Aaaak! Asa scared me.
“Grandma! Grandma!” I cried. “Asa is making scary faces at me. What’s wrong with him.”
Grandma laughed. “You know not to be afraid of Asa,” she said. “He isn’t making a face. He is pointing with his lips.”
“Pointing with his lips?! Why is he doing that?
“In Thailand it is very impolite to point with your fingers. People point with their lips instead,” she said. “Like this.”
I laughed and laughed. “Grandma, you look so funny! I don’t want to look silly like that. I’ll just point with my foot if I want to point.” I can do that because monkeys have feet with toes like fingers.
“Oh, no, Linkee,” she said. “It’s even worse to point with your feet. Thai people think feet are impolite. You should never show the bottom of your feet, and never put your feet or your shoes anywhere but on the floor. They think it is disgusting when people put them on a table or a chair.”
“But I’m a monkey and we monkeys always use our feet,” I said.
“Monkey manners and Thai manners are different,” she said. “If you don’t want to point with your mouth, you can point with your chin – or just not point at all.”
Just then my friend Andy stomped in and plopped down in the chair. I could see right away that he was mad.
“Grandma, what’s the matter Andy?” I asked.
“Andy is in trouble,” she said. “He misbehaved in school today.”
“What did he do?” I asked.
“He walked in front of his teacher without bowing his head,” Grandma told me.
I was amazed! “That’s not bad,” I said. “He shouldn’t get in trouble for that!” Grandma sat down with me and explained.
“In America that’s not bad at all. Teachers don’t expect students to bow their heads when they walk past. Here in Thailand, though, it shows respect. Andy knew that. When he strutted past his teacher with his shoulders back and his head up, he was acting like a tough guy and showing his teacher that he didn’t have to obey her. That’s why he is in trouble.”
I sighed. I don’t like my friends to be in trouble, and Andy is in trouble a lot.
“Grandma,” I said. “That reminds me. We aren’t supposed to bow to anyone but God, right?”
“Of course, Linkee!”
“But you bow your head and make praying hands when you greet people here. Isn’t that bad, too?”
“Oh, Linkee, that’s very different,” she said. “People here don’t shake hands. They do the sa-wa-dee.” She showed me how to do it. “It doesn’t mean that we are bowing to them like a god. That’s just the way they show respect and greet people here. There is one time we don’t give the sa-wa-dee, though,” she said. “People here do it in front of any statue of Buddha. We don’t do that, because that WOULD be offensive to God. We just stand by quietly when our Buddhist friends bow to Buddha – and we pray to our true God that He would save them.”
“Okay,” I said. “I will do the sa-wa-dee, too. Sa waa dii, kaa.”
“Good Linkee, “ she said. “Except that only girls and ladies say ‘kaa.’ Boys and men say “krop.’ Or ‘kop.”
“Why?” I asked. “What does kaa and krop mean, anyway. I hear everyone say it all the time.”
“It doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “It just makes the sentence more polite.”
“Polite, polite,” I grumbled. “ I don’t like being polite, especially when Thai polite is so silly.”
“Being polite is important,” Grandma said. “We want people to listen to us when we tell them about Jesus. If they think we are rude, they won’t want to hear us.”
“But that’s not fair that we have to do things their way instead of the American way or the monkey way,” I said.
“It’s not about being fair,” she said. “It’s about Jesus. If we love people we will take the trouble to learn their ways and use the manners they like. Then we can be friends and they will want to hear about how Jesus is the true God.”
“Well,” I said. “Someday you will have to come to the jungle with me and I will teach you monkey manners. You will have to point with your toes and peel bananas with your feet if you want to be polite like a monkey.”
Grandma laughed. “I don’t know if I can be monkey polite. My feet don’t work that well. But, really, Linkee, being polite is about being unselfish and thinking of others. We don’t eat with our mouths open because other people don’t want to see our chewed food. We don’t smack while we eat because it is annoying for people to listen to that noise. There are a few special things to learn for each different culture, but being polite is mainly about thinking of other people and treating them like you would like to be treated.”
“That sounds familiar,” I said.
“It should!” Grandma said. “We learned that verse in Sunday School. Matthew 7:12 says “Whatsoever you would that men do unto you, do ye even so unto them.”That’s the Jesus way to be polite.”
“I think you’d better tell that to Andy, cause he still looks mad,” I said.
Grandma sighed. “I will. If he was thinking about his teacher and how she felt, he wouldn’t have been rude to her.”
“Tell him to be polite the Jesus way,” I suggested. “Then he won’t be in trouble all the time.”
“Yes,” Grandma said. She smiled. “And I will remind you, too, Linkee. All of us need to think of others first and to be polite the Jesus way.”