Negotiating With The Family Part 1
Most of the time I try to refrain from the self indulgence of giving people advice. A recent article under the heading; “Advice Please” was hard to ignore though. For readability my comments will be split into three parts:
1) General comments (Parents/Money/Dowry)
2) Negotiating with the family
3) How to turn the situation in your favor
Much advice has been given on this website warning against falling in love with a bargirl. Good and sound advice, I am sure, and still I can’t help rooting for the few that make it out. Sure many of the bar girls probably are greedy, lazy, stupid, emotionally unstable, and all the other things people accuse them off. I just have a hard time accepting that this wholesale description is true for every single one of them. Some girls make tremendous sacrifices for no other reason than to help out their, often undeserving, family. It is quite possible, even probable, that in the long run the life they lead will change them for the worse. This does not make their sacrifice any less noble.
That much said I have a hard time coming up with any excuse for the parents that send them into this life in the first place. Whether it is by coaxing, or by direct order, it is still unacceptable. I know exactly how you feel here. I can almost understand a parent that would sacrifice one daughter so that the rest of the family can have food, and medicine, and perhaps even an education (A way to break the cycle of poverty). It’s sort of a rural Isaan, Sophie’s Choice. What I can neither understand nor accept is a parent who sends one daughter after another into a life that will definitely damage her*, and perhaps even kill her. Parents who demand ever more money from their daughters in order to retire in luxury, or at least pay for their whisky and gambling debt, parents who let their unemployed sons run all over Isaan, acting like rich playboys, while the daughters suffer to pay for their flashy motorbikes. These kinds of people get no sympathy from me. Parents are supposed to protect their children, not put them into harms way. Explaining it away as just a different culture is not good enough.
Whatever we think about the parents does not really matter though. You have made your choice in marriage, and as a result you will have to deal with the parents, the best way that you can. I agree with Stickman, trying to drive a wedge between your wife and the family might ultimately drive her away from you instead. In times of stress people tend to revert to their old ways. The good news is that both your wife and her older sister seem to be reasonably intelligent. It looks as if they have already discovered their parents are not the best parents in the world. If you can resist the temptation of picking on them, and instead coach the girls into supporting each other, this might work out a lot better in the long run. If the girls are able to achieve some measure of success together they might gradually move away from the influence of the parents. I suppose they will always feel a responsibility to look after them, but there is nothing wrong with that. With any luck the girls might start making more decisions together, and ignore the unreasonable demands of their parents. In a way the parents become the children. This is quite appropriate. After all, your wife’s parents appear to act like spoiled adolescents, catering to their own immediate needs and wishes, with no regard for the consequences.
Let me first state for the record; I don’t think you have a money problem here, money is just a symptom. Your biggest problem appears to be your negotiating skills. “But I never negotiated any deal with the family” you might say. Oh’ yes you did, believe me, you did, you just weren’t aware of it. What’s more is; you blew it, every step of the way. I know this all seems a bit cryptic, but bear with me, I’ll explain it all later.
Money does seem to be a big issue in many Stickman articles. While I was writing this I came to think of a book I read a few years ago. The book was written by a banker almost a century ago (1926). Who would want to read a book written by a banker anyway? It sounds almost as much fun as a date with a tax accountant. Well actually this book is quite easy to read, even for older children, and I found the stories rather entertaining. More importantly this book was created to give poor uneducated Americans the basic skills needed to handle their finances. It contains a collection of fictional short stories set in ancient Babylon. Each story deals with a specific financial issue. Simple advise for saving money, not spending more than you have, how to pay of your dept, gambling, what to do when your brother in law want to borrow money for some harebrain business scheme, and more. Imagine the next time your wife’s cousin needs 200,000 baht to start a truffle farm in Udon. Instead of being the bad guy, cheap Charlie, you could actually ask her for advice: “What do you think will happen if we give him the money? Can you remember what the wagon maker in Babylon did?” “I forgot, perhaps you can read it again, and tell me what you think.” “What does your cousin know about truffles anyway?” “Can you remember what happened when the bricklayer wanted to invest in jewelry?” And so on. You might be amazed at the quality answers she comes up with if you give her a chance to figure it out for herself.
