color by numbers

mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

ไม่เหมือนกัน – Not the same!

It’s one thing to simply learn a foreign language in order to be able to both understand and speak its words well. It’s another to understand the culture from which the language comes. And, it’s a whole other thing to try combining the two so you can understand what people actually mean when they are speaking to you.

Oh idioms, how I love you and hate you all at the same time.

Every language has idioms (a word or phrase that has a figurative meaning contrary to its literal meaning, such as “spend time” or “kick the bucket”). Every language has its own collection of slang.  Every language has sayings and proverbs… But, do they always use the same words and contexts to convey the same idea? Absolutely not. That’s where things can get tricky, confusing, and sometimes downright humorous, when trying to communicate in a foreign land.

This morning, I was going through lessons with my language helper, reviewing some substitution sentence patterns, when we came to a section using the phrase “เปรียบเสมือน,” which means “to liken to” or be compared in similarity. We read through perhaps 4 or 5 different sentences before coming to the last one:

ผู้ชายเปรียบเสมือนผีเสื้อ

Man is like butterfly.

I read through it just like the others, not thinking much of it, until my tutor gave a small giggle and asked me if I understood the sentence.  Of course I did.  Simple words, simple structure – I understood what I read.  She asked me again if I understood.  She could tell I was confused, so she asked me a third time, asking if I understood not what I read, but what it means. Ohhhhhhh, there’s an actual meaning behind it.  Nope.  Still don’t get it.

It’s a widely known fact that infidelity in marriage runs rampant here in Thailand.  It is partly due to the battle that still rages on as far as equality between the sexes goes (perhaps battle is too strong of a word, but I don’t know what else to use at the moment), and the rest could be attributed to the well-known flesh trade that occurs all throughout the nation.  According to this phrase, a man is being compared to a butterfly, and what do butterflies do?  The butterfly (butterfly = man) flits and flops around from flower to flower (flower = girl), not spending too much time with any one flower, though it may revisit one or two from time to time.  Get the picture?

I giggled at first, because I thought, “how silly to compare a man to a butterfly.”  After all, in American English, it’s the girls that are more often compared to butterflies if they are socialites, super girly, or tend to be a bit on the flighty side as far as academics go.  I thought it was just a silly phrase, maybe about young boys as they flirt around at school or the mall (which it does apply to as well)… but, apparently it also refers to a heavier, not so funny aspect of adult life.

Hmmm.

My new friend and I had a good little chuckle over this sentence today, the fact that I had no clue what I was reading, and so on.  But, it looks like I’m going to have to work just that much harder at understanding this new language of mine.  For now, I suppose I’ll just keep playing the blonde card.  (Oh yeah, they don’t get that phrase here… everybody has black hair.  Shoot.)

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August 13, 2010 - Posted by | Just for Fun, Thailand

1 Comment »

  1. you know it’s funny, when i read it, i thot hmm…men are like butterflies, lookin’ all pretty and flitting from place to place…then i read the ‘meaning’ and i thot…hm, i might be useful over there to you after all! perhaps it’s just that i’ve lived longer and experienced more…dunno, but i did ‘get it’ !

    Comment by mom | August 13, 2010 | Reply


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