Nicky, a mid-thirties, attractive Thai woman, runs a local travel service / internet cafe. I have gotten to know her over the years and have used her to provide translation help whenever I have to do any serious business at my Thai bank. Nicky can explain what mysterious hoops the teller is requiring me to jump through and double-checks any paperwork, which of course is written in Thai. She does an excellent job and I always make sure to compensate her — though I often have to talk her into accepting the money.
When I heard last month that there was going to be a birthday party for Nicky, I made sure to mark it on my calendar. I had already attended a couple of these shindigs, which take place out in front of the cafe, and have always had an agreeable time. Nicky and her staff are good people; when they look at me there aren’t dollar signs in their eyes, which makes it easier to share an evening with them.
During the week leading up to the big night, I twice came by the cafe to try and confirm the party details, such as the starting time and what the girls’ drinking preferences are. (I didn’t want to show up empty-handed and contributing to the booze stockpile would be nice gesture.) Nicky however seemed almost embarrassed by my attempts to pin things down. Maybe she didn’t want to be reminded of getting a year older.
Because the festivities started sometime around seven, I decided to make my appearance at eight o’clock and hang around until ten. These affairs always run into the late hours and at a certain point I start to sag underneath the table.
There turned out to be no problem at all escaping at a reasonable hour. When I arrived at my planned time (toting four bottles of sweet Breezer wine cooler), there was nobody around. The store had been closed and the outdoor chairs leaned against the table. I was dumbfounded. There wasn’t any way I could have mistaken the day — Nicky’s birthday is the same as my mother’s. Plus, I’d made a point of confirming it.
Now in the U.S., when connections are somehow missed, the involved parties usually get in touch to figure out what happened. But this kind of analysis, with its implications of someone having screwed up, would not play well in this country where people are concerned about saving face. I certainly could not barge into the cafe the following day demanding what the hell went wrong. Probably would not get an honest answer, especially if they thought it might hurt my feelings.
Since this is by no means a life-or-death matter, I believe I’m going to simply let things slide. Maybe wait a few weeks before I go back to the cafe. Sometimes, attempting to untangle what appears to be a simple misunderstanding between people from different cultures only escalates into a larger disagreement. I don’t want to risk that. Besides, there’s always next year!