Scientists Discover Inverse Relationship Between Expats’ Income and Thai Fluency
Poorest expats continue to lead community in diligent Thai-language studies, flirting
BANGKOK – Researchers have published the results of the first-ever study of the Thai-speaking habits of foreign expatriates in Thailand, which confirms the long-held belief that the more Thai a farang speaks, the less likely he is to have any money.
“The data are unambiguous,” declared Hitesh Murkh, the lead scientist on the project, which was sponsored by Thammasat University and surveyed over 2,000 permanent residents of foreign nationality in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Udon Thani, and Phuket. “There is a consistent and predictable inverse relationship between income and fluency that cuts across almost all age groups, education levels, and nationalities.”
According to the study’s executive summary, which was distributed to the press, the highest Thai-language fluency among expatriates was to be found among members of the lowest paying jobs in industries such as tourism, teaching, and small-scale NGO work. Whereas the least proficient Thai speakers were heavily concentrated in the high-paying professional sectors of business, finance, and regional marketing.
“It confirms our original suspicions that with most expats, Thai fluency is a both a time-consuming hobby as well as a socially compensatory skill,” explained Weng-min Huang, a sociologist who co-authored the report. “Low-paid expats have both the time to devote to Thai studies as well as the motivation. They can’t afford to eat in nice restaurants, party in upscale nightclubs, or shop for tasteful furniture and quality electronics in their spare time. Additionally, their poverty of lifestyle and material possessions makes them unable to attract mates, so they have the motivation to adapt a non-material mating skill – speaking Thai.”
Other aggravating circumstances included poor expats’ tendencies to live in low income neighborhoods, where interactions with non-English speaking retailers and neighbors was unavoidable, compared to the insulated lives of expats with money. Huang cited the example of “James” and “Will,” two of the study’s in-depth participants.
“James lives in Center Point Serviced Apartments, has an English-speaking Burmese driver, shops at Paragon, eats at Gianni and goes to Bed Supperclub on weekends,” Huang said. “His staff includes a trilingual secretary and two full-time translators. He can literally go for months without encountering a single non-English speaking person. Even his girlfriend, a light-skinned Chinese-Thai model and VJ, speaks perfect English.” According to the study, someone like James whose income is Bt350,000/month, requires a Thai vocabulary of only 50 words, including basic numbers and taxi directions.
“Compare that to Will, who teaches English at Ramkhamhaeng, lives in Bang Kapi, and makes Bt30,000 a month. He shops at Tesco, eats street noodles and spends his evenings in internet cafes, posting self-righteous opinions on Ajarn.com about how much he hates people like James.” According to Huang, “Will’s only hope of getting laid without paying for it, which he couldn’t afford anyway, is to speak lots of Thai and crack jokes with his students, and hope one of them introduces him to their older sister.”
Oddly, the exceptions to the rule came at the extremes of the data. Some of the highest paid subjects such as diplomats, consultants, and specialized UN and development workers spoke fluent Thai despite being paid huge international salaries. At the low end there was a cluster of data representing near-destitute men over the age of 65 in Chiang Mai and Udon who, despite incomes lower than the average factory worker, still didn’t speak more than 30 words of bar-Thai. “These lifers have nothing to offer and have stopped trying,” suggested Murkh. “They’re pretty much just waiting to die, preferably beneath a once-a-month rented sex-worker.”
The other anomaly in the data was women expats, who showed universally superior Thai language skills at all income levels. However, the significance of the anomaly was dismissed by the researchers as insignificant, since women made up less than 2% of the expatriate population.
Reaction to the study was generally positive. Brendan Freedman, a securities analyst at Citibank, admitted he spoke almost no Thai and had no intention of learning. “Why bother,” he said, “when everything in this town is in English? And anyway, why waste a weekend studying Thai when I can be kite-surfing in Hua Hin?” His sentiments were echoed by Ron Frakes, an editor at a lifestyle magazine, who took daily Thai lessons for a year, but quit the moment he landed a Bt100,000/month job.
However, several English teachers interviewed took issue with the suggestion that their Thai was any kind of compensatory skill. “I love Thailand, the real Thailand, not the Q-Bar fantasy world of those corporate *******s,” insisted Ted Callendar, a freelance teacher. “I eat real Thai food, and I date real Thai women, and I couldn’t be prouder. Money isn’t freedom, it’s--” he said before being cut off by a call from his monolingual Thai girlfriend on his 6-year old Nokia 3310 phone.