Stickman Readers' Submissions May 14th, 2004

As If Dating Wasn’t Hard Enough

By Czech Mate

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While Ms. Stick always has sound advice each week, my girlfriend and I wanted to take a moment to share some of the discoveries we have made in our relationship as a Thai and Farang couple of 2 years. During this time, we have experienced our fair share of stories, arguments, and joy over the differences between our cultures. While we have much in common, we have embraced our differences and feel that our differences are one of the things we like most about each other. We mutually feel that we are better people for being brave and committed enough to bear the additional burdens placed on multiethnic couples. It's our hope that we can pass some of our lessons learned on to others as well, with hope that what we’ve found will save some headaches. While these words of wisdom apply to our situation being a Thai and American, but it's also based on what we have observed with other couples

1. Those who knowingly and willfully date prostitutes do so at their own risk. Those who visit prostitutes while in a committed relationship deserve any and all chaos that results in their actions. There are many examples that attest the result of infatuation on this site. Please understand that what often transpires in these “relationships” is not reflective of many of the values that Thais hold sacred. Many of the girls who work in the industry have significant emotional, physical, and psychological scarring from abuse, neglect, and pressure placed on them by a child or family member. With this, comes issues. Many times, there are girls who may not be prostitutes or bargirls in the traditional sense, but their heart is in the same place, and their lives and aspirations are driven by money. Be very careful with who you trust in Thailand. Don’t let your emotions rule your life. It's easy to be deceived. You have been warned… again.

2. Having a partner that knows English, and your ability and willingness to speak, read, and write Thai can only benefit your relationship. Communication is crucial in any relationship, and if you can’t express your emotions and thoughts you are only making things harder for yourself and your partner. It's hard to solve problems if you can’t express your feelings. Worse yet is when someone expresses them and the other person is not listening. Be an active listener. Learn how to listen to Thais! Truly listening to Thais is different than listening to farangs. We are not just talking about listening to the spoken language, but to other signs of communication as well. Thais often do not physically reflect what they are really feeling and thinking. Many times, this mask confuses westerners in relationships because they can not attend to the needs of their loved one because they are oblivious to their true feeling. If you understand this concept, and how to read the non verbal queues, it can only benefit you and your partner – along with relatives, landlords, the boys in brown, mostly everyone. We can not express this enough… you save so many headaches if you have an extensive grasp of the language and you learn how to truly listen to Thais.

1. Along with learning how to listen, find a partner that understands how farangs think. Similarly, try to understand how Thais think. (We know. It may be asking the impossible, but it can be done – with effort.) If you both keep an open mind about both of your cultures, and are willing to compromise and step outside of your comfort zone, you will find it easier to understand your partner’s values and cultural sensitivities. This is not an easy thing to do for Thais or Westerners because the variance in belief systems and social codes (criticism vs. face is one example of several.) Thais are also generally ethnocentric about certain aspects of their culture, but not all share this generalization. We know several Thais who are quite adventurous, although one observation we have made is that education often plays a much larger role in having an open mind or a closed mind. While it can be hard to find a partner who is willing to be open minded, keep in mind that you also carry some prejudice based on your upbringing. Personally speaking, as an American who has lived abroad in Europe and now in Asia, I am pleasantly surprised to find how ethnocentric my culture actually is! If you work at it, you will find that your life will be enriched if you both adopt an understanding and appreciation for the positive aspects that both of you bring to a relationship. Yet keep in mind that you are both individuals, with your own opinions and beliefs. It's easy to let generalizations become hurtful in arguments. General “perceived” cultural norms may not be part of your partner’s belief system. It’s important to value the individual, rather than generalize, but understand the role that culture plays in shaping their personality. In raising a family, this is extremely important. Multiethnic children in Thailand need to feel like they understand and belong to both worlds. It's easy for Thais to marry Thais and Farangs to marry Farangs – but these couples and their families miss out on so much!

2. As a westerner, if you are seen with your Thai partner in public, people often assume that you are long timing a prostitute. Most of the time, it only takes a few moments to determine if a couple is a genuine or not by the way they interact with one another, their age differences, proximity to Nana Plaza etc. Yet this assumption is a burden that is not often talked about, and for your “normal” girlfriend – the face that might be lost could be hard to bear, even if they have nothing to be ashamed of! There are many situations where we both have been mistreated in hotels, restaurants, and in other places because of this unfounded misconception. While it may be a casualty of living and working in BKK and within the greater Kingdom, it is unacceptable and we strongly encourage you to stand up for your dignity. More face is lost for the business if you walk out and deny them the privilege of serving you. We have both agreed on a zero tolerance for this mentality, and hope that by our action we will prevent other headaches for similar couples. This mentality is also present in the West… we always get the awkward glance when we tell strangers about how we met and live in Thailand. They receive the same education from us.

3. Respect the role that family and age plays in Thai culture. Often times, you do not just date your partner – but the entire family as well! This is often hard for some farangs to get used to, as we often view the “nuclear” family as our immediate responsibility and instinctually we don’t worry as much about members we would consider as being within our “extended” family. There are many expectations that Thais have for someone who wishes to become part of the family, and some of these expectations are financial. Too many times, we see other farangs get exploited over the financial expectations of this cultural difference, when it should be a responsibility of honor and privilege. If you trust your partner, she or he can easily sort much of this out without much trouble and re-align the focus to where it needs to be. Be careful of a partner and family who is too focused on money. Plus, there are other ways that you can incorporate yourself into the family without just paying a dowry. You can help younger siblings with English lessons. You can help cook meals or perform repairs on Mom and Dad’s house or apartment. You can invite your partner’s brothers and sisters out for a trip to the beach. You will find that there are many things you can do for your new family without simply being a walking ATM. In many cases, farangs don’t engage with the family because they are intimidated. This is natural and understandable, especially if there is a language barrier. Yet if you show your generosity in other ways than just pulling out your wallet, and show that you are willing to respect the values held by the family – you will be much better off.

These are but a fraction of the tips we have learned, but they are the most significant ones. Best of luck to you in your relationships! We sincerely hope this helps you set a strong foundation for future happiness. We wouldn’t trade our adventure for the world!

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Stickman's thoughts:

Very good advice. Just one thing I would say though. While we have to try and if in with the Thais, they also need to realise that in the case of relationships and marriage, that there are two cultures involved and they have to be prepared to make some compromise too.

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