Over the many years I’ve studied Thai I have noticed how my projected personality has changed as I improved in the language. When anyone first learns any language, you start with just the basics, basic phrases, basic concepts, basic cultural do’s and don’ts, etc. Given your extremely small vocabulary, it’s not about conveying a concept exactly how you want, but about struggling to convey any concept at all. You have little knowledge as to how words fit within the spectrum of extremely rude to extremely polite. And being someone from another culture, ‘they’ don’t understand you and you don’t really understand them – so you’re unable to fine tune your speech to be best understood.
In other words, the personality you project is incongruent with your actual personality.
In my personal experiences, I know many Thais who come off as very polite and friendly and simple when speaking their [somewhat broken] English. But when they speak Thai, it’s like they are entirely different people! It’s not quite right to say that they are more rude when they speak Thai, but like they are more ‘normal’ and ‘human’. They are much more intelligent and complicated individuals, and really just like ‘us’ in every way.
And so I got to thinking . . . what if we are the same as they are when speaking our [mostly broken] Thai to them? After all, many of us curse when speaking English, yet we say ‘krap’ in nearly every sentence when speaking Thai.
Hanging out with Thai’s for a long time will have an effect on your personality. You’ll pick up mannerisms, learn their jokes, learn new ways of thinking that isn’t western per se, etc. You’ll even adopt the ‘mai bpen rai’ culture, and actively avoid saying things that cause others to lose face. And when you return back to your western friends you can’t just shake all of that off.
For the first few years you’ll probably have a sort of dual personality depending on the language you are speaking at the time. But, at least in my case, I noticed these two dual personalities slowly merge together as my Thai got better.
If anyone has some comments on their own related experiences please feel free to comment on them below.