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Thai 101 Learners Series: Bumper-to-bumper Language Lessons

Thai 101 Learners Series

Bumper stickers are us…

Bumper stickers in Thailand make for an interesting language lesson and a good way to pass time when you’re caught in traffic.

Apart from the typical เมา ไม่ ขับ /mao mai khap/ “Don’t Drink and Drive” and เรา รัก ในห ลวง /rao rak nai luang/ “We Love the King” stickers, one can typically count on Thai bumper stickers to be one of two things: clever and sexually suggestive. Frequently they are both.

One clever sticker I saw recently made me chuckle. On government vehicles you’ll see the lettering ใช ใ้น ราชการ เท่า นั้น /chai nai raatchakaan thao nan/ “For Official Government Use Only” below the logo of whatever department it belongs to.

A taxi had adorned its bumper with: ใช้ หนี ราชการ เท่า นั้น /chai nii raatchakaan thao nan/ “For Fleeing (from) Government Officials Only”, a play on the usual phrase by simply replacing ใน /nai/ with หนี /nii/.

If your sensibilities aren’t too delicate, take a look at the website that Doug Cooper put up sometime back during the Clinton administration: Thai Bumper Stickers (no longer online)

It’s a large collection of Thai bumper stickers. Most are transcribed and many are translated. Some of the translations are wrong, and you have to download a special font to see the phonetic Thai, but it’s still a nice collection. The content is not the kind of Thai you’ll want to use in polite company, if ever. Be warned.

Here’s one that’s suggestive but relatively mild: รับ สอน ก่อน วิวาห์ /rap son gon wiwaa/, which means “(I teach) wedding night lessons”.

Thai 101 Learners Series

And another nice bit of wordplay:

Thai 101 Learners Series

It reads: วัตถุ เมา ไว /wat-too mao wai/ “Highly intoxicatable”. This is a play on วัตถุ ไว ไฟ /wat-too wai fai/ “Flammable material”, as seen on gas tankers, liquid propane cylinders and so on.

There is another popular one that I’ve seen so many times, that I began wondering if I’d gone colorblind.

The gimmick is sticker lettering on the rear of the car saying: รถ คัน นี้ สี (X) /rot kan nee see X/ “This car is (color)”, filling in the blank with any color that the car isn’t. The lettering is often the color the car purports to be, but not always.

A typical example is a pink taxi with lettering on its bumper: รถ คัน นี้ สี เขียว /rot kan nee see kieow/ “This car is green”. I looked around on some Thai message boards, and many people claim it’s done to แก้ เคล็ค /gae klet/ as Thais say – “to ward off bad luck”, because some colors are considered luckier than others.

I’m sure plenty do it to be ironic or trendy.

Thai 101 Learners SeriesOne more for the road, from the “just-keep-telling-yourself-that” department:

ลูก ผู้ ชาย ต้อง ไว้ พุง /look poo chaai tong wai poong/ “Real men have a paunch.”

There is certainly no lack of bumper stickers on vehicles in Thailand, and trying to read them can also improve your ability to read some of the highly stylized fonts that are often used on signs and other forms of advertising, such as Thai script designed to look like Chinese, which we see around the Vegetarian Festival.

This might even help you to start to develop the confidence you will need to read the most difficult script of all: handwritten Thai.

Rikker Dockum
Thai 101

The Thai 101 Learners Series first appeared in the Phuket Gazette ’08
@ Copyright 2008-2009 Rikker Dockum

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5 Comments

  1. “For Fleeing (from) Government Officials Only” That’s funny.

    I’ve often wondered just what the hell those stickers meant while stuck in traffic in Bangkok.

    I have a long way to go before I can read even a bumper sticker…the examples above just look like colored spaghetti thrown against the wall to me.

  2. Talen, What I did was start with Thai license plates as they are easier to read than bumper stickers (you don’t have to ask anyone what they mean).

    And nothing is more entertaining than being stuck in traffic with a humorous taxi driver egging you on to sound out each and every car license plate you pass.

    Well, that you hopefully pass…

  3. ‘Bumper to bumper, Butt to Butt, Get Off My Ass You Crazy Nut!’

    I think this post proves that the Thai people really do have a sense of humour that is not to way off line from the western world, if perhaps a little 1990’s.

    I find trying to read Thai from a stationary book near impossible but from a vehicle going past me at 90 miles an hour…what can I say.

    I think I’ll start with the most difficult script of all and when successful put on my reading glasses and visit a car park. Nice post but way too fast for me.

  4. Martyn, I love the Thai bumper stickers as they show the wacky Thai sense of humour. So funny!

    My collection took me a awhile to gather as I was either going somewhere when I came across one of the carts, or the bumper sticker hawkers were nowhere to be found. I am told that a group of bumper sticker hawkers rent a house nearby so I might track them down for an interview (apparently they make their own bumper stickers).

    Btw – have fun hanging out in car parks ;-)

  5. Sitting in endless traffic was where I first started to learn to read Thai. You see so many of the same signs over and over it’s hard not to begin to soak some of it up.

    My fav bit of word play on a bumper sticker was one that said รถคันนี้ศรีสะเกษ [rot kan nee see saket]. Seesaket is a province in Isaan – ศรี and สี are homophones. :-)

    I wrote a blog on using roadworks signs as reading practice – follow the link above if you fancy taking a look.

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