipulative, but clever, pizza operator.
“I just want to say that in English, it’s pronounced de-LUX, not de-look as you say it. Remember that. And tell your friends.”
“But we’re not speaking English, Khun Suthon.”
Oh my god.
She got me.
The word “deluxe” has its origins in French, meaning “of luxury”. And, of course, the French pronounce it similar to the way the Thais do, only a little more condescendingly.
Since when has it been stated that when speaking Thai, all foreign words must be pronounced as they are in English?
Was I just smarting because the Thais have favored the French over the English pronunciation?
I have nothing against the French, though they clearly have something against the British. When last in Paris the most valuable sentence I learned was “Je suis un Australien” so they would at least be nice to me – despite, at that time, Australia’s very vocal damning of French nuclear testing in the Pacific.
There are all sorts of words used in Thai that take the French pronunciation. Little nibblies are or-derf (ออเดิฟ), coffee is gar-fair (กาแฟ) and the word for France itself is farang-set (ฝรั่งเศส) which sounds to me like it comes from the French way of saying France with an emphasis on the last sound.
None of these bother me. So why be bothered with de-look? Or boo-fay for that matter, Craig?
Face it, Andrew. You just lost a linguistic battle to a pizza operator.
“Yes all right,” I said, feeling sick. “The … de-look … pizza.”
“Kha” (ค่ะ), she answered. I could hear her troops’ hoots of victory from the front line as she spoke.
Two days later I was checking into a hotel in Suphan Buri to give a speech. As the bell boy carried my bag to the room, I was told: “You have been upgraded. To a hong soot” (ห้องชุด).
That’s another one.
A suite is a soot (ชุด) in Thai, rhyming with “suit”, another bastardization that gets my goat.
We can’t even blame the French for that one – where did that one come from? And why does that immediately incur my wrath?
“Air conditioning is here, and the light switch is over there,” the friendly hotel staffer told me once inside the room. “Would you like to order room service?”
“Certainly not a pizza,” I said.