Richard Constable

Homespun mumpsimus

Another look at this phenomenon.


In my last blog, I wrote about how some people have the inability to accept a true fact, even when it has been repeatably stated, presented and shown to them on a number of occasions, to be just that.

As it turned out there was an old English word that means just that; an incorrect view of something one refuses to let go of; mumpsimus.

Unfortunately this word has long since gone out of common use, and I would like to hazard a guess why. That is if we were to go back to a time when adequate medical health care for the terminally ill, the sick, those that had been involved in disabling accidents and/or been horrifically maimed and were suffering, was simply not available. And in those times when there was a far higher mortality rate than today, and when most had a far greater number of relatives and were therefore subject to far more bereavements.

People in earlier times were forced to accept unpleasant facts of life on an all too regular basis and consequently became emotionally and mentally armoured to do so.

Although there were obviously some exceptions to the rule or the word 'mumpsimus' would not have existed nor have ever had a use.

As a Middle Ages' comparative narrative, I would like to suggest something along the lines of: 'I never knew my father as he was killed in the 100 Years War, and my poor mother has just died of the plague. As well as, we've to physically carry my older brother everywhere as he was crippled after falling from a tree as a boy. Further, because I'm the eldest daughter, I'm now also responsible for my two younger siblings, though I'm still only twelve. And you cannot even accept what your sailor friends keep telling you about the world being round. Mumpsimus!'

Advance 600 odd years or more to the days of COVID 19, and many of us have found that we have had to deal with a lot of unavoidable issues and unpleasantries. And by at least some accounts, things are only going to get worse. (Although, I most sincerely hope not for all our sakes.) If this is the way, I feel relatively optimistic that if needs must, then the word mumpsimus might just get a late revival.

All that aside, I thought it was only fair to write about the mumpsimus I have mostly encountered from any number of Thai people, over the past eighteen years or so. Similarly, listed below in any order are my own particular favourites that I can recall.

'Farang men only like Thai women with black skin.' Presumedly, meaning those native females who are dark-skinned.

If they meet an adult Thai female who they find attractive and she is consenting, I doubt whether the majority of single heterosexual foreigner men care much what tone a woman's epidermis is. As for believing that every Caucasian male has the same preference, you might call that racism, but I couldn't possibly comment.

'Farangs are rich.'

This one I think is self-explanatory, as even if you yourself are fortunate enough to be loaded, you must surely be aware of some other foreign people who are not altogether financially well-heeled, so to speak.

'We don't know any foreign food.'

When I ask my students to do an activity about food but excluding Thai food; this is the usual response. Then on second thoughts 'Oh, hamburger; K - F - C.' And if they think a bit harder, 'French frie'.

Next, I like to convey to my students that hamburgers like sausages are German food, but that hamburgers were made globally popular by the USA. And that the Sizzler restaurants are an American concept and not Thai. They are normally left slightly perplex by these revelations. Then I write, 'ham cheese sandwich' on the board and tell them they're English food. You can almost see the cogs grinding in their heads because it has never occurred to them before that 'ham sheese' sandwiches could be anything but Thai.

Actually, you should not find this too surprising as many of the so-called Thai dishes actually derive from China.

Back in 2002 - 2003, when there were only a fraction of the 7-11's there are now, they introduced the general populace to something new, a cheese and ham sandwich. And like most new and radical ideas it was initially taken on or eaten only by young people. Therefore, when my teenage students saw their old (middle-aged) teacher eating one, their reaction was along the lines of 'Teacher try be young.' Believe it or not, 7-11 cheese and ham sandwiches were really trendy at that time, so we can understand to some extent why the natives feel that they are Thai food.

'All the 'working girls' come from Issarn' (Northeastern Thailand).

Well, all I can say is, it must be the most multicultural region of the country as not only are there any number other Asians from other countries, there are also a variety of Europeans and Africans. And not only those from the other five regions but most controversially because they are generally seen as the bourgeois of Thailand - Bangkokians of mixed Thai-Chinese origins. (However, this is only what a friend of a friend told me and what I have gathered from walking by such establishments where these ladies work, whilst casually peering through the windows and doors on my way by to teach at one school or another over the years.)

Foreign teachers earn a big salary.

