Thai-ing one on

Thailand’s “same same but different” style of acclimating yankees

Jodie Arnold, illustrated by Garrett Brunker

 

Well, I set off for Thailand last August thinking I’d achieve some higher level of Zen that’d make being attacked by wild dogs and getting stuck in the worst traffic of my life easier to deal with. I was certain that I’d find my happy place among the intense humidity and elephant crap. Yeah. Not so much. If my five bizarre months in Thailand taught me anything, it’s that everything in Thailand is kind of like everything in Eau Claire … sort of.

They tell you “Same Same But Different” to reassure you that, while their eight-pronged dinner fork looks different than the average one, it really is the same. But then you bring it home, stab yourself in the mouth, and realize you just spent $1 on junk.

“Same Same But Different” (SSBD) is the Thai expression used to express this phenomenon. Generally vendors whip out this phrase when they see you looking at their wares with a look on your face that reads, “What in the HELL am I going to do with this?” They tell you “Same Same But Different” to reassure you that, while their eight-pronged dinner fork looks different than the average one, it really is the same. But then you bring it home, stab yourself in the mouth, and realize you just spent $1 on junk.

Let me localize SSBD for you. Here in Eau Claire, people seem to have issues using their turn signals. I’ll be driving towards the mall, ready to take the Golf Road exit, and suddenly someone in front of me remembers they need to go to Target. They swerve over and cut me off. NO TURN SIGNAL IN SIGHT. In Thailand, turn signals are the least of your problems. People seem to have issues staying in their lane of traffic. A red light does not mean, “stop the car and chill out for a minute.” It means, “Can I drive between these two cars and blow through that red light without getting killed?” See? SSBD.

Eau Claire has amassed quite a collection of fantastic restaurants over the years. You might see a menu advertising that a dish is made with “real American cheese” and locally raised beef. In Thailand, a menu might advertise that the chicken is “real” and that water won’t give you diarrhea. Both have something “real” to advertise but again … SSBD!

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