THE GEOGRAPHICALLY CHALLENGED: Have you ever met a Thai geography teacher? I thought not. Most Thais would struggle to locate their own country on a map. As for the world beyond the kingdom’s boundaries, that is a closed book. “Is England close to Australia?” I was once asked by a girlfriend. “Er, no. They are on opposite sides of the world,” I replied. My inquisitor looked unconvinced and added: “Why do Australians look like farangs then?” My brief history lesson on Aboriginals and Britain’s policy of exporting criminals to faraway lands (Pattaya has replaced Botany Bay in that respect) left her shaking her head as she headed to a world map hanging on my bedroom door. Studying the Arctic Circle, she asked where the wall was. “What bloody wall?” I asked, by now somewhat exasperated. “The one that keeps the sea in.”
BUYING MYSELF LADY-DRINKS: This strange episode reinforced the notion that my main role in this country is to prop up the economy. Hungover and grumpy, I was sipping an orange juice in an empty beer bar when I noticed that my bill gave the price as an outrageous 120 baht. I called over a waitress and told her that a mistake had been made. She defiantly announced that orange juice was 120 baht because it was a lady-drink. “As I have bought a lady-drink for myself, will I get the commission?” I asked incredulously. She said that would not be possible. “Do I have to barfine myself if I want to leave?” I asked, not entirely in jest. “Up to you.”
INAPPROPRIATE SALAD GARNISHES: There is a place for a limp, soggy collection of lettuce, cucumber and tomato. That place is either the bin or a vegetarian’s stomach. I certainly don’t want to see such unwanted and unappealing items contaminating my full English breakfast or lurking under my spaghetti bolognese. What are the chefs thinking of?
THAI MALES WEARING ONLY TOWELS: Those of you who never leave The Farang Reservation will not have witnessed this phenomenon. Believe it or not, Bangkok’s less desirable areas are full of mean-looking patriarchs who never get dressed. I used to see them daily on my walks through the slums of Klong Toey. They occasionally emerge from their roadside hovels to spit in the gutter or splash water over themselves, drying themselves with the threadbare towel covering their midriff. They would fit in well among their shirtless farang brethren in Pattaya.
THE INSUFFICIENT AGE GAP: When I was 48 (not so long ago, honestly), I had a Thai girlfriend of 32. This 16-year age gap caused gasps of horror and outrage when I revealed it to female friends on a visit to England. They looked at me as though I had descended into paedophilia and earnestly advised me to seek someone of my own age. Back in the parallel universe of Bangkok, the reaction of friends was also of shock – that I should be dating someone so old. “Honestly, she has her own teeth and everything,” I protested as I was advised to trade her in for a younger model. Before I could do so, she dumped me for a younger farang and left me contemplating my approaching senility.
THE BILL BARRIER: In normal countries, utility companies make it as easy as possible for customers to pay their bills because, unsurprisingly, they want your money. Not so in upside-down Thailand, where obstacles are placed in your way if you miss an often unrealistic deadline. My electricity bill usually arrives only two or three days before the deadline for paying it at the 7-Eleven or by other electronic means. After being out of town and missing the deadline, I called the electricity company to ask how they wanted me to pay the bill. “You must come head office Ploenchit,” I was tersely informed. As I could not get time off work for such a chore, I had to pay someone to go there on my behalf. Insane.
LOST TAXI DRIVERS: Even after living in Bangkok for five years, I don’t really know where I am most of the time. Everywhere looks much the same – lots of concrete and 7-Elevens. That’s why I would appreciate it if taxi drivers didn’t ask me for directions to Sukhumvit Road or Victory Monument. Even worse, they always pretend they know where they are going before it becomes apparent that they are fresh off the farm in Udon Thani. That explains how I once ended up on the outskirts of Nonthaburi after asking to go to an immigration office near Chatuchak Park. Bastards.
THE BROLLY BRIGADE: Unlike normal people, Thais don’t use umbrellas when it is raining. They use them to fend off the sun’s evil rays, which seems a bit pointless in a country of dark-skinned people where it is sunny nearly every day. Given their lack of spatial awareness and sloth-like walking, Thais holding umbrellas represent a potentially fatal danger to pedestrians trying to pass them. Be careful out there.
THAI TONES: As a monosyllabic language with pretty basic grammar, Thai should be easy to learn. But it isn’t because someone decided, for no logical reason, that it should have five tones. Get a tone even slightly wrong and your attempt to say “Have a nice day” can instead mean “Your mother is a whore who sleeps with pigs”. My attempt to order the well-known noodle dish radna created a linguistic crisis in one restaurant. Pronounced in the flat tones of northern England, my order created not a flicker of recognition among the serving staff. Even the manager came over to try to understand what the farang wanted to eat. “You must know what it is – it’s virtually Thailand’s national dish,” I pleaded. In desperation, I started experimenting with the tone of the second syllable. Eventually, the message got home when I pronounced the na with an elongated rising tone in the manner of an opera singer rounding off a virtuoso performance. I swear I heard applause.
THE DICK COUNT: As I sauntered through Robinson department store one day, a saleswoman at the perfume counter invited me to join “a big dick count”. I was quite flattered and nodded my approval. “You’re really having a dick count?” I asked. “Yes. 50 per cent off all items,” she said with a smile.