THE CULTURE OF MAI PEN RAI
The Thailand Theses
If ever a phrase defined a nation, that phrase is mai pen rai. Wherever you go in Thailand – and whatever you do – you will hear these words almost as often as the traditional greeting sawaat dee. Mai pen rai - No problem. It doesn’t matter what you did, everything is mai pen rai in Thailand. But is it really such a good thing for the Thais to be so forgiving? Find out our conclusion here...
Mai pen rai is as much a part of the Thailand experience as the wai, tuk-tuks and Wat Phra Kaew. But what does it really mean? “No problem”? “It doesn’t matter”? “Don’t worry about it”? “OK, but don’t do it again”? Answer: All of the above and so much more.
You’re late for an appointment? Mai pen rai. You break a glass in a restaurant? Mai pen rai. You embezzle billions of baht from public funds? Mai pen rai.
As with many Thai phrases, mai pen rai has a far deeper meaning than any single English translation. These three seemingly innocuous little syllables bear the weight of a nation and have come to define its very psyche. Mai pen rai is a way of life to Thai people. It is their mantra for the modern world.
While it may be charming to foreign visitors, we ask the question: Is mai pen rai a national treasure, or a barrier to progress?
On the face of it, the culture of mai pen rai is a national asset and part of Thai people’s charm. Apart from in soap operas, you very rarely see Thai people showing negative emotions like anger and frustration. From an early age, they are taught that to do so is childish and immature and so they are trained to keep their emotions in check. Their apparent laid-back and easy-going tolerance is as much a part of their friendly charm as the famous smile that often accompanies it.
Mai pen rai is the sea of calmness on which the good ship Thailand drifts, but peer beneath that placid surface and you will find something sinister lurking in the murky depths.
Mai pen rai goes far beyond good manners and serenity. It is the easy option, ignoring problems and avoiding confrontation. It is the inaction that arrests development and allows tyranny and corruption to prosper at all levels.
Whenever somebody jumps a queue unchallenged, mai pen rai is the sedative that prevents protest. Whenever a drunk driver takes the wheel, mai pen rai tells him it’s OK to do so. Whenever nepotism rather than aptitude is the basis for career advancement, mai pen rai bites the tongues of the more worthy. And whenever a politician lines his own pocket at the taxpayer’s expense, mai pen rai let’s him get away with it.
Patience and forgiveness are admirable traits, but passive submission and meek acceptance create a culture of corruption that stunts progress and ultimately holds the country back. Nobody wants to curb Thai people’s charm and friendliness, but if they are serious about tackling corruption and becoming an internationally competitive nation, then it’s time for them to stand up and confront their problems and injustices.
Paul Snowdon – March 27, 2010
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29 Jul 2014, 17:55
I m really iemprssed with Bonnie's shots. Especially with her approach to
subjects prior to taking photos of them. You must build rapport with them
to be effective. I haven't traveled out of the country in a number of
years, but those were real highlights of my life. Enjoy them Bonnie.
01 Aug 2014, 11:09
funny because I would rank this in our top 5 Christmases ever! it was
faitastnc. no hurry to get here and there to see whoever. just a nice
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03 Aug 2014, 17:49
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