August 16, 2008

Saying 'sawatdee', not 'hello'--an issue of national importance?

From the Bangkok Post earlier this week:
The Office of the National Culture Commission has been asked to launch a campaign to promote the use of "Sawasdee" instead of "Hello" among Thais, particularly when answering the phone.

Natthee Phukkhayaporn, chairman of the Nakhon Sawan provincial culture council and a specialist at the National Culture Commission, said he had proposed the campaign to the commission due to the incorrect use of Thai language, particularly the appropriate greeting when taking a phone call.

Most Thais often say "Hello" rather than "Sawasdee," the traditional Thai greeting, when they pick up the phone, he said.

He also called on the Public Relations Department to seek cooperation from radio show hosts or disc jockeys to address their audiences with "Sawasdee" instead of the more popular western-style greeting.

Thai people don't live in a bubble. If they talk on the phone with foreigners, they're still going to be using the word. If they watch foreign movies, people will still answer the phone, "Hello?"

So, obviously the word isn't going away. That means the National Culture Commission wants people to make a conscious choice: "When I speak with a Thai person, I will say สวัสดี
sawatdee instead of Hello, even though สวัสดี sawatdee is stiff and formal and Hello is casual and universally understood."

Making this change doesn't enhance communication in any way. So (obviously) people who aren't already doing it aren't going to change just because you ask them to. People do things for reasons, and there's no good reason to do this. Hogwash about Thai being "corrupted" by English be damned.

The greeting สวัสดี sawatdee was coined during the uber-nationalist Phibunsongkhram era (there will be an upcoming post on this). It's not in any danger of extinction. So what's the deal. We must have total dominion of Thai over English?

Here's the kicker:
The commission should also encourage Thais to use polite phrases such as khob khun krab/kha (thank you) and khor thot krab/kha (excuse me) more frequently, he said.
You can't make this stuff up. (Oh wait, yes you can.)

I for one hope this campaign is a success. Then we can move on to other pressing issues, like reminding Thai people to look both ways before crossing the street, and not to get in a car with strangers (even if they have candy).

1 comment:

  1. This is yet another lame-brained plan to protect "Thai culture", akin to such ideas as having Girly Berry serve as examples of how to dress on Songkran, banning "spaghetti strap" tops (why spaghetti noodles?) and having people stop their cars and get out stand at attention during the anthem at 8am and 6pm.

    As long as the National Culture Commission is around, NotTheNation will have to go to greater lengths for satire and irony.