It's always 'bath' time in Thailand
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It's always 'bath' time in Thailand

Flying in to a very quiet Suvarnabhumi recently I noticed the official ticket for the airport taxi still informs us of an additional "50 bath" (sic) you will be required to pay the driver at the end of the journey. The "bath" has been there since the ticket was introduced six years ago, so you can forgive what few tourists there are these days for believing they will be dealing in "baths" during their stay.

The dear old baht is a bit vulnerable in this respect, especially in newspapers. Most readers will have seen advertisements on the lines of "house for rent, 40,000 baths" or "massage, 900 baths". There was some amusement back in 2004 when one of the newly-opened budget airlines was proudly advertising flights for as little as "899 baths".

Of course there is always the computer spell-check, which is not averse to changing "baht" back to "bath". It might explain why Thai people always look so fresh, despite the heat. The baht is also one of the most mispronounced currencies, with the British often referring to it as "bat".

The colour of money

In poor light I sometimes have problems distinguishing between the different Thai banknotes, especially in taxis. The other night I gave a cabbie 80 baht for a 79 baht fare and he thanked me so effusively I wondered how much I had actually given him. Those red, blue and green notes all look the same in the dark. I shudder to think how many unintended hefty tips I have given cabbies over the years.

It can work both ways. One evening last year I gave a cabbie 100 baht for a short 45 baht journey. He gave me a bluish-looking note in change which I tucked into my top pocket without really looking. I had walked a short way when I heard a shout and turned to see the taxi driver in a state of anguish running after me. He explained he had mistakenly given me a 500 baht note instead of a 50. My immediate thought was that it was a scam, but I looked into my top pocket and sure enough it was a purple 500 baht note, which under street lighting can take on a bluish hue.

We settled things amicably, the driver celebrating the recovery of what was probably a day's income.

Crony anyone?

About 20 years ago there were reports that Asean was considering proposals for a single monetary unit for member states on the lines of the European euro. At that time the Post's business section carried a popular Insider column which had fun dreaming up possible names for the currency. All sorts of exotic offerings were suggested, but my favourite was the "crony", a splendid name which seemed so appropriate. Because the baht was always being misspelled some journalists suggested "bath" would be a grand name for this Asean money, with smaller denominations called "plugholes".

Baht rules okay

Something long forgotten is that the baht briefly played an unexpected role in Europe during the changeover to the euro. The 10 baht coin became very popular in Europe as it was similar to the two euro coin, at that time worth about 80 baht, and fitted nicely into European vending and slot machines. Owners of restaurants and bars across Europe were opening up their cigarettes and sweets machines only to find them flooded with 10 baht coins. Not surprisingly tourists on holiday in Thailand were taking back stacks of 10 baht coins to use in the vending machines. Of course it wasn't long before the authorities modified the machines, but there was a brief period when the 10 baht coin ruled in Europe.

Nickers and saucepan lids

Occasionally I have been asked by Thai friends why the British call a pound a "quid".

I've never been able to answer this as it is probably derived from Latin which kind of rules me out. The quid itself has many nicknames. When I was a youngster it used to be called a nicker, although I haven't a clue why.

As kids we liked that term because it seemed a bit naughty, sounding like underwear.

Incidentally when the British government decided to phase out the traditional pound note in favour of a coin the outraged Sun newspaper came out with the front page headline "Leave Our Nickers Alone!"

Nicknames for quid were particularly common in cockney rhyming slang in which you might find quid referred to as a "fiddley did" or a "saucepan lid". They also found nicknames for cash, one of the more popular being "bangers and mash".

Blame the tenors

Some monetary nicknames reflect popular culture at the time. Back in the 1970s five pounds was often known as a "Hawaii" derived from the popular television series Hawaii-Five-O. For many years a 10 pound note was named a "Pavarotti" after the popular Italian tenor (tenner). You just can't escape desperate puns in Britain.

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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