I have been in Thailand a week now, and have had plenty of chances to speak Thai, often because I have to explain about how my daughter broker her back last week. I speak Thai as a result of my Peace Corps and after experience in Thailand in 1980-1983, and some brush-up tutoring a couple of years ago. Anyway, I find that I speak Thai with a great deal of confidence after all these years—and why shouldn’t I? Almost every Thai I meet praises me for speaking such “clear” Thai. I’m not sure how clear my Thai really is, but it seems to work, and get this bit of praise for me, and implied contempt for all the other foreigner who try to speak Thai. This of course does wonders for my ego, and I float around town looking for chances to meet praise.
Up until last week though, I was in Germany. I married a German in 1987, and speak passable German. My comprehension of German and Thai is about the same—meaning I pretty much understand what is going on a round me in day-to-day conversations. But never ever have I been told I speak German clearly! Rather, as was kindly explained by my sister-in-law, I speak German not like a professor, but like someone who “works at McDonald’s,” meaning a Middle Eastern or Eastern European immigrant who struggles with German pronunciation, grammar, and sentence order, just like I do. On a good day, I am asked “Are you a Hollander” which is a step above McDonald’s but below the many regional dialects of Germany, including Bavarian. Specifically, I assign noun cases (masculine/feminine/neutuer/nominative/dative/accusative/genitive/plural/singular) in a fairly random fashion.
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.