Reply To The Cynic
Although this is a direct reply to The Cynic (letters August 26th) it is also an attempt to assist newcomers to Thailand (and Asia in general) as to the etiquette of who pays for what, and when.
First of all, to put The Cynic in the picture over a couple of points.
Yes, air travel within Thailand is expensive. Travel by train is a quarter of the price and by bus, half or even a quarter again.
OK, the discounted airlines will start to shake things up a bit, but even so, when your monthly income is 5,000 baht, even a 1,000 baht (each way) saving is significant. A flight to Phuket used to be 4,500 baht, while a bus ride was 400. Now add on travel to and from both airports, plus domestic tax, then double it for a return trip, now you can understand the difference.
Secondly, your gay friends' gay Thai friends, most probably are not homosexual at all. This is just a job and like any job you're going to milk it (no pun intended) to the max. Yes, the (bar) girls are doing a job as well, but at least in their line of work, once in a while, they are doing something which they enjoy. The boys who play the gay-gig, they know that theirs is a very limited career span, health risks are very high and prospects at the end of it are zero. (How many gays do you know have married a non-gay, Thai gay???)
Men are also more aggressive than the girls, so when they have a punter in hand they will screw that gay for every pink-baht they can get hold of. (Not easy to write this without the double entendres.)
Right. Who Pays for What? Basically, when you, the visitor have invited your local friend to accompany you (on a trip, for a drink, for a meal etc) then you pay. You pay for yourself, you pay for your friend and you pay for your friends hangers-on. You pay for every taxi ride, every snack and every drink.
Why? Because as The Cynic has observed, even simple day to day activities which we take for granted are expensive excursions or treats for our friends. The skytrain (40 baht plus) or a taxi ride (50 baht plus) are an expensive option when they would normally take the bus for 5 baht.
A cup of 5 star hotel coffee (250 baht with tax and service) will indeed pay for lunch for a week at any one of the road-side eateries. (30 baht for a plate of chicken & rice.)
So for you to suggest that you hop in a cab (or even the skytrain) and pop into Starbucks for a coffee and a snack, and then to expect your companion to pay for his / her share is completely out of order. You would just deplete their entire week's travel and lunch budget!
However, if you have been invited out by your new companion, and your companion obviously has an itinerary planned, then I would suggest the following. First of all, very discretely offer to pay your share at the first available opportunity. If he/she has accepted your contribution, continue in this manner or try to pay for things alternatively. Otherwise, more likely your offer has been declined. Don't be offended and do not offer to pay again. Instead, once in a while buy some water or ask your friend if he or she wants a snack. Perhaps buy a souvenir. Later in the day or at the next available opportunity, present your friend with an inexpensive and appropriate gift and express your gratitude for the wonderful day out!
Why? First of all, it's not everybody who gets asked out by a Thai (girl or boy) so your new friend would have a genuine fondness for you.
Secondly, well this time round you are on their turf. You are within your friends economic spending zone. So yes, they can afford to pay for your boat trip, your bus trip or for your road side snack or your coconut juice in a plastic bag. They have invited you out; it's as much a treat for them as it is for you – and more importantly they have come to know you well enough, to know that you would enjoy a local day out.
Another example. As a rule Thais' don't drink in the same way in which we do. We would quite happily sit back and knock back a half-dozen beers or whisky-sodas at between 100 and 500 baht a time, depending again upon your location. Your female companion would perhaps nurse a coke or two. A male friend might accept one beer out of politeness, but please don't expect him to buy the second round. One, he doesn't want a second beer and two, he can't afford (a minimum of ) 200 baht. He doesn't even want to be in the bar! He's only there to accompany you. Thai girls are actually more used to our customs and know how to pace themselves and how to politely refuse the offer of drinks. Sometimes a girl friend might disappear completely, popping back once in a while, happy to leave you drinking while she attends to other chores.
Now, your friend has invited you for a drink. A different story. With you in tow, he will join up with his friends at their local bar – which to you and I would not even resemble a bar of any description. You would drink a local whisky (which costs 50 baht A BOTTLE!) straight or with water (coke and ice if you're lucky!) Sit back, relax, enjoy the company and the whisky and let your friend pay for everything. (you might want to knock back as much water as you can – other wise you'll end up plastered) Again, you are now in his economic and social safety zone. Paying for your evening would be no problem at all.
To offer some sort of Western parallel. It's as if you have met up with a tourist in your town, or more than likely a friend of a friend has called you, be it London, Frankfurt, LA, New York – wherever. He's a stranger and wants some company in your town. He decides that he wants to knock back a few drinks at Harry's Bar, at the Ritz or in a lap-dancing bar or where-ever the most popular tourist bar happens to be. He's on holiday, he wants to have some fun. Hang on a second, it's Monday night, you are knackered after the weekend, you're working tomorrow, the last thing on your mind is to have a few drinks at the most expensive place in town. But, if you're paying? OK I'll tag along. On the other hand, If you want to come back to my place? OK fine, we'll pick up a six-pack and a phone-up pizza – my treat.
So Mr. Cynic. Are the Thais so mean? I don't think so, try to imagine the situation if roles were reversed. The next time you're in BKK, drop me a line, I'll show you around – but you pick up the tab for everything. After all, I've done it ALL before!
Would be interesting to hear others' thoughts on this.