How to refer to Thailand's new PM

January 30, 2008 4:22:26 AM PST
Sign language interpreters in Thailand have run afoul of some ruling party supporters by holding their noses to refer to the new prime minister.

Samak Sundaravej, chosen in parliament Monday as the first elected prime minister since a Sept. 2006 coup, has been nicknamed "Mr. Rose Apple Nose" because many claim his nose resembles the fruit.

Thai sign language interpreters often indicate prominent facial features as shorthand for dignitaries, and during a live broadcast of Monday's parliamentary session, they held their noses between two fingers numerous times to refer to Samak.

One interpreter, Kanittha Rattanasin, said this gesture has long been used for Samak but is drawing wide notice only now.

"It is not meant as a nose joke," she said. "We have touched our noses for years to refer to Samak but people noticed this time because we had to repeat the movement over 300 times."

Juthamas Suthonwattanacharoen, another interpreter, said Samak supporters have called the National Association of the Deaf in Thailand to say the sign does not befit the country leader, and the Thai daily newspaper Matichon said the gesture angered some members of Samak's party.

Samak, 72, a combative right-wing politician, easily beat Democrat party candidate Abhisit Vejjajiva, 43, to head the country.

"We refer to a person's most unique physical appearance and for Abhisit, it's his good looks," Juthamas said. "If someone has very long eyelashes, or prominent ears, we use those."

Kanittha said some reference to Samak's popular cooking show might work as a new sign for him. But for now, there are no plans to change it, Juthamas said.