Readers' Submissions

Face And Relationships in Thailand

  • Written by Stick
  • February 19th, 2003
  • 13 min read




Well, allow me to wonder a little bit off the over beaten track of "Thou shalt not marry Thai bar girls!", and "a bar girl is money. Period."

While this is mostly true and supported by a lot of evidence, the real question is more "WHAT are you looking for, really?". Most people nowadays have problems getting man / woman relationship working back in their own countries, or just do not like how girls have turned into men in the western world.

As an answer, they turn toward Thailand, like a raising sun amidst the gloomy relationship nightmare they are facing, up until the time they actually decide to "go and check out". Thailand doesn't have all the right answers, but it certainly has a lot. Problem is that people seldom face what they want. Do they want to have a romance followed by a wedding and a long lasting relationship? Or do they want short lived fun? While somewhat immoral, the second option most definitely belongs to the area of Bangkok's naughty night life. This article is for the other ones.

Because Bangkok and discussion forums are all about marketing the bar girls and other "for sale" commodities, the guy figures he might as well start from there regardless of what he is looking for. To cap it, that's easy, and has instant reward. Hell, after all, if he is just landing, chances are he will be on a sex and affection diet since God knows when, and regardless of what decency and self control he can master up, the availability of model-type, sexual and tender women for as little as the price of a good dinner back home is haunting. And there is the greatest liability of all. You have a guy, who does want love and relationship, connected up with ladies who ARE TRAINED to fake it. Not that they have no feeling, but quite simply, they feel what the guy is looking for and quasi instinctively feed him just that, like they do with the others. They don’t get involved. They did not even get to know or really appreciate each other that the guy is already convinced that this is it. Then comes the real money issue (casual evenings cost nothing for any regular FOB), that is either the dowry or a real "off the bar salary". At that point, either the guy feels cheated, abused and becomes disheartened, or he goes ahead for what will likely count amongst the worst mistakes of his life.

If your intent is to find an actual life partner, and that you are attracted by Asiatic women's appearance and attitude (you won't be the first) then Thailand is certainly the place to go, but please, please, please, forget bar girls. The simple fact they is that there is almost a 100% guarantee that they are not looking for the same things as you are.

I'm sorry if it is news to you, but if you are looking for a life long companion, you will have to put a lot more effort in then you just want to sign up for a week's worth of bedroom athletic course. Here or back in Farangland. Same deal. In France, you come down to the local disco, pay for a couple drinks, give a few smiles, polish up your looks, and chances are you will shag “for free” that night. Even easier in Denmark, Sweden, England, and a few other countries. So what if your looks suck? Don't you deserve to shag young beauties? Probably not, IMO. A bit of discipline, care for yourself and you may not look like Tom Cruise, but almost everybody can reach a somewhat acceptable image, beer gutter or not. In all cases, that will not be IT.

For the real thing, however, you have to be aware that while real love is for sale, the currency is NOT money. It is care, it is affection, good communication, high moral values, interest, common goals…in other words, if you want a lasting relationship anywhere, you will have to put yourself into it, and often straighten yourselves out too. Thai ladies usually have high moral standards, and an amazing number of them actually respect the "virgin until married" thing (this is slowly changingStick). In my experience they have, as a whole, a relatively high interest for "reasonable farang prospects", aside of financial considerations. By "reasonable prospect", I mean someone in their age category, of acceptable appearance. If you really think that most 20 year old cuties start wetting their panties at the sight of a 50 years old farang wreck, I have no willingness to help you figure out how to really marry one of 'em.

Anyway, the whole point of this article is that if you want a real relationship with a Thai girl, forget about Nana Plaza or Patpong, realize that there are the most beautiful and sweet ladies you can imagine all over the kingdom, but that you will have to be patient, tolerant, willing to learn the Thai way and actually do the courtship part. Here or there, there is no escaping on that one, and if you play the game, it is really a fun part of the relationship :-)

Now, I didn't expect you to read all this without giving you some tips on how you can meet your special someone and start creating a relation, and since you have been nice enough to read all that (thanks to Sticks as well), here are a few pointers I can give you :

1. Appearance means a lot to Thai people and frankly to all people. Dress for what you are up to. If you look for a hard rock groupie in England, worn-out jeans are mandatory, along with at least a couple of piercings…

In Thailand, the respected dress code is a business-like shirt and tie package. Actually, so many farang dress poorly here and if you dress right, you have made a good step in being acceptable.

2. No matter what situation you are in, smile. You buy a newspaper, smile. You see some people looking at you? Smile. Do not be afraid to smile to people here. This is Thailand. I know that this is very dangerous in your country. In Paris, if you smile to a girl, often, she will be scared, and a guy may even walk to you with a threatening look and a "what's your problem?". If your smile is genuine, a Thai person will at least smile back, and often strike a conversation or invite you to lunch right there. Happened to me quite a few times.

3. Meet as many Thai people of middle class on up as possible. Assuming you somewhat belong there, more often then not, you will be invited to have a drink, eat…and be presented to people. Remember, a farang is considered rich, but otherwise a dog so far as personal values are concerned. If you get Thai people to appreciate your values (mostly by respecting theirs – and they deserve it), you suddenly become a VERY valuable relation, because, becoming respectable, your expected wealthy financial state puts you at a very good level. Don't think they want your money. In average class on up, they will often insist on picking up the tab, because they gain face doing so over a valuable farang. Remember, the most important person picks the tab, and it will even hurt "do-well" Thai people if you expect to take the bill each time – you are telling him you are more rich. You reduce his face, and that is the last thing you want. I really can not count the number of times I have been offered food, lodging, drink, advice… Thai people are very kind and they can be a real treat to deal with.

