“Same Same But Different” Origins and What It Means

“Same Same But Different” is a phrase adopted by tourists in SEA

Anyone who’s stepped foot in Thailand has heard the infamous phrase, “same same, but different.” Although most commonly heard in street food hotspots like Khao San Road, you’ll see the Thai slang on t-shirts, tanks and bracelets just about everywhere you go in SEA. Whether you’re sharing travel stories, learning local language or just out for drinks, “same same but different” is not just a way of understanding each other but also a way of thinking.

Picture yourself on a night out at a night market and you’re picking up souvenirs to bring back to your loved ones. A Nike tank top catches your eye and you start haggling. Wondering if it’s authentic, you ask the vendor if it’s real. “Same same but different.” is their response. Close enough, but not quite. Do you, a backpacker, care if a Nike shirt is genuine? Or are you picking it up for 150 baht?

same same but different shirts

What does “Same Same But Different” mean?

Surprisingly, Urban Dictionary has a definition that we think hits the nail on the head.

Used a lot in Thailand, especially in an attempt to sell something but can mean just about anything depending on what the user is trying to achieve.

Q “Is this a real rolex?”

A ” Yes Sir, same same but different”

It’s a diverse phrase that can cover just about anything you want it to.

Khao San Road market Bangkok

“Same Same But Different” Origins

Although no one has pinpointed the exact origins of the Tinglish (Thai-English) phrase, its roots are distinctly Thai. Used by locals and tourists alike, the phrase conveys an air of intentional vagueness. It doesn’t mean the same and it doesn’t mean different either.

Linguistically, the Thai language relies heavily on context. I’ve witnessed this firsthand, where a local and a long-term expat are chit-chatting in Thai only to realize neither are quite sure of what was said. All the words are there, but meaning is left up to interpretation.

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