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Mae pen rai means Never Mind

23/09/2012

You will hear this phrase every day in Thailand. It has more subtle meanings than that given in the tourist dictionaries.

You bump into someone in the market and excuse yourself by saying “sorry”.

The response? :     Mae pen rai.     That’s OK, Never mind

You thank a passer-by for giving you directions.

The response? :     Mae pen rai.      This time it really means something like “my pleasure” or “you’re welcome”.  The French would say “de rien”, the Germans “bitte sch™on”, and the Italians “prego”.

You are discussing some alterations to a building plan and the architect does not see why you want an extra shower room with access from the garden.

The response? :  Mae pen rai. 

You can’t understand why he’s telling you that is does not matter. It’s what you want him to do and you are paying his fees.

You explain your reasoning but you get no immediate commitment for change. A few days later the plans will probably be changed and you’ll get the extra shower room. It is better to sweet talk and be patient rather than to try logic and reason. You can always raise the point again if it is not done. What the architect meant was that he did not consider it important enough to have been in his original planning. He will change it discretely and without losing face if that is what you really want. It is not that it does not matter to him. He values your custom. He is in a sense saying that you are making an issue out of something not that serious. The Thai way is  to be less direct and not so forceful. Sweet talk.

You book a table in your local restaurant but when you arrive you find they have stopped serving and the kitchen staff has gone home. Will you be angry or annoyed, or will you be Thai and say “Mae pen rai’?”. You won’t die of hunger if you go to find another eating house. You may even find that it will become your favourite place for an evening meal. Mae pen rai is also about being tolerant, calm and patient as much as you can.

The store does not have what you are looking for. The sales staff may possibly ask if they can order the item for you, but are more likely to say that they do not have what you want and just politely smile. This particular example of a Thai smile partly shows their embarrassment at not having the product. The smile is not meant to be facetious or unhelpful. It is their automatic response and is made out of politeness and consideration for you. There are many types of Thai smile.

Your response is to smile back and say “Mae pen rai” and then try another shop.

Bureaucracy is the same the world over. Go to any government department, take all the documentation that has been requested, wait patiently in a queue, and expect to be passed from one official to another. When told you need two further photocopies of your identification card, just say “mae pen rai” and stroll round to the photocopy shop and then re-join the line that you were originally queuing in. On a follow-up visit the extra requirement may well be something entirely different. It is a game that has to be played so just go with the flow. Don’t let bureaucracies get you down. “Mae pen rai” is your defense mechanism in Thailand as elsewhere.

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