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Does it really matter?

25/09/2012

Thais can be very indifferent and inconsiderate in actions that they believe to be unimportant. Motorcyclists routinely pull out of side roads without looking, seemingly unaware of the danger. This indifference is a form of mae pen rai. I sometimes believe they feel that providence and not their lack of riding skills will determine the time of any fatal accident. Watch workers cleaning a drainage canal and note how they just leave the debris on the side of the bank. Mae pen rai is always prevalent in their thinking.

Thai people are very pragmatic and are at ease in making decisions on whether something is essential or not. A schoolgirl – with maybe only one school uniform to her name – would not adopt a mae pen rai attitude when considering whether to clean and iron her uniform each day. For her to be tidy and smart at school is important to her Appearance and dress is very important to male and female Thais, a lesson their families instill in them from an early age. Schoolboys are equally fastidious about their uniforms though it may be mum that does the ironing.

There is a mae pen rai attitude in the workplace too. Festivals can be more important than meeting a deadline. The work can always be finished tomorrow. Enjoyment of the festivities can not be postponed. The three official days of Songkran, marking the Thai New Year, often get extended to a week. Construction workers particularly will take the opportunity to visit family up-country. And sometimes they will decide not to return. Spending quality time with family often appears to be a more fun option than going back to work on a building site. “Mae pen rai”. We should work to live and not live to work. Office workers will think nothing of taking a break to make garlands and decorations for an office party. That is condoned and accepted. There is always a work and leisure balance in Thailand. They are not being lazy. The work gets done and they have sanuk (fun) doing it. Their lack of diligence is only a perception.

All day without water. Fortunately I had had an early morning shower. It was beginning to get inconvenient, though. I really wanted to water the garden, the car needed a clean and the toilets could not be flushed. I had checked all the plumbing and all seemed well. Nearby houses evidently had a supply. I thought I had paid the monthly water bill so I should not have been cut off. I asked my neighbour whom I should contact to get my supply back. Then his son-in-law came over and we realized that they had a new gardener who had just finished watering their garden. He had inadvertently turned off the connection to my house.

I did not expect an apology and it would have been out of place for one to have been given. I just laughed. We all laughed. And instinctively I said “Mae pen rai”. It was nothing to get worked up about. Chilling out is preferable to shouting out.

You can even encounter mae pen rai at a funeral and tomorrow’s blog will describe yet another example of the many aspects of this uniquely Thai concept. Be interesting to learn of other experiences you may have from your visits to Thailand.

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  1. Does it really matter? « Matt.Owens.Rees

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