Saturday, 19 March 2011

Mai Dai!! ไม่ได้!! (Thai language and dealings with government employees)

If you have been in, or visited Thailand for any length of time and have a grasp of even a smattering of the language, I guarantee you have heard this phrase many times!

First, let's delve into the linguistics a little shall we?

It's often the case when learning a second language that, instinctively, the learner searches for a direct translation. Unless your first language is from the same family of languages as the second like say, for instance, English and French, this is a big mistake and will cause you no end of confusion!

For this, and many other reasons, I strongly advise you to at least try and leave your 'farang brain' at the airport. They'll take good care of it for you, they won't do anything bad with it, they'll be more than happy to give it back to you once you're on the 'plane home!

In this phrase there are two distinct words; Mai ไม่ and Dai ได้
Now, there are many Thai words that can be written in Roman script that appear to be the same, Mai is a very good case in point. The tones and vowel length make very different words indeed.

Mai Dai ไม่ได้, depending on it's place in the sentence, can mean 'did not' or 'can not'.

'Mai dai gin' ไม่ได้กิน (I/she/he/it/they/we/you) did not eat, 'gin mai dai' กินไม่ได้ (I/she/he/it/they/we/you) can not eat.

There is a Thai tongue-twister that goes like this;

(In English) "New wood doesn't burn well does it?"

(in Thai) ไม้ ใหม่ ไม่ ไหม้ ไหม now, in the Thai script, each word looks different (I've separated the words which is something not done in written Thai), slightly different I admit, but different none the less. If that same phrase is transliterated into Roman letters you get; 'mai mai mai mai mai' That doesn't give you the tones or the vowel length really does it? You should end up with; 'high and long(ish)' 'low and short(er)' 'high and short' 'high and short' 'rising' Easy! (I have to say, there will not be many situations where you might need to actually say this, and if you do, you can just point and say "mai dai!")

Which is one reason it's important to learn Thai script as soon as possible. (Another may be that when you can read Thai you can see how different the admission prices for foreigners are!)

Other words that may well cause difficulty are 'rice' and 'beautiful'. The rice on offer in restaurants, boiled rice, as we would call it, is called 'khao suay' ข้าวสวย which literally translated means 'beautiful rice'. The word we transliterate as 'khao' has other meanings too, depending on the tone used 'khao' เขา which has a rising tone (similar to the end of pretty much every sentence an Australian English speaker would utter), means 'mountain'. 'Khao' ข้าว (see the little symbol above the first letter?) has a falling tone, and means 'rice'.

'Suay' สวย, again has a rising tone and means 'beautiful'.
'Suay' ซวย, (different first letter means different 'tone rule') has a mid, or flat tone and means 'unlucky' or 'damned'
You may end up, if you're not brave enough to give it a try, being too scared to say that someone is beautiful in case you accidentally say they're the unluckiest woman you've seen today!

(I have, as I'm sure have many others, attempted to order 'boiled rice' in a restaurant whilst, in fact, asking for 'unlucky mountains' !)

Some useful Thai language links; Sign up for this one they email you a lesson every day.
This one is a great dictionary and has a downloadable version as well.
This is worth signing up for too and I recommend you buy this book.

Confused by the language? That's nothing to the confusion you'll encounter when dealing with Thai officialdom.
Which leads, by a circuitous route, to the point of this post!

You may have seen in my last effort, I, along with my girlfriend Bow, have been saving to buy a house in a village called Ban Sob Kham, which is just outside a town called Chiang Saen in Chiang Rai province, way way up in the very north of Thailand. It's a beautiful part of the world, very close to what's referred to as 'The Golden Triangle'

Here's a view of the beautiful River Mekong from Ban Sob Ruak, about 10km from Chiang Saen which is where three nations (Myanmar, or Burma, Laos PDR and Thailand) meet, forming the afore-mentioned triangle.

Here's the nice little cafe we visit every day in Chiang Saen, 
Again, on the banks of what we call the River Mekong (that's another thing that gets lost in translation, the Thai word for 'river' is 'mae nam' literal translation would be 'mother water' but it's more complicatedly simple than that!) So, in Thai it's 'mae nam khong' แม่น้ำโขง I suppose, strictly speaking, we should call it the River Khong, but we don't, because we know best, don't we?
Anyway, back to the house purchase.

There are many laws regarding the buying of property in various parts of the world, and it should come as no surprise, to any moderately intelligent person, that they are not all the same!

