Thai Families And Western Families
A very interesting article and one in which his observations are absolutely spot on. Where I find the article less than good is explaining why the Thais act as they do – he rather takes the view that the western way is correct and that Thai culture is
simply misguided in its outlook. I think if you dig a little deeper, you can fully understand why Thais think and act as they do.
Let me explain.
1. The Thai way. Thais place the family unit above all else. An individual – including yourself – is placed below the family unit. A Thai is brought up to believe that the order goes like this – family, themselves, their children, their parents, their husband and extended family and then their friends. This cultural tradition is born out of necessity – Thai families are generally very poor – they need to become richer to survive. Thais are taught to help their family when they are young so that the family survives and with the expressed knowledge that if they as an individual fall on hard times (or grow old and frail), then the family will look after them.
2. The western way. In western culture the individual is placed above all else. The most important relationship we are expected to have is with our wife so our order goes like this. The individual, your wife, the kids, our friends, then our parents and perhaps then extended family, acquaintances and business colleagues. Our families are rich and we are brought up to believe in independence from our families. How many westerners live with their parents after the age of 21? Parents do not wish to depend on their children when they get old – they look for independence too.
Once you understand this the different attitudes and actions of both farangs and Thais begin to make a lot more sense.
Take love for instance.
Thais do not hold a romantic view of love. They consider a potential husband as someone who they can get along well with but principally as an ideal partner to bring up their children and provide support for the enlarged family as a whole. They do not consider marital fidelity to be that important so long as the husband remains faithful to the family unit which encompasses, the wife, children and the extended family.
The husband is expected to support the parents and the extended family. If he doesn't or is reluctant to do so, they simply do not understand. Why would their daughter marry someone who is rich if he is not prepared to help out the 'family unit'? When you marry a Thai, you are marrying not the girl but her whole family.
Westerners generally hold a 'romantic' view of love. That the wife is a soulmate and best friend irrespective of looks or wealth. That this love forms an ideal family unit and that the children are an expression of that love. Westerners find it very hard to understand the constant demands to help and support the wider family after they are married because the concept is not part of their culture.
Look at the ways Thais act in business. Remember everything is subservient to holding the family unit together and enriching the family unit – everything else is expendable including the truth. The concept of truth does not extend passed the immediate family and even the truth is expendable if it helps keeps the family unit together. Thais view the stock market as a way of selling part of their business, to enrich their family without giving up any control. They see it as enriching themselves and the family unit at the expense of minority shareholders. They do not expect minority shareholders to trust them because they are inherently trying to rip them off.
To a western view of thinking the stock market is supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. Minority shareholders invest in you in the belief that you will build value in the company and that that value will then be passed back to minority shareholders in the form of dividends or the rise in the stock price.
Thais simply don't understand this concept. They know that the major Thai shareholders are trying to rip them off and so don't understand the concept of investing in their business. They are happy to 'play' shares but they know that it is simply a 'gamble' rather than an investment.
Being brought up in the West we naturally tend to think our 'culture' is right and the Thai 'culture' is wrong. We place an enormous value on the individual and truth, The Thais do not. It is best to remember though, that their culture has its root in necessity.
In some respects it is also difficult to see which culture is the most successful. The Thais place the family above everything else and recognise the importance of money in a relationship. As a result Thai marriages are more successful in terms of resulting in less divorces and bringing up children within the extended family unit. Western marriages tend to fall apart over such flimsy things as the husband shagging around. Now of course westerners are usually rich enough to afford divorce but it is inherently a selfish act that is done to the detriment of the family as a whole.
For myself I am somewhere in between. I mean I don't really believe in romantic love, I fully appreciate the importance of money or looks in bringing happiness and I feel that the western view of romantic love (irrespective of things like money and looks) is simply a case of westerners lying to themselves . On the other hand I do believe in the value of honesty and of independence from the family – in fact I believe it is difficult to build a lasting friendship (which is ultimately based on understanding) without a foundation of truth and mutual trust.
For society as a whole (rather than me as an individual) I am not sure which works best but I tend to favour Thai 'culture'. Seems to me that western culture simply isn't working. Most marriages are failing and those that stick together are not necessarily happy. Thai 'culture' is immersed in 'family values' something that the West dispensed with sometime ago.
Your descriptions of how Westerners and Thais are so different simply verifies what I have been saying for so long – relationships between these two groups are SO difficult. In theory, they should NOT work!