Standing in the ATM queue at Kasikorn Bank today I was amused to see a handwritten sign with tape on each corner, in the bin. Clearly it had been taped to the ATM by a particularly irate westerner.

The general gist of the sign was “if you are going to give messages to customers, you should do it in English otherwise you’ll look like a bank that only supports Thais“.

How incredible. That an expat (because I doubt a tourist did this) believes the country is run for him (or her) would go to this length because the ATM said something they couldn’t understand. I don’t understand why people expect countries to work how they want them to, it’s beyond me. Even now, I am constantly suprised – and grateful – for the sheer amount of Thai services I can use because they do provide an English version. I always remember: they don’t have to do this. Thailand is easily one of the most foreigner-friendly places I have ever been in.

I think too many expats take the ease-of-living here to far, it goes to their heads. They start believing that they are better than the locals and they should be fully catered to.

9 Comments so far

  1. isriya (unregistered) on December 21st, 2004 @ 12:39 pm

    Yes, Thailand is better than Japan or Korea. But I think many things should be provide more English, such as Bus Label.

    We need to standardize many words in English especially places, province or district name and food official name in menus.

    “Tom Yam Kung” or “Sour Shrimp Soup”?

  2. him (unregistered) on December 21st, 2004 @ 12:43 pm

    The thing that really suprised me is that when I top up my DTAC Happy D-Prompt mobile account, the instructions are in English. I find this amazing – it’s a service that is aimed at Thais and the vast majority of it’s users must be Thai. And yet it’s in English. Which is probably just as well, for me!

  3. Ben Harris (unregistered) on December 21st, 2004 @ 1:40 pm

    On that note, the voice on the Happy D-Prompt recharge service sounds like she is high on something. WAY too happy.

  4. him (unregistered) on December 21st, 2004 @ 2:25 pm

    Oh yes, that wonderful “HA-LO! welcome to HaPEE DEE PromPT!!!!” Love it!

  5. scuba (unregistered) on December 22nd, 2004 @ 10:10 am

    If Thailand is ever going to be a first-tier country, Thais do need to vastly improve their English comprehension. Like it or not, English is the de-facto common international language of science, academia, business, and politics; the vast majority of new information needed to solve modern problems tends to be in English. In both the government and private businesses, I’ve seen an incredible ignorance about topics ranging from health care financing to market research methodology, with mistakes that are completely avoidable with information easily available on the internet – if you can read and understand the English. Many Thais can speak a rudimentary English (it’s required in the schools after all), but comprehension is terrible – seems like the schools don’t really care if you understand anything, so long as you can repeat it.

  6. Cog (unregistered) on December 22nd, 2004 @ 10:28 pm

    Scuba: I’d go even further by saying that Thailand needs to formally adopt English as a lingua franca and implement/reform educational policies to reflect such a measure. However, having said that, I’m not certain whether elevating English comprehension among Thais will necessarily confer Thailand’s entrance into the developing world. My own experiences in Japan and Korea leads me to believe that their own Asian dominance may not be attributed to English proficiency (the basic English skills of the average Korean/Japanese is just as atrocious), but rather to a strong-willed nationalistic character. This intangible heritage…overachieving element…call it what you will, can also be found in Indians and ethnic Chinese. Imagine us Thais having to compromise our sanook? Sacre bleu! Conversely, the wide usage of English among Filipinos hasn’t softened Philippine’s image as one of Asia’s corrupted and economically under-performing countries.

    Thailand has yet to be able to see beyond SEA and the economic umbrella of China, much less form a global view of anything…

  7. scuba (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2004 @ 4:03 pm

    Cog: I didn’t mean to imply that english guarantees development, only that it’s more difficult without it. The Japanese internal economy is has been a shambles for decades now; the only reason they survive is through exports, and the US looms large in that, so English is critical in the real drivers of Japan – companies like Sony & Honda. As for Korea, their strong growth has been largely due to increased factor inputs, and they are feeling the problems associated with this. I think the Philippines is a great example of how much damage one really corrupt guy backed up by the US can do regardless of English – it’s hard to imagine now, but in the 60’s the Philippines had one of the highest GDP’s in Asia – Hong Kong maids even worked in Manila!

    Regarding Thailand, I think you’re absolutely right about not wanting to give up the sanook – and rightly so. After all, isn’t the purpose of economic development to have a better and more enriching life? So isn’t giving up sanook for a few more baht kind of missing the point in a way? I think national character has a lot to do with geography (ala Guns, Germs & Steel)- Thailand is a rich country in many ways that are missed in traditional economic calculations like GDP. Overall, I’m not convinced the country actually needs more development – personally I’d worry more about equal opportunity and justice, and not just for Thailand!

  8. Paul (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2004 @ 4:46 pm

    More of an observation than any logical point or arguement, but i find it interesting that Japan’s economy is represented by a clear dichotomy and delineation between very strong, globally competitive, unprotected companies (such as Sony, Toyota, et al), and cloistered, sheltered, and uncompetitive companies/industries (agriculture, construction), with the former driving the economy, and the latter acting as a drag on it. In contrast, it is the government-coddled companies/industries (telecoms, banking, property) which are the cornerstone of the Thai economy (albeit, with the help of a PM and cronies with vested interest in such industries), overshadowing Thailand’s unprotected, ultra-competitive companies (electronics, retail) which also stand the best chance of surviving the opening of the WTO floodgates.

  9. Scuba (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2004 @ 5:59 pm

    Hmmm…Exports definitely led Thailand’s growth spurt from the 70’s to the 90’s; and banking & property certainly played big parts in the 97 crisis. Many of Thailand’s export industries were actually started by foreign firms looking for cheap labor. Since Thai productivity has basically gone nowhere, these same firms are looking for even cheaper labor – enter China & India.

    Are domestic industries the cornerstone of the Thai economy? In 1996, consumption was 54% of GDP vs 39% for exports; in 2002 C=57% & E=66%. The government thumps its chest about the growth in the past 2 years, but much of that was driven by exports to China. Domestic industries have definitely benefited from easy credit policies even as household debt has doubled, but whether this helps them survive WTO-related remains to be seen. Recall that Thaksin’s gang was crying to the WTO that poor little Thailand needed more protection, even while he boasted that he would join the OECD.

    Retail is a funny industry since it has a very important local component to it. Retail companies have had a long history of difficulty moving out of their home turf – even the God of retail, Wal Mart. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know on this regard!

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