This one has been known to bring a tear to my eye. The average foreign teacher's contract in Thailand is only 9.5 months in length and doesn't pay a thousand pounds a month, even at today's exchange rates. Whereas, by the time they are in their fifties the average Thai teacher shall be earning at least 25% more salary than their foreign counterpart, not only, but also on a 12-month contract, whilst looking forward to a pension of 40,000 baht a month to kick in the year they reach sixty.

No foreigner can speak Thai.

Yep, nearly all Thai nationals accept that we can 'S-peak Thai a little bit,' but only a small minority believe it is even a possibility that anyone but a native Thai could ever become anywhere near fluent. Curiously, most Thai people are under a similar misconception to the Germans relating to the Enigma code in WW2, that only they will ever be able to decipher it.

Prior to the lock down, on a weekly basis Thai people; students, work colleagues, staff and fellow customers in shops, would talk about me, while I was standing not more than two yards away, confident in the belief that I could not understand a single word that they were saying.

Foreigners cannot eat spicy food, and only Thai food is spicy.

Well, again, I don't know why some of those born in the Big Mango and other provinces feel that they have this ability and we don't. Although, it has always been something that a group of locals take amusement in, somehow relishing the very thought of us poor foreigners with our tongues burning whilst smoke plumes out of our ears. Either that or enjoying the thought of the fear that Thai spicy food instills in all foreigners.

Never, really been a hot spicy Indian, Mexican, or hot spicy any kind of food person, still for a change on occasion I like to try a spicy dish. Where on, any Thai person there present, server, work colleague, family member, a complete stranger sitting on another table, will state a big red verbal warning that this dish is spicy. And it is heavily inferred that it would be better for me to reconsider my choice, 'That's spicy!' and 'Think about your stomach' or a rhetorical 'Do you think you can!''

Mumpsimus is a good old fashion word that few people would take offence to, and I for one am hoping it will make a comeback.  



Comments

Okay, thanks Jamie! I mean for your constructive and therefore useful criticism. And as that I am sure you must make for an excellent teacher.

By Richard Constable, Bang Na (8th July 2020)

Your first article on this topic was badly written and also contained as much nonsense as this second one. Give it a rest please...

By Jamie, Thailand (7th July 2020)

I concur with Jack. I, too, am offended. Is there a law enforcement agency who will take my grievance of being offended and prosecute? Surely there's a hotline I can call where they will listen to how offended I am and comfort me. This is 2020, and anything in 2020 that makes me feel uncomfortable should be illegal!

'Farang men only like Thai women with black skin.'

I've been asked the question, "Why do 'farangs' like dark-skinned girls" by several Thais. My reply has always been that I don't necessarily think that's true. I just think that most 'farangs' don't care about the shade of a girl's skin. I can honestly say it never even crossed my mind when I first dated my wife of 7 years. My wife and her friends are the ones buying whitening cream, whitening their armpits (what the hell is that all about?), avoiding the sun like they were vampires and taking umbrellas out on the most beautiful of days. I couldn't care less about the darkness or lightness of my wife's skin. Or anyone else's for that matter.

'Farangs are rich.'

I'd agree that there would probably be a consensus among many Thais that 'farangs' have money. The term rich can certainly be a relative term here. I bought a new iPhone last year and a Thai colleague said, "Ah, you rich". Not sure if that colleague really thinks I'm rich or just equated having an iPhone to having some disposable income. I'm certainly not rich, that's for sure. I guess I do the same when Thai friends tell me they were on holiday in Japan, Korea, Europe or US, etc. You just subconsciously think that taking holidays like that means they're certainly not poor. Funny why something that even registers in the brain anyway. Doesn't make the person any better or worse. Guess it's just a byproduct of our cultures.

“Foreigners cannot eat spicy food, and only Thai food is spicy.”

I love my wife very much, but if there's one thing she does that winds me up, it's telling the waiter/waitress not to make my food too spicy. Before I came to Thailand, I couldn't eat spicy food. I can now eat spicier food than my wife. In fact, I can eat spicier food than your average Bangkokonian. I love it. But every now and again. my wife will tell them to ease up on the spice as I'm a 'farang'. I'll remind her of my mad spice-eating skills, and she'll say, "Oh, yea. I forgot". She doesn't forget. I just think for some reason she enjoys telling complete strangers that her husband is different and special. Well, that's my take on it.

