Readers' Submissions

Isn’t It Just Good Business Sense?

  • Written by ABC
  • June 8th, 2003
  • 4 min read



Recently I read a read submission named “Becoming Invisible”.

Like most non-Thai speaking foreigners, I've seen a lot of Thais speaking to my Thai girl and not me. I can understand how it can bother someone, and understand the frustration and negative perspective so many farang feel, and which “Becoming Invisible” seems to put in words quite well.

However, I thought the other perspective may be worth looking into. First, whenever I go to government offices, bank offices, or even when we are visiting my family and American friends, my Thai girl gets the same treatment. We live in the United States.

It is only when people get to know her better, and realize her comprehension is better than expected, that they start to speak to her like they would to a native English speaker. However, this has always seemed reasonable to me. People tend to feel more comfortable talking to those they have something in common with, especially if it is a language they are accustomed to speaking in.

This level of comfort doesn’t just mean you must understand them, it also means they must “perceive” you understand them in their local language. That is one reason many Thais in the USA are perceived to be less compete in English than they really are. Many Thais can speak and understand English fairly well, but their heavy accents often make it easy for English speakers to assume they are poor speakers and listeners of English.

I am fairly sure that a farang speaking Thai would seem the same way, and that is even assuming we are talking about the farang who can actually speak a competent level of Thai. The tones and ways the tongue is used in Thai and English are very different. It makes Thais sound a bit incompetent when speaking English, and it makes English speakers sound just as bad speaking Thai.

Furthermore, I am not so sure it is so pitiful that the Thai banks cannot be more flexible in their lending practices, and that this is because they are forced to be so ultra-conservative due to the late Thai financial crisis. Instead, I think the Thai banks have learned a valuable lesson, much like the US banks did in our S&L failures. The lesson is that loans should always be based on reasonable equity in the property and sound collateral, in order to avoid default or to ensure recovery of loan principle if the loan does default.

After all, a foreigner will be hard to collect on, but a Thai living in Thailand is going to be easier to track down. In the USA, where foreigners are allowed to own property openly, higher interest rates are charged for their mortgages. After all, it is reasonable to expect a foreigner would have less to lose in cutting and leaving the USA permanently, especially if he / she is not even a permanent resident.

And just how reliable does an income paid by a boyfriend seem to most people who would loan you a large sum of money? There is a perceived idea that a husband / wife relationship is more stable, because it does take a considerable commitment, if taken seriously, to get married. Even then, if the foreign spouse isn't a long term resident of Thailand, I would ask how serious is the marriage. Another possibility to consider is just how serious the couple is in staying in Thailand. The Thai could move to Farangland, and it is not a sure thing the farang will move to Thailand. After all, salaries are lower in Thailand for farang (compared to Western salaries), while salaries are higher for Thais living overseas.

While Thailand has it’s share of problems, and a lot of it has to do with the way Thais appear to look down on foreigners, I believe a lot of the perceived “farang bigotry” is really just people sticking to the safer and more well known. And this often means sticking with their own kind, loaning to their own kind, etc. We do it in the West just as much, but we justify it as those from overseas being less educated, less able to speak English, or less business-savvy. In Thailand, is it such a surprise they may have the same ideas? The only difference might be that the Thais may not rationalize it as much as Western nations do. I suspect they often simply do the more comfortable thing, which is to deal with their own kind. However, the end result is just the same.

It may not be a very popular view, but from a business perspective, loaning money to foreign nationals, with the difficulties of collecting on a default kept in mind, does in fact represent a bigger risk. Especially when, from the perspective of someone outside the relationship, there appears to be so little formal “glue” holding together a “dating relationship”.


Stickman says:

I agree with the main point of your piece, but in smaller situations such as when you order food in a restaurant, I just hate the way I am ignored, especially when my Thai is reasonable. I also get a little annoyed when i say something simply to a Thai and they are shocked that a long nosed, white skinned critter, as they seem to view me, can speak their lingo.