Readers' Submissions

Defending Thailand

  • Written by TomP
  • April 20th, 2006
  • 9 min read


Oh well. Now I thought a lot of water would flow down the Chao Praya river before I would write another submission, and along comes “Oscillating Wildly” and makes me think of a comment on his submission immediately. Worse yet, I will find myself in the unexpected position of actually defending Thailand and the Thais. So watch out, Stick, this might become a relatively positive contribution…

Let me clarify first that I don’t live in Thailand and have no intention to ever move there. Because, let’s face it, if you have no professional reasons to be there and you are not interested in the prostitution scene, there isn’t that much to see and do. I have been there three times, for a total of eight weeks, and if I didn’t happen to have a Thai girlfriend I probably wouldn’t visit again for a very long time.

That said, I do believe in fairness nonetheless.

First of all, OW, you note that the majority of submissions has a negative undertone, and you are right. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. As any customer relationship person will tell you, people are much more likely to complain than to praise. You do it yourself. Depending on whom you talk to, you will be given figures between 5 and 20 negative feedbacks for every positive one. Keeping this in mind, you will see that what is written in the submissions isn’t really that bad.

Regarding the subject of “ladies” and the behaviour of western men towards them, I must admit that I largely share your views. I just seem to draw different conclusions.

It is probably safe to say that the vast majority of us do not go to work every day because we enjoy it so much. In fact, many of us do like what we are doing, but only very, very few would continue to do the same were it not for that big paycheck at the end of the month.

If we have a customer who is willing to pay more for our products and services than what we think they are really worth and he seems to be happy just the same, we are not going to turn down his money, either. In fact, we will be respected by our peers for being able to strike such favourable deals.

It goes without saying that we try to create a positive atmosphere towards our customers, which includes that we will not normally tell them what we really think about them. Or have you ever heard a western sales person call his customer a fat, ugly, stinking bastard in his presence – even though that might have been the most fitting description?

Also, we will go to great lengths to ensure all our customers that they enjoy our special attention and are treated with highest priority. In particular, we won’t tell them that we are negotiating with their competitors, too.

Right?

So can anyone tell me why apparently quite a few western man believe that this should be different for Thai bar girls? It just isn’t, and if they manage to make you think otherwise, it only shows that they must be damned good at their job. And thinking badly of a country and its inhabitants because some of them are excellent at their profession isn’t really fair, is it?

So when dealing with a bar girl, keep in mind that this is business and nothing but. Stay clear of the bar scene, if you don’t like it. But don’t be deterred from visiting Thailand because, like in all countries, there is a prostitution industry. Outside the main tourist spots, you will hardly notice that it exists unless you explicitly look for it.

As for scams and people “constantly trying to rob you of your money”: I can assure you that in this respect Thailand is not worse than most other places on earth. As a general rule: Where there are tourists, there will be con artists. If it is really that important for you that none of the natives will ever try to cheat or dupe you, then your choice of countries is basically limited to Switzerland, Japan, and maybe the odd Scandinavian country. (And yes, Jayson, I would prefer Japan over Thailand any day.) Maybe this really is a cultural thing, maybe it is simply because you are likely to have less money than the inhabitants of those countries anyway; I don’t know. But believe me: Unless you have written “gullible tourist” all over you, it is very well possible to move around Thailand without major hassle. Unlike in some other Asian countries, they will quickly leave you alone if you make it clear that you don’t intend to buy anything that you don’t need and don’t intend to fall for a scam, either.

I am travelling a lot, both for business and pleasure, but in all those years the only occasion I was ever cheated (and noticed it) was by a taxi driver in Buenos Aires. Which is, as we know, not in Thailand. He used the meter all right but switched it off just before we reached the destination and charged roughly twice the normal price. Back then, this trick was new to me. I wrote down his taxi’s license number and reported the incident to the police. Proud of their country and thus unhappy with their compatriot’s behaviour, they apologized for him, but I doubt that there were any consequences for the cabbie. So what.

Ok, back to Thailand. There is indeed one unpleasant trait in Thais that I haven’t found in any other country, at least not nearly to this extent. And this is what we would call “dishonesty” or “lying”.

Let’s, for the purpose of this submission, define “to lie” as “purposely not telling the truth with malicious intention”. Something that, if done, should give us a “bad conscience”.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert of Thai culture, so anybody feel free to correct me, but I have come to the conclusion that the Thai don’t have a concept of “lying” and “bad conscience”. In other words: If they are lying to you, they don’t have a feeling that they are doing something they shouldn’t do. It is important to note, as it was done in a previous submission, that this is in no way reserved for dealing with farangs.

But don’t get the wrong impression: In 99% of the cases, Thais will be completely honest. You just can never rely on it, no matter with whom you are dealing. While most people are honest most of the time, there doesn’t seem to be a single person who is honest all the time. So you always have to be on your guard.

As to why this is so, I can only speculate. Maybe in a hyper-materialistic (even the US pales in comparison), hyper-corrupt society like the Thai this is simply the best, maybe the only way how things can function. It is the end that counts, not the means. Which, of course, creates a chicken-and-egg problem: Are the Thai lying because their society demands it? Or is their society the way it is because everyone lies? I don’t know.

When trying to understand a foreign culture, I always find it interesting and revealing to look at the language. And what we see here is that Thai apparently does not have a word for “to lie”! Dictionaries usually translate “to lie” with “go hok”. But I have found that this does not convey the same meaning. When the weather forecast is completely off, we would not say that the weather service lied. When I tell my girlfriend that unfortunately I did not have the time to get something for her birthday only to surprise her later on, we would not normally call that a lie, either. But these are typical situations where Thai use the word “go hok”. “Saying something that is not true” rather than “lying” according to our definition.

(Digression: Interestingly enough, the Thai don’t seem to have a concept for “to miss somebody”, either. The translation usually given is “kit tueng”, which literally means “to think of”. And I have found that it is used exactly with this meaning, even though it does seem to be reserved for positive situations.)

Do I like this? Clearly, I don’t. But as I have already said on another occasion: Thais do have their very own system of values. It is just very different from ours. And who am I to judge what is good and what is bad, in an absolute sense?

Accept that, and you will be fine. Besides: If the rest of the world thought and acted exactly like you, wouldn’t life be boring?

Well, OW, to quote you: Nuff said!

I invite you to visit Thailand and find out for yourself what the country is really like. Don’t let a couple of negative submissions deter you. Stay clear of the tourist ghettos which are not different from like places anywhere in the world and won’t tell you anything about the country. Rent a car and explore the regions off the beaten track, in particular Isaan (sorry, Jayson). You will find that Thailand is a worthwhile, interesting and welcoming place to spend a few weeks of vacation. And nobody forces you to do more than that if you don’t like it.

Stickman's thoughts:

One thing I have found in Thailand is that spending more time with people away from the tourist infested areas gives you a better feel for the people and a much better impression of the country. The people in the tourist areas really seem to want to separate you from your hard earned. It has to be said that I have found people in the tourism industry in other countries to be quite different to this – and much less money hungry.