For the casual visitor, the mai pen rai philosophy is most clearly embodied in the Thai concept of time. Time moves differently in Thailand. You’ll particularly notice two differences.
Nobody seems to mind waiting. Sit in a Bangkok traffic jam for 20 minutes without moving, and you’ll be amazed to realize that not a single person has honked their horn. Restaurant and bar service can be slow in Thailand — as it can be anywhere in the world — but you won’t see the Thais getting upset about it.
In certain situations, this is rarely a problem. If you hire a Thai guide or car-and-driver, odds are they will arrive early, and patiently wait.
At other times, it can be frustrating. Hotel check-in procedures often seem slow and inefficient to Americans. Your best bet it to relax, get comfortable, and let things proceed at their natural pace.
Estimates of time can be wildly inaccurate. “In 10 minutes” can mean “right now” or it can mean “in 30 minutes.” Since “30 minutes” can mean anything from 5 to 120 minutes, it follows that “10 minutes” can mean — on second thought, let’s not even go there.
Again, the best solution is to accept this difference, and let things move at their own pace. If you must ask “when will we be there?” or “when will this job be done?” go ahead — but be prepared for an answer that proves wrong not because of bad planning, or ill will, but simply a different approach to life.
Trying to change, or trying to pin someone down about times, will get you nowhere. It’s far more interesting to simply try to understand and appreciate the mind-frame behind it. Wouldn’t it be nice if Americans got over the notion that leaning on their horn would clear up a traffic jam?