The Rice Grain Warning

Informant Background: The individual was born in Bangkok, Thailand. She grew up there and still has family in Thailand. She said her family origin is Chinese. Her family still performs a lot of Chinese traditions such as: Chinese New Year, Ancestry Day, etc. Being in Thailand her family also practice a lot of the Thai traditions. She does not speak Chinese but she does speak Thai and English. She currently lives in Los Angeles to go to school. She has been travelling back and forth between the United States and Thailand constantly throughout the years because her family still resides in Bangkok.


My parents told me that if you do not finish every single rice grain on your plate you have to count how many you have left…Then you have to jump into the river, and every time you jump you have to make a splash sound…So it actually means you take each rice grain individually and then jump into the river again and again until your plate is empty. And every time you jump into the river you have to make a really loud splash sound. Nobody actually does this….they end up just finishing their rice. I mean the adults don’t really expect you to do it…it’s more like a threat so you finish your food.

According to the informant this proverb is more common among older generation. She grew up in Bangkok, Thailand. Though Bangkok is a metropolitan area she heard this from her parents.  It was usually for parents to say to their children when the children do not finish their food. She has heard it from some of her friend also. She said some family has variations of threat when their kids have leftover food on their plate but this is the most common one she has heard. She mentioned that the origin of the splash come from the fact that before cars were highly used it was very common in Thailand for people to live in a house near water (canals, river, and lake) where boat was their main transportation. Many of those houses near the water are farms and gardens where they value their harvests. That is what the informant believes this saying generated from.

She also said that rice is the main part of the diet in Thai food. One of Thailand main export is also rice. In a meal each individual is given a plate of rice. Protein and vegetable are then in the middle of the table as shared dishes. It is then more evident if the individual has rice leftovers on his/her plate.


I believe this saying is a warning to teach children to value the food that they eat and the importance to every little rice grain. It is easier to finish the small rice grain on the plate than having to take each grain to the river and jump. As the informant mentioned, Thailand is mainly an agricultural society with majority of crops grown being rice, this is to teach children that every little grains of rice is highly valued. To tell the children that they have to jump into water as many times as the rice on their plate is a reflection of the hardship a farmer would endure to grow the crops.

The informant said she also heard this phrase not from my family but from many movies and TV shows. The characters would usually say it in older movies or movies that are set in older times. Sometimes she said her teacher will say something similar in the lunchroom if students have leftover food. I agree with the informant that this is said as a threat rather as a dare. From her personal experience she has yet to hear that anybody actually jump into water instead of finishing some rice grains.