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Post Info TOPIC: Expats Guide to the Thailand culture .. how they think

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Expats Guide to the Thailand culture .. how they think

excellent media article written by a local Thai in Bangkok

copied the article hereunder

I have come to realise that many of my readers are foreigners (or farang as they are affectionately called in Thailand. Therefore I thought it would be especially useful for the farang to understand the personality traits of the Thai, because I firmly believe many of these traits are reflected in our system of government and are the cause of many problems we now face.

Friendly farang: Peter Traub, a German investment consultant, briefly flew a yellow-and-red kite in front of Government House on Aug 9, 2010 in a symbolic gesture calling for Thais to work towards national reconciliation.

I hope this article will serve as a humorous "guide to surviving Thailand" because, being Thai myself, I must admit we're an odd bunch, or as Winston Churchill would have said, "A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

As some you of might have noticed, Thai people love to have fun. For most people, having fun is a great pastime, but for Thais it is a personality trait and the basis of an entire culture. We're like the Hobbits of the Shire in J R Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings; give us some ale, tobacco and good music and most Thais are in eternal bliss. Even during the PAD's airport closures and the red shirt protests at Ratchprasong, where people came out in droves to fight for their own cause, music and entertainment was ever present. The PAD held live concerts and the red shirts set up hundreds of stalls offering everything from egg noodles to foot massage, which to many farang folk must have resembled a highly successful night bazaar! Our propensity for fun is what makes us who we are, though for expatriates this can be a huge source of pain and anguish, as the Thai is often accused of being lethargic and unprofessional, an accusation which I'm not in total agreement with, but I understand where it's coming from; after all, we're not known as the Land of Smiles for nothing!

Another trait which Thais share is ego. The Thai person has an extremely large ego, a quality which, in my view, can be very destructive but is very apt for explaining why many of our political leaders are so ineffective at solving the nation's problems. Thais cannot tolerate any violation of the "ego" self. Despite the cool and calm demeanour, they can easily be provoked into showing a strong emotional reaction if the "self" or anybody close to the "self", such as one's father or mother, or even one's institution, is insulted. This is why we very often see the rivalry among Thai teenagers from different educational institutions spiral into gangland clashes resulting in murder and mayhem, due to a mere verbal insult or a deprecating glance.

The present political crisis between Thaksin and the UDD on one side, and the leaders of the PAD and the amataya or aristocracy on the other, has of course become personal because, evident in the rants from both sides, clearly their egos have been trampled on and a certain line has been crossed, making true reconciliation very unlikely in the near future.

To PM Abhisit Vejjajiva's credit - although I disagree with many of his policies - as far as I am aware he has never engaged in personal attacks but has admirably chosen to focus his often vitriolic criticism strictly on his opponent's policies and ethics.

It is high time other politicians followed Mr Abhisit's example and stopped wasting people's time by introducing unsubstantiated accusations of illegitimate children and extra-marital affairs into parliamentary debates, because as we all know, the Thai ego simply cannot handle it. And besides, if I really wanted to waste my time, I'd watch Dr Chirmsak Pinthong's political programmes on NBT.

Thais value personal relationships above all else, which derives from our "village mentality". However, this personality trait does not seem to be serving us well in matters of state. Personal relationships and personal loyalty is taken extremely seriously in Thai culture. Roo boon khun which means to know, acknowledge and constantly bear in one's heart the kindness or favour shown by another, is ingrained in our mentality; more importantly though, to tawb thaen boon khun, which means to reciprocate that kindness or favour when the chance arises, is essential in Thai culture.

These traits are being played out in national politics this very month, with the annual military reshuffle seeing those loyal to the fight against Thaksin and the UDD duly reciprocated by being appointed to powerful positions, led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha's succeeding to the all-powerful seat of army commander-in-chief.

The other vital strand in the web of loyalties is the Ministry of Interior, which plays a vital role in influencing our general elections.

The Bhumjaithai Party has been unashamedly rewarding and placing its "yes men" into positions of power, most recently evident in the row over the appointment of the former deputy governor of Buri Ram province, Mongkol Surasajja as permanent secretary of the Ministry of Interior.

The question which the public needs to ask all our political leaders is: are they appointing capable, diligent and honest public servants to serve Thailand's best interests; or are they simply acknowledging and in turn reciprocating personal loyalties, to the detriment of the people of Thailand?

And if police officers, judges and politicians refuse to act based on principles but apply the law based only on personal relationships and clan loyalties, then what hope is there for justice for the man in the street who knows no one and who doesn't belong to any particular clan?

In parting, I would like to offer a few pointers for my farang readers to make sure your long or short stay in Thailand is a smooth and happy one.

First, Thais in general do not understand sarcasm; they will insist they do, but as a matter of fact sarcasm will often offend. Comments to your Thai sister-in-law along the lines of "nice outfit, I didn't know you could make dresses out of your mum's curtain drapes!" will definitely not get you invited to another family function.

Second, Thai families are very hierarchical; therefore, debating with your elders and voicing a different viewpoint - which, although protected and indeed encouraged in the West - is indeed a risky endeavour. Nodding your head politely in agreement to even the most outrageous comments made during supper by the head of the household is thus highly advised.

Lastly, and I know Thai women will deny this vigorously, but when they say "please pick me up from my house at 7pm sharp, I'll be dressed and ready to leave", it means you should turn up at 8pm because they'll be ready to leave around 8.30pm!

On the other hand, you know you've been spending too much time with Thais when a) you start postponing for tomorrow anything you can do today; b) you suddenly believe that the American Fried Rice dish in Thai restaurants actually originated in America; and finally, c) you can't help but pour copious amounts of that dark seasoning sauce we call Maggi onto every dish you eat!

Love it or hate it, in my view there's no place like Thailand, and no place like home.

About the author Writer: Songkran Grachangnetara Position: Entrepreneur

-- Edited by JohnT on Thursday 7th of October 2010 02:41:35 PM

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