Everyone Needs a Little More "Ka" in Their Life

“Wai” is the customary greeting used in Thailand, possibly the politest country in the world.

“Wai” is the customary greeting used in Thailand, possibly the politest country in the world.

Here in Thailand, I recently made a reservation for a somewhat complicated van ride. The owner of the travel agency was very patient in answering my many questions.

Unfortunately, I had cancel it the next day. Boy, did I feel bad.

I was also worried the owner of the agency would be put out with me for wasting his time. And he did, in fact, ask why I was canceling.

I apologized and explained I had found a much cheaper alternative using a group transport.

His response? “It's okay, don't worry, please. If you think is best choice. Hope you have services with my company next time. Thank you so much. Khap.”

Hmm, if that had happened in the US, I suspect I would have received a much cooler, maybe even snippy response. But that would almost never happen here in Thailand.

Why? I think it’s because of two words that, if you’re ever lucky enough to visit Thailand, you’re going to hear a lot: “khap” and “ka.” (Khap is said by males, ka by females.)

What do these two little words mean? Turns out there is no direct translation to English. Instead, they are called “polite particles” and are tacked on to most everything a Thai person says to emphasize empathy and respect.

“Welcome to my restaurant, ka.”

“Here is your Pad Thai, khap.”

“Is everything to your satisfaction, ka?”

But, you might ask, do ka and khap really serve any function if everyone is constantly saying them? Is it really necessary to emphasize respect to other people all day long?

Maybe not, but it sure makes for a more pleasant to live.

If people are constantly saying they respect you, you can’t help but feel at least a little respected. And it becomes almost impossible not to respect them back. It almost makes thing twice about what you say. You’d feel pretty stupid saying, “I hate your haircut, khap.”

This cultural habit is the opposite of a vicious circle! People are much more likely to see each other as people, not just clients or servers looking for a tip.

But feel free to disagree. It’s a big world and I respect your right to have a different opinion.


Michael JensenThai, Thailand, ka