Never mind, “it’s nothing”, “no problem”, “it’s not a problem” they are all common translations for the famous Thai phrase “mai pen rai”. When faced with a problem, no matter how large or small, the initial response of most Thai people is “mai pen rai”, but that does not necessarily mean that the problem is of no concern, it is not a callous response or attitude.
Why is “mai pen rai” such a popular phrase in Thailand.
It may at first seem frustrating that a problem, incident or accident is met with what seems like an “air of indifference”, but the mai pen rai attitude is only an outward expression of calm. Whatever has happened it cannot be reversed, it can only be dealt with, and problems are best dealt with in a calm and collected manner. “Mai pen rai” should not be taken in a totally literal sense, “mai pen rai” does not transliterate to a single phrase or meaning. Just like “face” has various connotations in Thailand, so does the phrase “mai pen rai”. Just like “kreng jai” and face, both the phrase and the context of “mai pen rai” is rooted deep in the culture of Thailand and the Thai people, probably stemming from Buddhist beliefs and teachings. What will be will be, what is done is done, it can not be reversed, acceptance of a given situation is the Thai way, and Buddhist ‘karma’ is largely responsible for this “mai pen rai attitude”.
Quite often instead of complaining, Thai’s will simply say “mai pen rai” and carry on regardless, in this respect it is often a valuable social tool used to avoid losing face and to be kreng jai (polite, considerate, inoffensive). This polite and calm attitude is not a ‘given’ but most small mishaps, problems and misdemeanour’s are dealt with in a calm and cool mai pen rai attitude. Exceptions to the rule may occur if you cause a Thai to lose face, this is best avoided by remaining calm and not pointing the finger of blame. If for some reason you encounter an overly irate Thai person whilst dealing with what you believe was only a minor problem, the chances are they are a scammer trying to intimidate you into submission and ultimately gain some financial compensation.
Multi purpose mai pen rai.
Besides being one of the most common phrases used in Thailand, “mai pen rai” is one of the most versatile phrases used in the Thai language, it is a phrase which can be employed in various situations without causing offence, making it a very good language and social tool for first time visitors and tourists in Thailand. By politely saying “mai pen rai khap” (for male speaker), or “mai pen rai kha” (for female speaker) you may decline an offer, reply to an apology, state that something is not a problem, you can even say “mai pen rai” to calm or diffuse a heated situation.
A VALUABLE LESSON IN THAI CULTURE.
Remember this important and valuable lesson, it is a key element of Thailand’s culture, one of many elements which contribute to the carefree nature of the people of Thailand “The Land of Smiles”.