After being a while in Thailand, several guesthouses and hotels became my home away from home. Their staff knew me well, and they often spoke with me in a friendly manner, selflessly giving me the gift of their unrivaled smiles. Despite the cultural difficulties—increased by my difficulty to pronounce their tonal language—after a while I began understanding the Thai attitude to life; yet, surprises abounded.
One morning I returned early to the guesthouse—I needed to pick up something—when I found that the corridor leading to my room was blocked by a happy meeting of the cleaning ladies. They were joking and giggling in their usual manner. I pressed myself against the wall, trying to bypass the important conference, when one of them said something in Thai. I didn’t understand, but I had the feeling it was something related to me. One of the others saw my attempt to comprehend and translated:
"She says you dress like a Thai." Immediately, they began giggling wildly.
That was an exaggeration; none of the items I was wearing had been purchased in Thailand. Their colors, shapes, and fabrics were foreign to the kingdom. Yet, I understood. She referred to my wearing long trousers, thing that differentiated me from most Western travelers, but that I had in common with Thai men. Well, most Thai men; tuk-tuk drivers are notorious for their short pants and Krating Daeng (the original Red Bull) tiny glass bottles in their hands.
"I try to learn nit-noy Thai," I said emphasizing the Thai word. In the way I had said it, a Thai could interpret the sentence in various ways. "Nit-noy" means "a little bit," it often replaces the Thai politeness particle kap/ka (m/f), which is almost always added to the end of a sentence. Luckily, it is also easy to pronounce. My using "nit-noy" in an English sentence created a favorable attitude towards me. Then, the sentence could be understood as that I was trying to learn the Thai culture, the people, or their language. I hadn’t been too specific; yet, I had been positive and respectful. My comment had been welcomed. After the almost unnecessary translation—the Thai word I had pronounced contained the entire answer—they were widely smiling at me; the giggles—which often denote there light embarrassment—were gone.
Smiling back at them, I intended t continue my stroll along the narrow passage when one of them approached me quickly and stopped barely before touching me. I froze in disconcert, Thais do not favor touching strangers. Doing that in public is almost taboo. Yet, her nose was a fraction of an inch from my jaw. In a rapid movement, she sniffed the side of my face up to the ear. Then she returned to her former place, blushing profusely.
I had never seen something similar, and didn’t know how to react. I stood still, waiting for an explanation. Seeing my confusion, the one that had translated before said, laughing:
"She kissed you! She kissed you!"