It was the telephone bill I had to pay today. The way it works where I live in Pattaya, Thailand is, I get the bill which the condo security guard slides under my door and then I pay it at the 7-11 store which is only one block up the street. Nothing can be more convenient unless I am late paying the bill. The 7-11 employee looks at me and says, “No can do. Must pay TOT.” TOT is the telephone company here in Pattaya that handles the land line. I had been looking for that telephone bill fully aware it was close to coming due and I kept asking my girlfriend, “Do you see bin, telephone? I cannot find.” She doesn’t know where it is is her response. But yesterday she tells me, “Telephone company call. They cut off. You must pay.” Only a few minutes later, the telephone bill shows up. My girlfriend is rummaging around trying to find it and it turns out she knows something I don’t know. Suddenly she tells me, “Here it is.” She’s finds it in a desk drawer.
I am not a happy camper. Today I had to drive my motorbike four or five miles to the telephone company to pay my overdue bill. It came to 107 baht which is a huge surprise to me because I’m only overdue a few days and here they are calling me to threaten to cut me off.. That’s just $3.50. And the whole reason I’m late paying it is my girlfriend has hidden it inside one of my desk drawers. The desk drawers are cluttered up with all kinds of things, including two Kabar sheath knives with 7 inch blades and a Cold Steel Trail Master that has a 9 1/2 inch blade. I have an inbox for bills on top of my desk. That’s where all the important paperwork is supposed to go such as bank statements for my two U.S. bank accounts, my credit card statements, receipts for things I’ve purchased but not filed yet, and bills. The trouble is my girlfriend keeps putting things in it that don’t belong there such as a desktop calculator that’s about 10 inches wide, a vice grips pliers, and so on. So after missing a couple of phone bills in the past because of her hiding the bills, I’ve told her to disregard the in box that normal people use for their bills and to put them on the kitchen shelf close to the door or in a basket that’s on top of a little safe that’s also close to the door. I’ve even emphasized to her that the phone bills and the broadband internet bills are the most important bills to put by the door because I have only one week upon receiving the phone bill and my being considered late, and my being considered late always means a 4 or 5 mile motorcycle drive to the phone company’s main office where I must pay the bill personally.
That’s why I call my Thai girlfriend, Raccoon. I know from having had raccoons as pets that they hide things from their owners. And that’s what my girlfriend does, she hides things from me, not intentionally out of mean spiritness but because she’s Thai and Thais in general do not think logically, nor do they try to anticipate what other people want or need. And when it came down to my phone and internet bills, I’ve already been over this several times before with her. This time when I never received the bill from the phone company I asked her several times about it and not once did she admit to having seen the bill. I accuse her of having put the important bill in my desk drawer. Not only did she put the phone bill there but she also put my internet bill which requires still another trip to pay the overdue bill personally, a bank statement and several other important paperwork items. She denies putting it all in my desk drawer and that means I am the one to have done it. Which I haven’t done and I’m not having any of it so I tell her to never hide my bills in my desk.
And that brings up what is perhaps the most exasperating aspect about the culture here which is the concept of face–which amounts to losing it or gaining it. In my example of my girlfriend “losing face” means admitting she’s put important paperwork items in my desk so she denies hiding my bills in the desk which can only mean that either I am the culprit or Peter Pan came out of a cloud of pixie dust and hid my bills there. Here, face is more important than telling the truth. And it’s not just my girlfriend, they all do it. It is the emphasis that Thais put on “face” that keeps Thailand in the Second World. So I am not angry with my girlfriend. After all she just brought me a plate of spaghetti to the small bedroom I often use as my office. I won’t even have to do the dishes. That’s women’s work or so the women believe. And most of the time she’s such a cheerful little girl. I have to keep telling myself–it’s not really her. It’s just the way these people have been programmed. But trust me, the Thai Western cultural differences here are staggering.