North by North Worst

 |  April 1, 2011

I would like to start with a limerick.

There was a young lady called Laurel,

Who was asked to perform something oral,

She said with a sneer,

And a slight look of fear,

Now that would be very immoral.

Several prior versions were unsuitable for publication but the point is that what is acceptable to some will be unacceptable to others. Mrs. D’s view of the world is black and white; it’s either right or wrong. There is no middle ground. My world is viewed in shades of grey. I have my principles but if you don’t like them I have others I can use. This flexibility is not always a good thing.

Over the last few months, Mrs. D has become a bit of a health nut. She has lost weight and firmed up in several important places. She has done so well aware that she is now very busy working with others that do the same all day. This means that many of the household tasks are now my responsibility.

For example, I was handed a list of fresh food (complete with prices) that I had to buy and a 1,000 baht note. It was also made clear to me that she expected the 300 baht change back. So it was onto my bike and off to the shop. We have done so much cycling recently that this was not a problem and I even have some pannier bags to carry everything home again.

It was busy at the store and the cashier was already speaking to the next person as she handed me my change. Instead of 300 baht she gave me 3,000. My moral compass should have told me what to do but instead it just pointed me to the door.

As I cycled home, I couldn’t believe my luck. After all, it wasn’t as though I hadn’t paid for the goods. I even had a receipt! Even after giving Mrs. D the change, I would be 2,700 baht up and she certainly didn’t need to know about it. I was ahead. Yeah.

All was well until later that evening when I was outside throwing the ball for the dog.

“Where’s the change?” shouted Mrs. D from the lounge.

“In my wallet” I shouted back and froze as the thought of the 3 crisp notes in my normally empty wallet. I ran inside but it was too late. She stood there holding the 3,000 baht in one hand and my wallet in the other. Her expression was icy cold and she demanded “Where did you get this?”

My explanation was met with immediate and unsympathetic judgement. What I had done was wrong and therefore, I would have to fix it. My protestations fell on deaf ears and so the next morning, I found myself cycling back to the shop to give the money back, concerned that my Thai speaking level of a 2 year old would be a bit of a problem.

“I’m just trying to give this money back,” I said to the manager, pointing at the unfortunate clerk. At least, that’s what I thought I said. Judging by his reaction it must have translated as “I have just taken this money from that person”. The police arrived within 5 minutes. A small crowd gathered to watch as I desperately tried to explain again to the ‘Boys in Brown’ but the looks on their faces told me that I was not really making progress.

Just as I was about to invoke a temporary fainting fit, which at the time seemed like the only way out, a smartly dressed Thai lady appeared who spoke perfect English. She must have had some clout as when she told everyone to be quiet, they were. As I explained to her what I was trying to do, she translated.

I wouldn’t say that there was an acceptance but certainly an understanding and the atmosphere lightened. The manager, the policemen and the lady spoke for a few moments and then she looked at me and smiled.

“No problem” she said. “You must repay the clerk as they had to pay for the till shortage. Then you must pay an administration fee to get everything sorted out. OK?”

Ah. An ‘Administration’ fee; I knew where this was going but didn’t really have a choice. Sure enough, another 300 baht later and it was all smiles again. As I later explained to Mrs. D how much “doing the right thing” had cost me, she pointed out that I hadn’t at first done the right thing, and it was only because I hadn’t, that it cost me so much and therefore it was entirely my fault. She was right of course.

“Give me 100 baht and I’ll go and buy a new moral compass,” I said.

“Compass?” said Mrs. D, “Darling, you are so far lost you need GPS.”