Thai Tales: Mangoes, Mangosteen and Angry Thai Feet

Thai Tales: Mango’s, Mangosteen and Angry Thai Feet

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Tourists and Thai fruit sellers, what a match…

My good friend Khun Phairoh, giggling away, told me a cute story this weekend and I just had to share it with you. Here you go… (and may there be many more).

A tourist in Bangkok stops at a fruit stall along a crowded footpath. Wanting to try out his limited Thai skills, he asks the female fruit seller about one of the items.

Tourist: What is this?
นี่อะไรครับ /nêe a-rai kráp/

Fruit seller: It’s called mangosteen.
เรียกว่ามังคุด /rîak-wâa mang-kút/

Tourist: Mango?


Fruit seller: No it’s not… this is mangosteen!
ไม่ใช่… นี่มังคุด! /mâi-châi… nêe mang-kút/

Tourist: Mango?

Fruit seller: I said mangosteen!!
บอกว่ามังคุด!! /bòk wâa mang-kút/

Tourist: Mango?

Fruit seller: Mango, Mango… feet!
Mango, Mango… ส้นตีน!!! /sôn-dteen/

Tourist: Oh! I see! Mangosteen!

So, what’s this feet thing?…

As you might know, I don’t make a habit of sharing cuss words in Thai. But as the story made me laugh I went to Hugh Leong for advice.

The word ส้นตีน /sôn-dteen/ is not a curse word as we think of it – four letter words, f-words, etc – but it is quite vulgar. It is a really gross way of referring to the foot, especially when used with a person, like, “I stick my foot at you, you uncouth character”.

If we were referring to an animal the word ตีน /dteen/ is used for foot. ตีนเป็ด /dteen bpèt/ means duck foot but can also mean webbed foot (as used with frogs).

So don’t refer to your foot as ตีน /dteen/ but use the regular เท้า /táo/.

Oh, and when we do talk about our feet (or shoes or socks, etc) we usually ask forgiveness first, as in ขอโทษ /kŏr-tôht/ (excuse me) followed by the reason.

Sample: ขอโทษเท้าเจ็บ /kŏr-tôht táo jèp/
Excuse me, my feet hurt.

KP also reminded me that in polite Thai, if you need to touch someone’s head for any reason, you would first say ขอโทษ /kŏr-tôht/ then state the reason (or not).

Sample: ขอโทษค่ะ มีใบไม้บนหัวคุณ /kŏr-tôht kâ mee bai-máai bon hŭa kun/
Excuse me, you have a leaf on your head.

Useful vocabulary to know…

ตีน feet, foot (rude)
เท้า /táo/ feet, foot (polite)
ส้น heel

footpath: ทางเท้า /taang táo/
stall: แผง /păeng/
fruit: ผลไม้: /pŏn-lá-máai/
female fruit seller: แม่ค้าขายผลไม้ /mâe káa kăai pŏn-lá-máai/

this: นี่ /nêe/
what: อะไร /a-rai/
it’s called: เรียกว่า /rîak-wâa/
mangosteen: มังคุด /mang-kút/
no (it’s not): ไม่ใช่ /mâi-châi/
I said: บอกว่า /bòk wâa/

duck feet: ตีนเป็ด /dteen bpèt/
excuse me: ขอโทษ /kŏr-tôht/
have: มี /mee/
leaf: ใบไม้ /bai-máai/
on: บน /bon/
head: หัว /hŭa/
you: คุณ /kun/

polite particle (m): ครับ /kráp/
polite particle (f): ค่ะ /kâ/

A megga thanks goes from me to Khun Phairoh and Hugh!

14 thoughts on “Thai Tales: Mangoes, Mangosteen and Angry Thai Feet”

  1. Todd,

    You said,

    “I hear ส้นตีน and its companion phrase กวนตีน quite a lot at any place where Thais are being real people (as opposed to Thais pretending to be something they’re NOT, but want us to think they are).”

    There is a possibly that you might be reading something into the way Thais act linguistically that isn’t really there. Specifically that they are “pretending to be something they’re not.”

    Thai society is a very strict “classed” society. People are who they are relating to at the moment. They are different people when they speak to their parents than when they speak to their children. This is especially true linguistically.

    My wife, who is referred to as “Yai” (grandmother) by most people around her uses the word “Noo” (little one) when referring to herself when she talks to one of her old teachers, calls herself “Phii” (older sister) when talking to someone a little younger, and “Paa” (auntie) when talking to market ladies, and “Kruu” (teacher) when talking to her former students. She is not pretending at all but is really all these people.

    Choosing to use polite or familiar or vulgar language, would depend on who was speaking and to whom. I had a few visitors to our house the other day. They had all been classmates at Chulalongkorn University many years ago. A few were educators and another was a Lt. General in the Army (female by the way). They used the vulgar pronouns “Kuu” and “mung” playfully referring to each other. The same as they did when they were teenagers about 100 years ago. But when they talked to me it was “Ajarn” (teacher, professor) used out of respect. (BWT, I referred to the general as “General” in English as I knew the word for general in Thai “Nai Pon” but since “Nai” refers to a man I didn’t know how to refer to a woman general.)

