Readers' Submissions

The Truth About Thailand And Her Citizens Part 4

  • Written by Lookpapa
  • April 7th, 2006
  • 7 min read


By Lookpapa (the Sage)

I’ve had a submission on this site recently, entitled “The meaning of love”, which would nicely fit into this series, but we need to examine this and other terms of endearment the Thais might use to “compliment” us, farangs.

It’s quite normal to hear someone greet you on entering, with “kitung Khun”, which means, missed you, in English. It may have only been a short time ago that you last saw them, they still declare it with great gusto, as if you were some long lost relative suddenly reappearing from the wilderness.

If you’re used to visiting certain waterholes as a regular, on your next arrival you’re certain to be greeted like this with a big hug by the mamasan. While it’s gratifying to know that your presence is appreciated and valued, after a few occasions it starts to grate on you as something extremely insincere and boring.

In general terms it’s usual for Thais to compliment you all the time, such as when you utter a few words of Thai, and they say you’re “kaeng” (smart), the problem is they can’t carry it off in a plausible manner. After all, you only said a couple of Thai words, probably with the inappropriate tones, but they compliment you as if you were a native speaker. I personally compliment people when I mean it, they do it as a polite way of trying to butter you up! In the long term they actually achieve the exact opposite, showing themselves as insincere individuals, trying to endear themselves to you. <I think you're being unreasonably harsh here. Encouragement can go a long way and they are happy that you have made an effort to learn their languageStick>

I certainly don’t mean that all Thais are insincere, but there are so many of them who are, that you can almost say that this is a national trait. Perhaps they do this because they’re trying to second guess what you want to hear. Most of us in the West say what we feel, albeit with some diplomacy. Inane flattery does not go down well with intelligent people.
So now we come to uttering those romantic words, like “Raak Khun Mahk”, I love you so much, in English. I don’t believe that Thai couples courting, dating, having a dalliance, use these words in the same way as we do in the West. In fact, I’d say they use it a lot less than we do, and certainly with less passion. I think Thai people are less demonstrative in their declarations of love, devotion, and outspokenness and more reserved in “wearing their hearts on their sleeves”.

The dynamics change when a Thai woman gets romantically involved with a farang. In this scenario, the farang expects a response to his romantic advances in a fashion similar to what he is used to back home.

The onus is now on the Thai woman to reassure the farang man that she loves him dearly and this does not come easy and naturally to her lips.

Nevertheless, she knows what is expected and what he needs to hear, so now we hear the often repeated “raak mahk” (love you). The problem is that sometimes she can not make it sound too convincing, as it’s not natural for her to reveal her innermost feelings. So, in this case, even if the love is real, the words you hear are somewhat less than genuine, because they’re said for effect rather than a natural outpouring of emotion.

Incidentally, I’ve been blissfully married for the last seven years to my wonderful Thai wife and I know for a fact that she loves me, because she demonstrates it daily. However, on occasions when the circumstances warrant it, she tells me “raak mahk” or “I love you”, yet on hearing it I know that she says it because she knows sometimes I want to hear it. I, on the other hand, frequently and freely tell her that I love her and she just smiles, like “you don’t have to say it, I know it already”.

So there is the difference in cultures, I declare my feelings whenever I think it’s appropriate and she tells me what she thinks I want to hear. Fortunately, in our case, what she thinks I want to hear is actually factual, but in Thailand in many cases it’s an illusion.

Those of you who are partaking in the night time pleasures of the Kingdom, should be particularly weary of hearing the above expressions. The Thai people in the entertainment industry are experts in making you feel the most important, most loved, most appreciated client coming to their establishments.

They are illusionists of the highest caliber! That is why western men flock there in droves.

I think it’s is absolutely great that we can have these wonderful romantic illusions, to help us out in times of stress, depression, dreary jobs, broken marriages, frantic lifestyles, etc. It can be a temporary respite, a way to recharge your batteries, to give yourself a break from your daily western pressured existence. But there are inherent dangers in this, when reality and illusion get mixed up, and you lose your senses, reasoning and logic. So beware of the “Paak Wan" sweet mouth) type of catchphrases, they are alluring and dangerous for your state of mind.

Basically what I’m saying is, that in Thailand you don’t take anything at face value, you have to have reservations and accept everything with a “grain of salt”.

Beware of Thais bearing gifts!

I’d also like to add my observations in relation to the concept of friendship with Thais. I’ve had more than 25 years of interaction with the country, by way of business, family, cultural exchanges, and living there for a number of years. I have some Thai "friends” (puan), acquaintances, business associates, colleagues but never ever made one true friend, whom I could rely on in thick and thin, share intimate experiences with, cry on their shoulders or get them to be opening up to me in their times of need. Most of my Thai “friends” like to spend some time with me, going out for “sanuk” times at night, golf or whatever pastimes they like, but that’s as far as it goes, it’s nice but not the deep and meaningful friendships that lots of farangs have with their western counterparts.

I’ve come to the conclusions that my Thai friends are not capable of the close friendships which are possible between western people, as they’re constricted by their customs of “Face”, “Kreng jai”, both of which preclude them to be open and honest in an truly close relationship. You may remember a movie, called “Love Story”, in which the 2 romantic leads say to each other, that love means never having to say sorry. I always interpreted that as meaning that you can be totally open to your loved one and not feel sorry about saying things, because your love for each other is so strong it’s never called into question, no matter what disagreements or temporary spats you might be having. In a friendship with a Thai, you’d always have to be mindful of ensuring not having him lose face, not stepping on his Thai sensibilities and vice versa. It can produce a nice and civil relationship, without any outward dramas suitable for a non confrontational Thai style existence; you as a farang may wish for something deeper than that. I guess in this respect the cultural divide can’t be overcome.

Until next time…….

Stickman's thoughts:

"I guess in this respect the cultural divide can’t be overcome." These words are spot on.