Allow me to relate to you a moment of great shame - not for myself, but for my nation.

I am a Dane, a native of Denmark - but as you read this, I expect that you will find yourself nodding in recognition, because this really applies to all nations.

On with the story....

Some years ago (in 1995, to be precise), I visited Thailand, staying for several weeks. I've travelled a lot, and I find it natural to familiarise myself with the local customs of whichever country I find myself in - chiefly to avoid offending my hosts unintentionally.

In Thailand, this involves a few simple rules, such as respect for local dignitaries (especially the king) and religious persons and places. Sounds reasonably universal, doesn't it? Additionally, in Thailand, it is bad form to point at someone.

In the course of our stay, my fiancée and I had run into some friendly locals (I've found that this happens all the time, if you approach a country on its own terms, instead of barging in), and we were chatting comfortably with them in the main hall of the Wat Bowonniwet shrine, in Bangkok. Unlike the custom with Christian churches, Thais find it quite natural to hang out in their religious sites, most of which are comfy and cool places to get out of the midday sun (Thais being neither mad dogs nor Englishmen).

Wat Bowonniwet features a large altar with a Buddha statue, as well as a portrait of the king (omnipresent feature of all Thai shrines) with a flashy plastic frame. Nifty by Thai standards, but (it must be admitted) slightly tacky-looking to Westerners.

So, there we are, sitting and chatting with our new Thai friends in the cool shade of the Wat, when in comes a gaggle of Danish tourists, speaking loudly and pointing at everything.

My Thai companions affected not to notice, but I saw one of them wince when a particularly insensitive tourist pointed at the king's portrait in its frame and laughed aloud. A plastic frame, how outré!

Sitting there, I felt an uncommon shame in my nationality, and was glad that my Thai companions spoke no Danish - allowing me to pretend that these were not my countrymen.

And, in a very real sense, they were not.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.