(I found this while cleaning out my blog. Somehow I never clicked "Publish" when I first composed this back in 2009...still, it's a funny story, so I have to share.)
One of the luxuries we have here in Thailand is a housekeeper. She did not come with the house, we did have to do a lot of grueling work to find her. And by "grueling work" I mean that we found her on the embassy shuttle our first full day in Bangkok. She was with her (now former) employer, who was leaving for the United States the next day. We set up an interview for two days later, and we hired her.
On Nam Pheung's first day of work--Nam Pheung is our housekeeper--she kept using a phrase that made Mali think that, despite Nam Pheung's limited English skills, she at least knew at least one curse word. You know, the one that rhymes with "ham." Mali thought that perhaps we had hired an angry Thai who resented working for Americans. She wondered if perhaps she should teach Nam Pheung that it would be more kid-friendly to say "my dang" to everything.
And then it dawned on Mali that Nam Pheung was addressing her as "madame."