    Since I like the status of “Ajarn”, one of the highest classes in Thai society, and don’t want to give it up by lowering my language standards, I always use the most proper language I can, because that is what is expected of me. Since most of the people I deal with nowadays are younger than I, I would never think of speaking in very familiar language since it would make them quite uncomfortable. And I am not pretending at all since I really am old and I really am an Ajarn. I have never heard the word ส้นตีน used around me, which is probably an indication of how people speak around their teachers.

    But I do have some flexabilities. I use the personal pronoun “Phom” (I) with almost everyone, but use “Loong” (Uncle) with younger people, and “Nai” (Sir) only with my golf caddies (as that is what they use with me).

  2. Fantastic. Thanks Carsten. I started typing it out yesterday but got interrupted (good thing). I’ll translate it to share. Should be fun.

  3. Talen, Durian – yes! Everything goes better with Durian 🙂

    I apologized profusely when I was younger so it’d take a bit of doing to get it back into my system (the heart has to be willing and all that).

  4. Cat, Great title…oh but the feet would go so much better with Durian 😛

    I always say Khort toat before I do anything in or around a Thai household…I would caution readers not to get too enamored with the rude word for foot as it’s not a word you want to throw around especially in in the company of people you don’t know.

  5. Keith, great to hear that the post was useful for your Thai class. Wading through the truth that fits each of us is a bit of a quagmire here but it’s… interesting.

    Lani, your mom expected you to know the rules without teaching them first? Sounds familiar. Being in trouble ‘this time’ was often a mystery. At times it felt like my parents were making up rules as I grew. You could say they used the ‘gotcha!’ parenting method.

  6. I learned the hard way to say Excuse Me! before touching someone’s head. Especially someone older. I wanted to get something out of my aunt’s hair and my mom was like, shocked. Lani! Say excuse me first!

    Same thing about stepping over people when everyone is sitting on the floor. I guess you don’t have to care as much with folks younger than you 😉 So with my students, I don’t say anything at all! I just act like their moms! 😀

  7. My class tonight at the local wat turned out to feature an exercise about polite vs. impolite words. However, since I think the text we are using is (maybe) 6th-grade level (and above my level), I am not sure how “impolite” they actually were.

    Having read this article in the morning, I called it up on the computer and our พระอาจารย์ asked the other student to read it for us. It was a big hit with both of them.

    Thanks for the fun and interesting post!

  8. Hi Carsten. Sorry for taking so long to approve your comment. Comments with links need to be approved by hand (it’s a precaution) so if I’m out… Thanks for sharing your post – I’ll print it out in the morning (came across it a bit late). Do you have it in Thai script (instead of jpg?)

  9. Todd, which one of Andrew Biggs’ books has that in it? I have a few but they are all Thai… I believe (at the moment I’m too lazy to get off the sofa). The perils of word for word translation I ran into again just this week when working through an old Thai lullaby. A poem. No way could I muddle through that on my own – especially with all the extra words added to make things sound good – I had to ask for help.

  10. Thanks Martyn, I was quite pleased with the title too. And like you, I didn’t know about apologising about the feet either.

    Funny (as in ha ha) was when Khun Phairoah went to leave and I noticed Essential Thai in her way on the floor. So, as one often does, I grabbed the cover with my feet to flick it out of the way. She burst out laughing, then walked to the door, shaking her head.

    Back in the old days the only books available were religious so they were treated with honour and respect by Thais. The respect was then transfered to ordinary books. So to see someone use their FEET to move one… goodness…

    Sometimes I fear I’ll never get this sussed.

  11. Hi Catherine,
    great Story. I heard this Story a long time ago but it differs a little bit as your Version was a Short Summary.
    The whole Version can be read here and is also available as a printable Sheet, might be of interest for others:

    Title of the whole Story: ทำไมกล้วยจึงเรียก Banana มะละกอจึงเรียก Papaya

  12. I hear ส้นตีน and its companion phrase กวนตีน quite a lot at any place where Thais are being real people (as opposed to Thais pretending to be something they’re NOT, but want us to think they are).

    As far as derogatory constructs go in Thai, it’s pretty far down the list (possibly because it’s used SO much by Thais of all demographics). It is clearly said in reference to you being ‘vexed’ with someone to the point of wantin’ to give ‘em a swift kick in the behind.

    Andrew Biggs has a chapter in one of his books called “Stir Foot”, and goes over the uses and mis-uses of the terms. He also points out the perils of word for word translations. It’s written in his tongue-in-cheek style and quite worth the read.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately for the Thais), effective use of Thai expletives and profanity is currently not offered in any of the schools I’ve been to so far, lol. Even my Thai teacher friends are reticent to work with me on correct usage, unless I really lean on ‘em to do it.

  13. Catherine – First let me say what a glorious title you’ve attached to this one. Thai Tales: Mango’s, Mangosteen and Angry Thai Feet, that drums up all kind of thoughts. A real ‘grab your attention’ title.

    Secondly I’d like to say thank you for the education, Hugh and Khun Phairoh are also included in that. I didn’t know about asking forgiveness first before talking about feet. Saying ‘Excuse me’ before touching someone’s head is a more commonly known politeness.

    Nice post.


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