Are Thais Stupid?
By Dazed And Confused
Are Thais stupid? What is this, another racist tirade against our hosts? Maybe, but bear with me. This is based on fifteen years of being in Thailand, on and off, so I do speak with some experience.
Let’s start with flies. The insects. Flies have no intelligence, they’re just biological machines. You can’t teach a fly anything. But flies in the UK are cunning. Or at least they exhibit cunning behaviour. They sneak up on your food when you’re not around, they keep out of your reach most of the time. It’s damn hard to kill a fly in the UK. You have to stalk it for ages with a rolled-up newspaper or a can of fly killer before you get one.
Flies in Thailand are totally different. They land on your food while you’re eating. They fly in front of your face, again and again. They sit on your spoon on the way to your mouth. You can kill flies in Thailand with your bare hands. Mosquitoes, too. Clap, and they’re dead.
Shoo a fly away in the UK and it gets the message. You are a threat, it will then avoid you. Thai flies, you can shoo them away a dozen times and they keep coming back. The only way to stop a Thai fly is to kill it. So are Thai flies stupid? No, because they don’t have any intelligence at all. They just exhibit stupid behaviour. Maybe it’s Darwinian, maybe it’s the heat, but the end result is stupid behaviour.
Consider now man’s best friend, and I don’t mean the go-go dancers in Anglewitch. I mean the humble dog. Now, in the UK, where I have driven for getting on thirty years, I have only twice seen a dead dog on the road. I have never, ever, seen a dog in the act of being hit by a car. I have seen dogs look both ways before crossing a road, I have seen dogs using pedestrian bridges. I have seen dogs wait at zebra crossings for traffic to stop. I have seen dogs in the UK sit and wait for traffic lights to change.
Dogs in Thailand are a totally different kettle of fish (I know, mixed metaphors, but what can you do). On any drive of 300kms or more I can pretty much guarantee that I will see a Thai dog get hit by a car. Not a dead dog, but a dog actually hit by a car. I have seen dogs explode when they’ve been hit by trucks, I’ve seen them mowed over by four-wheel drives. I’ve come close to personally running dogs over at least half a dozen times. I’ve seen a dog run over by a motorcycle on Sukhumvit Road. How hard is it to hit a dog with a bike? I couldn’t do it if I tried. Up country, the roads are littered with dead dogs. And you know why? Because Thai dogs have no sense of what traffic is. They never look when they cross a road. I have seen a dog walk into the path of a truck without even wondering what the noise was. In Bangkok, dogs lie down and go to sleep in the middle of a crowded pavement. You never, ever, see that in the UK. So are Thai dogs stupid? Difficult to tell, but one thing is for sure – they exhibit stupid behaviour.
Now let’s look at Thais. Start with Thais at the wheel of a car. They have a death rate on the roads FIVE times higher than in the West. They drive motorcycles without helmets, boots or gloves, and they die in their thousands. They happily drive the wrong way down roads. They drive drunk. They drive too fast. They don’t wear seat belts. They overtake on blind corners. On a simple trip from Bangkok to Pattaya on a recent holiday weekend I saw the aftermath of SIX major accidents. I have seen countless accidents actually happen here. In the UK I have only ever seen one accident. In the UK I have never seen a fatality. In Thailand, I have seen seven over the years, bodies literally bleeding to death in the road. The Government knows what’s happening and they run road safety campaigns. They flood the roads with police at Songkran. And it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. Thais die in their thousands. So, are Thai drivers stupid? Most Thais I meet are drivers and they are clearly not stupid. But as a whole, Thai drivers consistently exhibit stupid behaviour. I’m not saying there aren’t stupid drivers in the UK. Of course there are. But they are a small minority. Stupid behaviour on the roads is the norm in Thailand.
Have you seen the way Bangkok taxi drivers treat each other? They never allow another taxi to pull in front of them or to turn across them. They regard every taxi driver as a rival. In London, it’s the opposite. Cab drivers help each other. Always. Because they know that when they need a favour, a bit of leeway, they’ll get it. The London way makes sense. Everyone benefits. That Thai way makes no sense. It is stupid behaviour. Next time you get into the back of a Bangkok taxi, try to put on a seat belt. Nine times out of ten the belt will be there, but the driver will have removed the buckle you’re supposed to clip it into. Are Bangkok drivers stupid? Maybe, maybe not. But they sure as hell exhibit stupid behaviour.
Look at AIDS. They knew it was coming here. It hit Africa and America first. Then Europe. The Thais knew it was coming. I was here long before AIDS. I saw AIDS decimate gays in the States. I saw it ravage Africa. I remember the first case in Thailand. We know AIDS is pretty much preventable, we knew that long before it arrived in Thailand. Don’t share needles, wear a condom when you have sex, check blood before giving a transfusion, and AIDS cannot get a foothold. Yet it ripped through Thailand. Why? The Thai medical experts aren’t stupid, and they did all they could to warn the population. But the warnings had no effect. Why? Because Thais consistently exhibit stupid behaviour.
