Why Do You Laugh?

September 23, 2012

its laughing at me

There’s something I really haven’t understood in all my travels. Let me set the stage. I’m in Ao Nang, Thailand, walking along a street comprised of the same tacky t-shirt shops, restaurants, tailors, massage parlors, and pubs. I’m wearing my Korean “the foreigner is coming/leaving” shirt with my Nakhon Si Thammarat Buddha pendant. I’m clearly someone who has gotten around (or just likes to wear things from other countries), and I would hope I present myself in a mature manner, by abiding by local customs and using the correct language to ask for and refuse services.

With that in mind, I’m incredibly confused, annoyed, and saddened in Asia by most people’s reactions to my speaking the language. In this case, when a particularly aggressive lady kept on repeating “massage” as if hearing it five times would somehow convince me I needed one, I felt the need to reply in Thai:

“Mai ow khrap.” (I don’t want)

No sooner had these words left my lips when the lady snickered, turned to her friends, and shared in a group laugh.

I don’t understand it.

The same is true to a degree in Korea and Japan, where locals tend to treat any foreigner speaking their language as an impossible feat, to be rewarded with praise (or amazement, confusion) rather than addressing what they are saying.

ex: “Excuse me, where is the train station?”

“Wow, you speak Korean really well!” (maybe a short laugh or uncomfortable pause)

“Thank you… but where is the train station?”

Why do locals find it amusing when foreigners speak their language, instead of just accepting they’ve heard something they can understand, and respond accordingly? For my own part, this is something that just frustrates me, and reminds me I’m different.

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