'Foreign teachers earn a big salary'

Your average foreign teacher really doesn't. I was even surprised to hear that a friend of mine was on 110k a month at a very good international school here. I honestly thought it would be a lot more. Maybe it's a Bangkok thing.

When I first moved here, I moved into a 24sqm studio for 7,500 a month. With water and electricity, I was paying about 10k a month. People say that that's so cheap but I don't think it is. It was a room with 4 walls and a door. It was literally a room and most certainly not a home or a place anyone who could afford more would want to live in. The wife and I bought a nice big house that certainly wasn't cheap. But having worked as a labourer and knowing a bit about construction, you can see my house isn't built as well, or with the same quality of materials, as you'd expect for the price we paid. Bangkok certainly ain't cheap, and the salaries certainly ain't relative.

By Simon, Bangkok (3rd July 2020)

My two pennies worth

''Farang men only like Thai women with black skin.' - Because many farangs meet dark skinned prostitutes in places where women from the north east work. Thais see this, out and about so they assume. So you can understand why.

“Foreign teachers earn a big salary.” Many still do compared to Thai teachers. Breeds resentment in certain schools.

“Farangs are rich” Because they see farangs throwing money around as tourists, and because they buy lavish gifts for their dark skinned women in from poorer parts of Thailand.

''Are there some Thais who are insular, uneducated, and uninterested in foreign cultures?'' Yes.

''but universal?'' Almost.

“Foreigners cannot eat spicy food, and only Thai food is spicy.” Because western food to them is so bland, and what is offered is not spicy. Expecting your everyday Thai to go out and try Indian or seek out Mexican is a big ask.

By Pat_Bangkok, Bangkok (2nd July 2020)

Richard

I am not sure what was the purpose of this, but I personally don’t find it humorous to engage in encouraging negative stereotypes of our hosts.
Just like in your previous blog you ignore the nuances and multiple meanings in statements, and it is likely your lack of language skills and lack of understanding of potential difficulties encountered in cross-cultural communications causing you to misunderstand the meanings.

It is likely

“Farang men only like Thai women with black skin.”

means

men from Western countries place less emphasis on light skin than is the cultural norm throughout much of Asia.

“Farangs are rich”

This likely implies on average people from Western countries have much higher salaries than people in Thailand, a quick look at GNI statistics from the World Bank, even when using the PP index which takes into account cost of living, shows this is obviously true.

I suspect

“All the 'working girls' come from Issarn' (Northeastern Thailand)”

actually means

A large percentage and not all the girls in the bars come from Isan

“We don't know any foreign food.”

I have never heard this, it is likely these children are saying they don’t know the “English” words for many of the foods they eat or that they don’t really care where a particular dish originated in. Do kids in England think of corn, potatoes, and beef as foreign foods even though their origins are not in the UK.

“Foreign teachers earn a big salary.”

“big is obviously relative.” On Ajarn.com, we have often read of people bragging of their “big” salaries at international schools or in the Middle East while the size of the salaries are big compared to ESL salaries in a Thai school but seem pretty small compared to average salaries of corporate professionals back home. The janitor might think your salary is big but it is unlikely the local IT consultant would make a claim like this one.

As most of my conversations with Thai people are in Thai, except for the times when I happen to be speaking to a Thai whose English is pretty fluent, I rarely if ever have hear anyone say “No foreigner can speak Thai” while in a conversation in Thai.

What

“Foreigners cannot eat spicy food, and only Thai food is spicy.”

probably implies, foreigners, on average, like their food a little less spicy than do Thais.

As a language teacher in a foreign country, I would have expected more understanding of the limitations of taking words spoken in a foreign language at their literal meaning and more tolerance for cultural differences.

Are there some Thais who are insular, uneducated, and uninterested in foreign cultures? Of course, but universal? Not from my personal experience or any studies I have read. Are Thais on average more insular and provincial than people in other countries? I haven’t seen any evidence of it.

I suspect you were trying to be humorous (or like in your previous post trying to claim you are smarter than the average), but why not try some humor which is not intended to further negative stereotypes of the locals which holding never helps any Western teacher have a positive experience in Thailand.

By Jack, LOS (30th June 2020)

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