I have a disease. I don’t think there is a name for it in the medical journals, but I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who is afflicted. This disease only seems to manifest itself in music, office supply, and bookstores, so it’s no surprise that I had a symptom flareup during a recent trip to my local Barnes & Noble one night. I have come to affectionately call this disease “Too Many Books, Not Enough Time or Money Syndrome.” (TMBNETOMS for the acronymally-unhindered.)
So it will come as no surprise to tell you that I was hanging out in the bookstore recently and came across a little gem of a travel book about Thailand called Thailand – Culture Smart.
This pocket-sized monster packs a pretty big punch when it comes to information about Thailand and Thai culture. I was pleasantly surprised to find a wide range of topics covered. Because Thai culture is so completely different than our Western culture, it’s a very good idea to know a little bit about what you’re going to experience. Where many “quick” guide books will fill the pages with essential phrases and words you will want to know while traveling around, Thailand – Culture Smart covers many topics. Here is a list of the chapters in the book:
- Land and People
- Values and Attitudes
- Religion and Tradition
- Monarchy and Military
- Family and Social Relationships
- Time Out
- Food and Drink
- Getting About
- Business Briefing
- Language and Communication
What I Liked About the Book
Each chapter has a lot of information that truly gets to the heart of Thai culture for travelers (as much as one can in a non-fiction travel guide). You will learn a lot of very useful dos and don’ts about what to expect and how to conduct yourself. You will get a nice overview of the democratic monarchy and Thai people’s love of their King; you will learn about Thai Buddhism, which is very prevalent throughout the country; you will learn about social behavior and making friends, which should NOT be hard to do given the extremely friendly nature of Thai people.
All in all there is quite a lot of material covered in 160-ish pages. Though my experiences in Thailand are not extensive, I found that pretty much everything covered is accurate and useful. Pretty much…
What I Didn’t Like About the Book
First and foremost, the “Language and Communication” section is the last chapter in the book. Sorry, but you simply can’t do this. It’s inevitable that vocabulary will be introduced to the user throughout a book like this, and since Thai is a tonal language it’s absolutely imperative that the user has an understanding of how to pronounce certain words. Tone marks and proper romanization should be mandatory so the user knows what tone to use when saying a word. Though there are many who say to not worry about tones (“just get the words, they will understand”) I completely disagree, and so does every single Thai person I’ve asked about this.
For example, in one section the author tells you that the word for duck is “pet.” In many languages this wouldn’t be a problem, but in Thai the word spicy is also pronounced “pet.” I don’t know about you, but if I’m ordering duck I don’t want to get something ridiculously spicy instead. When dealing with food and Thai’s propensity towards very spicy food, I would not want to mess this up.
(For the record, duck should really be pronounced as “bpet” and not “pet”. It does make a difference.)
Similarly, they romanize the word glass as “geo.” Most Westerners seeing this word for the first time would pronounce this as “jee-oh” thinking along the lines of words like “geothermal.” This just isn’t good enough, as the Thai word for glass is pronounced “gɛ̂ɛo,” with a hard “g” sound and a falling tone. I realize that I’m being a bit picky, but the name of my blog is “Learning Thai,” after all.
Secondly, tone is barely mentioned at all, and when it is described it shows up as part of the last chapter of the book. Sorry, folks, but this should be one of the first chapters; it’s that integral to having a good understanding of the language. Tones aren’t even mentioned until page 106!
There is also hardly a mention about not drinking the water or partaking in a drink that has ice in it. This is a big problem for many visitors, and it should have been emphasized more. Basically, you don’t drink the tap water, ever. You also don’t drink anything that has regular ice in it, ever. Some places will make ice from special filtered water sources, but those are not the norm, especially if you travel outside of the major cities.
I also thought there was a bit too much information about business. Maybe that’s just because I am not a business traveler.
Lastly, and this is not a huge thing, but the author refers to tuk-tuks as “trishaws.” Why?!?!?!?! No one calls them that; everyone calls them tuk-tuks. You can explain that they are trishaws, but don’t have your readers learn it as such or people won’t know what the heck they are asking for!
Is the Book Worth It?
In a word, yes! The $10.00 retail price is exceptionally reasonable for the amount of information provided. Though I have some strong objections as to how the language was presented in the book, there is a lot of very helpful and interesting information to make it worth the buy. You can read the entire book in a few hours, and certainly it’s small enough to take with you on your next trip to Thailand.