Thai Buddhists are very familiar with important life lessons being taught trough story telling (parables). This is not just another self help book with high flying unproven theories. It is simple common sense advice, presented in a way that anybody can understand. “The Director” wrote earlier about the difficulties in starting a discussion with his Thai girlfriend about important issues. Reading, and discussing, these stories could be a great starting point, and also a reference point, for resolving future financial issues. Did I mention that the book is actually entertaining and easy to read? Highly recommended:
Book: “The Richest Man in Babylon”, by George S. Clason
(Not sure if the book is available in Thai language).
There was a good article written about this issue some time ago on this website. I suggest you look back and try to find it. [As the website continues to grow in volume some form of search feature would be a handy tool by the way (hint, hint).]
First of all, as have been pointed out by others, Thailand has never had a dowry system. A dowry is a price given from the bride’s parents, to the young couple, to help them get a good start in life. In the old European farming communities land was handed down trough the male lines. The daughters had no claim to the family’s land, and were in a sense adopted into the husband’s family. Her ability to marry into a rich land owning family was greatly enhanced if her parents could afford a large dowry. The status and social standing of the bride’s family was determined by the size of the dowry, and also by their association, trough marriage, with other powerful families. Try asking your Isaan in-laws for a large dowry; it should make for a laugh or two.
A bride price is closer to the traditional Thai practice. A bride price is paid from the groom, and or his family, to the bride’s family. A woman with a dowry brings substantial financial benefit to her husband’s family; with a bride price she brings a financial loss. As a result, in the latter case, very high demands were traditionally put on the woman herself. In order for a bride to bring a high price she had to be beautiful, skilled, preferably educated (in higher society) but most of all her purity had to be guaranteed. Even the slightest rumor that she was not absolutely pure could have detrimental consequences for her value, and her ability to marry well. Her father and brothers would go to great lengths to defend her honor, and she would rarely be seen around town without a male escort from her own family. Any association with an unsavory institution such as a Go-Go-bar would have destroyed the family’s ability to collect her price. Even if she was still virgin when you met, and she had never gone with a customer, the mere association with such a place, would have decimated her value. This is not my personal opinion or judgment; I’m simply referring to historical facts. < This is a VERY relevant paragraph and I truly believe that anyone getting married to a Thai lady should be forced to read this until it is stuck in their memory – Stick>
Although some Thai families are now demanding a bride price, particularly when dealing with Farang, this is not really in line with Thai tradition. I am referring now to what I have learned from Stickman, and others, on this web site. In the past the Thai people had limited ability to own land and other property. It is understandable that they would have to figure out another way to prove their wealth. The natural choice was gold, silver, cash and jewelry. As Stickman has pointed out several times the idea was never that the money be given to the bride’s family. It was only meant to prove the grooms worthiness, and his ability to provide for his new family. Of course it was also an excellent opportunity to show off a little in front of the neighbors, and perhaps gain some status in the process. Most of the money should ultimately go back to the bride and groom.
A previous contributor to this site referred to a substantial writing on the subject by, if I remember correctly, the king’s brother (If not it was at least a member of the royal family). I would recommend that you get your hands on this material, if at all possible, before negotiating anything. The opinions of a member of the royal family should carry a lot of weight with a regular Thai family. It is hard to imagine a higher authority on this particular subject.
*I do not have a moral problem with a girl choosing to make a living in the entertainment industry. I do not have any moral problem with the industry itself, or with its customers. I realize that many, perhaps most of the girls, enter the profession out of their own free will. Prostitution has existed forever, and it will always be around. The cruelest thing you could do to these girls would be to drive the industry under ground, and to criminalize it. It would leave the workers more defenseless, and bring more criminal elements inn to abuse them. The mental damage caused to these girls is in my opinion less a result of the work, than it is of how they are treated by the employers, and by society as a whole. It does bother me that some girls are forced or pressured into the industry against their will. What bothers me most though is the fact that so many of them are either pressured, or forced, into engaging in unsafe practices, that could ultimately cost them their life.
Great stuff. I can’t wait to read parts 2 and 3!