In Thailand it is not possible for foreigners to own land. It's the law. It's not going to change any time soon. It's their country, they make the rules. Fine, I've got no problem with that. I've done my research, I understood that right from the 'get go' (I don't usually use 'Americanisms' but that one seems to fit nicely!).

There are also Thai laws regarding divorce. It is recognised that should a married couple divorce, any assets acquired after they are married, are to be split 50/50.

These two laws come into conflict in the case of a Thai national marrying a foreigner. The foreigner gets half the marriage assets from one law, but cannot own them because of the other one! So, at one point Thai nationals who were married to foreigners were prohibited from buying land! This law, as it discriminated against some Thai nationals, was repealed. In it's place the following safeguard was put into place;
A foreigner married to a Thai national is required, when that Thai national buys property or land, to sign to the effect that, the money used to purchase the property or land is that of the Thai national only and that they understand and waive any rights to said land or property in the event of a divorce.

Fine, I knew that, that's one reason we bought it before we're married.

So, the pre-sale contract we had with the previous owner is all signed up, money changed hands, witnessed by the 'Pu Yai Baan' (I suppose our version in England would be a councillor) Chanote, or land title/deed is handed over.
Happiness ensues, it's been a long year but we've done it!

The very next day, Bow goes down to the land office to get her name put on the Chanote.
Here's where we come to the title of this post. The land official checks all the paperwork, asks Bow a few questions, one of which is "where's the money come from?" "My boyfriend in London" is the answer.


She wanted me to sign the paper acknowledging I have no claim on the property.
But we're not married, can you put my name on the Chanote please? ไม่ได้!!

There is another issue that we, as westerners, find difficult to grasp. It's called 'losing face'.
In this instance, I called my friend in Bangkok. she's very knowledgeable in these matters, her father has completed many property deals in the past, he knows some of the top officials in the land office in Bangkok.

She called the nice lady in the Chiang Saen office and politely explained what the law is.... can you please put Bow's name on the Chanote? ไม่ได้!!

Her father called his friend in the Bangkok land office. They asked how much the house was, 335,000 baht? The law is for anything over 2,000,000 baht!

Another call to the Chiang Saen land office, more explanation......ไม่ได้!!

Loss of face, in this instance, means that once the nice lady in the land office, who is in a much-respected position, has said ไม่ได้!! she can not go back on it! There's absolutely no possibility whatsoever that she will say "Oh, sorry, I didn't realise, my mistake, of course I'll put your name on the title deed'.

Not going to happen, ever ไม่ได้!!

She has however, come up with what I regard as a typical Thai solution. I don't want this to come across as me criticising the 'Thai way' or anything, it's just one of those 'things that make you go......huh?'

So, here it is, the solution whereby no-one loses face and everyone gets what they want.

Bow's sister, on the suggestion of the nice lady in the land office, will have her name put on the Chanote, no problem. That was my first 'huh?' I started to question..." but the money still comes from is that different?"
Sister hasn't got a boyfriend, or a husband, was the second 'huh?'

"Ok, so after I come, we can transfer it over to your name right?" "Dai!" ได้!!

So, hopefully no-one will be the slightest bit embarrassed by the fact that the lady in the land office doesn't know the law, not notice that she has suggested what would, in my country, be flagged as potential fraud or money laundering, and everyone's happy, apart from 'sa mee farang' here, who has to pay the land transfer tax twice! 

Thailand is beautiful, I love it!

Nothing that you expect to happen will happen in the way you expect it to, ever. It takes a bit of getting used to if you're from a country that has hard and fast rules, because, on the surface at least, Thailand has equally hard and fast rules. They just tend to get a little blurred, or changed a bit, or interpreted differently, or ignored, or made up on the spot!

Live with it, or your head will explode!

Other key phrases that you need to internalise if you're going to survive and flourish in this beautiful Kingdom of the Thai's are as follows;

'Mai bpen rai' ไม่เป็นไร (it's nothing, don't mention it, never mind, forget it) literal translation, for what it's worth is 'not be something'

'Chok dee!' โชคดี (good luck, be lucky)

and my personal favourite, 'farang roo maak mai dee!' ฝรั่งรู้มากไม่ดี! (A foreigner that knows too much....not good!)

สวัสดีครับ โชคดีนะครับ!

No comments:

Post a Comment