Restaurants? Don’t get me started. Anyone who’s eaten in Thailand more than a few times will have stories of the wrong food arriving, or courses arriving out of sequence. You might think you’re being deliberately ripped-off with padded bills, but in my experience more often than not it’s stupidity that leads to the miscalculations rather than a deliberate attempt to cheat.
I go into my local Starbucks and ask for a ham and cheese baquette. I do this three or four times a week. I always ask for it cold. I don’t want it microwaved. This time the guy puts it in the microwave. When I see what he’s done I say I don’t want it hot. He smiles, takes it out and hands it to me. Doesn’t he see that it is already hot? Of course he does, it’s steaming and the cheese has melted. Does he think that I am just going to accept something that I don’t want? Is he stupid, or just behaving stupidly? Again, of course you get bad service in the UK. But it’s unusual. And when management is informed, it’s put right and apologies are made. Not in Thailand. Here stupid behaviour is the norm. No one complains. It is simply accepted, generally with a shrug and a wry ‘what can you expect, this is Thailand.’
Let’s look at Thai builders. Anyone who has ever had a house built will tell you the horror stories. I’ve just had a new bathroom put in my apartment. When I empty the bath, the shower fills with water. They’ve connected the two drain pipes. Stupid builders? They didn’t seem stupid, but they did a stupid thing.
I had a guy come in to fix an airconditioning unit. I showed him the faulty unit and left him to it. When he’d finished, he’d repaired the wrong unit. Let me rephrase that. He worked on the wrong unit for an hour. It worked exactly the same when he left as when he’d arrived. But he’d managed to leave me with a gaping hole in the plaster below the unit and a wall covered in dirty handprints. Leaving aside the fact that he didn’t fix the unit that needed fixing, did that guy stand back when he’d finished and congratulate himself on doing a good job? Didn’t the fact that he’d left the wall in a filthy mess even occur to him? Clearly not. So is he stupid? I don’t know. But he exhibited stupid behaviour.
I had a hole in my bedroom ceiling because a roof tile fell off a neighbouring building. Two tiles fell actually, the second six weeks after the first. In any other country someone would have gone up to check the safety of the roof after the first tile fell. Not in Thailand. It was an insurance job and a workman came and did an appalling patch up job. Words can’t describe what a botched-up job he did. So I complained and he came back. I showed him what was wrong. He nodded and spent five hours redoing it. When he had finished, it was exactly the same as his first attempt. He didn’t seem a stupid man, but he could not see that he had done a second-rate job. He just couldn’t see it. I had to call in a second builder and pay him myself. The second guy did a perfect job. Why couldn’t the first guy? Was he stupid? Or just behaving stupidly?
Look at the Government. One stupid mistake after another. SARS. Chicken flu. Terrorists in the south. The economy. What about the VIP card? A million baht to buy a fast track entry to the country and discounts to golf courses. The Government thought they’d sell hundreds of thousands of the cards. Total sale to date? Less than a hundred. I could have told them what a stupid idea it was. But then, I’m not Thai. I could tell them how stupid it is not to allow Westerners to own land or businesses here. I could tell them how stupid it is for a Prime Minister to appoint only his friends and relatives to the nation’s top appointments rather than giving jobs on merit. The war on drugs? The Government murders a thousand small-time drug dealers. Then Thaksin acts surprised when he’s accused of human rights violations. To curry favour with the Americans, Thaksin agrees to send Thai troops to Iraq. Then he orders them to stay indoors so that they won’t get hurt. The clampdown on the capital’s nightlife? Stupid. Thaksin constantly misjudges the country’s media and is forever accusing them of misquoting him. They don’t, he just says stupid things and they report him accurately. He drags his daughter into the public eye, creating a photo opportunity of her working part-time at Macdonalds. Then he cries and begs the media to leave his family alone. A politician behaving this way in the West would be laughed out of office. In Thailand, he’s a hero. Yes, politicians and Governments behave stupidly in the West. But not as often as they do in Thailand. And in the West, consistently stupid behaviour is punished. Here it’s ignored, or even rewarded.
So, going back to the original question. Are Thais stupid? I don’t know. I’ve met some very smart Thais over the years. Articulate Thais. Thais who have made a lot of money. But over the years I’ve been here I’ve learned one thing. Time after time, Thais do stupid things. They behave stupidly Don’t ask me why. They just do. The flies do stupid things. The dogs do stupid things. The people do stupid things. From my experience, the way to survive in Thailand is to always assume that, given a choice of behaviours, more often than not Thais will take the stupid option.
How could this have come about? You know, I think it probably is Darwinian selection. Or rather, the lack of it. In the West, people are criticised or even punished for stupid behaviour. Over time, they learn not to behave stupidly. In non-confrontational Thailand, they aren’t. So the population as a whole continues to behave stupidly. Until they wander into the road and get hit by that large truck…
It is hard to argue with this and I guess the final paragraph is the key. Because people neither want to lose face themselves nor cause others to lose face, no-one points out when things are not done as perhaps they should be. So instead of that behaviour being corrected and improved, it just continues and continues and continues…