4. By now, you have accomplished something which is deemed near impossible, that is, you somehow fit in their society. Play it the Thai way. Gain face. Farang at large are not respected because they seem not to respect themselves. They walk down the streets dirty, dragging a girl that every Thai guy can recognise as a prostitute, get upset over "nothing", can't control their sexual impulses, they smell…To a do well Thai, they are jerks, and if it was your country, you would think so too.

5. Grant face. Do things to help your friends gain face. This will be more appreciated then any amount of money. You will be amazed that, as the bill stands, you spent little money, and never gave them any. Real friends are not about money.

5. How about the ladies? Well, this is how you meet them. You get presented. Gain the respect of a few good Thai people and you will find out that since you deserve a place amongst them, and are acceptable, they are your friends, and even more then in your country (at least in MY country) they will present you ladies which you would never have met otherwise. After sympathising with a few guys, one of them presented me to three stunning beauties, mentioned to me -afterwards of course- that they were available, and that a couple of them were interested. Gee. I wasn't looking for a relationship, but I must admit I almost instantly started drooling (and felt an increased rigidity, but that's an other story all together.)

There is no better way then being introduced by a Thai with a reasonable amount of face, because when he does that, he grants you a tremendous amount of face too, and you become a legitimate prospect. Not an ATM. Of course, you still pick up the tab for the lady, but you would be expected to if you were Thai, and frankly, it is my pleasure. Don't start buying gold or expensive stuff. Do as you would think a Thai would do, and if in doubt, you now have friends you can ask advice from. About the dowry, please do remember that Thai people do pay it. It is your responsibility, and you would lose a lot of face by trying to avoid it, and cause your lovely girl to lose a lot of face too. Consider that since you are engaging a long term relationship, it's far from expensive. (On a teacher salary, 4 to 10 months to gather it for middle class girls. Average Thai will often need more time, and I don't even mention those who can pay it upfront, which is the case of many farangs)

6. Behave according to your newly gained status. If you got all the way until here, do not put your new friends to shame by losing face stupidly, such as by wai-ing your maid,… People of a "lower" status are important, but don't appear to give them a higher status then yourself. If you want to show you appreciate them, smile, smile, smile, nod, and grant them importance in a way that does not force your friends to reconsider your status.

7. About wai-ing. Don't, unless the person is clearly well above your status, and by far. I.e., a chief executive older then you. A monk, a good friend's father,… You will know when you meet someone really important. Look at your friends. If in doubt, nod and smile.

8. The Thai way is really about face. You can not have a relationship with an honourable Thai woman and have no face. Just imagine what it means for a Thai woman to marry a man who does not have the respect of her family and of her friends. If you don't have face, chances are she will look only for money. Even if she comes to love you, she cares about her friends opinions, she cares about her family. If they all think you don't have face, she loses face by becoming involved with you, unless everybody knows that she is with you to get monetary support for family…and that's what would happen. In Thailand, face is a lot more important then money. Providing the basic necessities are cared for, money is only as important as it gives you face. That's why they buy a Mercedes that they can not really afford, buy gold,…get it?

To have a relationship with a woman, it is important to have at least a basic respect from the people she knows. Otherwise they will put the pressure on her big time.

9. Do all the above earnestly. Don't fake it. If you are a grumpy bad tempered farang, you get what you ask for and you don't deserve a real girl. If you really want a relationship, become worth it.

10. Thailand is fun, and relaxed. It's not really that hard to be considered a good person and make friends. The basic idea is just that. Make friends, respect them, and when you meet Mrs Right, go for it, the Thai way.

11. If you really have to misbehave, do it the Thai way too. Keep it private. You wouldn't go in public with a sign that says "I masturbate", right? Walking hand in hand with a bar girl is worse. Take a weekend off and go to Pattaya or somewhere else to do the deed. If your friends learn about it, them being Thai, and relatively liberal on that count, they will smile and be grateful that you did not put the shame on them by doing it in their face. It can even confirm them that you understand the Thai way. Face. If you already meet a correct girl you are interested in, then for God's sake, don't misbehave at all. You are not a dog, you can withhold yourself.

All the above is derived from my personal observations, experiences and conclusions. If that helps you, I am happy with that, but in all case, I would be happy if some expats, and farang at large would REALLY understand that Thailand is a game of face and play the game. We have a good potential to gain face. The only reason why we are not respected and have no rights is because we literally throw OUR faces in the mud, over and over. It's not THEM. It's US. If each one of us did a little something to improve our face as farang and avoided blatant loss of face, the Thai would accept us a lot better in just a couple years of time.

All expats "know" that face is everything. Many complain we are badly treated, but few try to improve our face. We got the money but we do so many stupid things that despite that fact, we don't have face as a group.

Finally, I would like to end that article by thanking Stickman. I don't always agree with what he says, but his articles helped me to understand that key concept of face. Thanks for that. If I had understood before, I would have been much better of in many a situation.

Contrarily to Sticks I believe we can influence and change this country, but before, we need to have a good look at ourselves. People accept changes from those they respect. Seniors or at least peers. Not dogs. Right now, Thai do not respect us, so we can NOT change anything here…until we gain their respect. I believe we can do it, and we should.

Stickman says:

Excellent article and I agree with most of what you say. To fit in, often we have to be prepared to do things that may not seem right to us, or at least out Western cultural norms. This is Thailand and we have to be prepared to adapt. Yes, face is everything in Thailand, about that you are so right. But money does come close too! The one thing I do disagree with however is farangs influencing and changing this country. Indirectly we might have a small influence but beyond that, I don't know.