Readers' Submissions

Think Like A Thai?

  • Written by CutThroat
  • April 11th, 2006
  • 7 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

So what’s the problem? Why so many troubles in Thailand? What is the focus that is eventually thrown out when discussing (complaining) of all of our hardships in the land of smiles (I wonder when Thailand will decide that re-branding might be an option).

Ah yes, it’s the people! This Thai doesn’t think like you want them to, this person doesn’t charge what you think they should, this person doesn’t have the values that you think they should posses. And the million dollar question that everyone is asking even though some of you don’t know it. Is it their fault or is it yours?

Well, if you're looking for an answer you’ve come to the wrong place, as I don’t have an answer for you on that, and I probably would need to do PHD level research to even scratch the surface of an answer. But I can give you some of my thoughts, Thais don’t think like you and that is because they are Thai, and you are not. Simple, huh!

I am guessing that one day, I will probably understand the vast majority of the way they think and act, but will I decide to use that knowledge to adopt, maybe, assimilate, I hope not. I like the way I think and what I value, maybe it's better or maybe it's worse than the Thais, I don’t know. But it’s my favorite!

Sure I learned the language to a level that I can hold a conversation, and only have to guess at a few words. And yes after 4 years I am curious on a daily basis about most things in Thailand, and always enjoy learning something new.

But when I take a step back, look at the two, I am almost positive I definitely will never make a willful decision to try and think like a Thai. For me it’s just not appealing and I will always have a funny smirk on my face, when I listen to some farang tell me that you need to think like a Thai to understand them (and yes I am using farang in a negative context as they often do).

The smirk is usually accompanied by a WTF thought in the back of my head. So mate what are you trying to tell me “I need to think like a person to understand them”. I don’t think so, you only have to understand how they think, to understand them. Usually this is coming from some guy living in Nakon something or the other, and thinks that if you live for a couple of months there, you know it all, “the real Thailand” damn you practically are Thai, except for that pale complexion. Funny enough though, that lecture is usually followed by complaints about girlfriend, wife, family of said people, or all of the above, and all of the reasons why they are just falling below his expectations.

Here are some words of wisdom for all those people in Nakon something or other, or have limited experience with middle / upper class Thais.

Saw a submission recently on the site stating all Thais like gold. Wrong. Some would rather have flat screen TVs or restaurants. But I would agree that all poor Thais like gold.

My girlfriend is middle / upper class, and she thinks gold is ugly as jewelry, and even if she did like it and wear it, it wouldn’t help in the least to impress her friends, as gold jewelry is small money unless you are talking about Thais in the lower economic class. Think about it, what kind of face are you gaining wearing some 15,000 baht necklace, when your friend picks you up in a 5 series BMW.

Wanna know why your girlfriend's family just calls you farang? Because they are too lazy to remember your name. Trust me, you can eat all the khao niew you want, but they don’t respect you in the least bit if they can’t be bothered to remember your name.

Wanna know why some middle class Thai guy with the Isaan girlfriend / wife doesn’t get called “hey, you guy” at the dinner mat, because he would know they were disrespecting him, and his girlfriend / wife would pay dearly for it.

My all time favorite question, why do they always treat us like ATMs?

Alas, most foreigners that have only been here a short time or only have contact with people from the lower economic class, don’t understand that Isaan people don’t treat foreigners much different than they treat middle / upper class Thais in many respects, except that they perceive foreigners to be more stupid ( i.e. ATMs with an easier PIN code to guess). What I am saying is you're not an ATM because of your skin, it's because you have money, and that’s it. The skin color is just easier to spot from a distance (i.e. your ATM is just better lit).

My girlfriend is part of a big Chinese Thai family, with some extended family through marriages coming from Isaan. These Isaan family members are always treating the middle class Bangkok members like walking ATMs. Most of the situations I have seen don’t even compare to the stories foreigners have told me.

Some niece being invited to stay at a home in Bangkok, where they would steal other niece’s expensive underwear and bras, then lie about it afterwards.

Then there are the adults, middle aged son or daughter from Isaan will take out a big loan against the father’s land, with no intention of repaying it. Then he will cry to the sister married to the middle class Bangkok husband that they should pay off the loan or their father will lose the land, and mother and father will be throw out into the fields.

I have seen and heard enough to last me a lifetime when it comes to the deceit that poor Thais will go to, to better their financial standings.

In my country, I have come across plenty of people (more than I ever expect to in Thailand), that were poor but wouldn’t trade their integrity or self respect for a million dollars.

But that just isn’t the culture in rural Thailand, of course there are a few that hold things above money, but the vast majority of them would trade there children, their respect and anything else, for a couple of hundred thousand baht.

And for what I always ask myself, and I have only come to one conclusion up till now.

To gain face amongst all the other ignorant morally depleted members in their community. Yes the urban middle class Thais have there problems to, but the rural population is a large percent of the whole, and thus represents a good sampling of the overall way of thinking.

And so, do I want to think like a Thai? What do you think?

I think Thailand is a wonderful place for the curious, a headache for the stubborn, and a heart attack waiting to happen for the impatient.

Eat their som tom, laugh with them and be generous when you can, smile when it costs you nothing, but hold on to things that you valued before, and don’t let the smell of burning chilies suffocate you until you are imagining you are one of them.

And always remember….Thailand will not change for you!

Stickman's thoughts:

My mother in law lives in Korat and she often talks about "them people from Isaan", referring to the far flung provinces, and particularly the people in the rural areas. She tells me stories of poor rural Thais ripping off other rural Thais – and some of the stories are really ugly. One story I heard was about a successful son who managed to break out of the poverty cycle and who did well for himself, earning a good salary in the oil industry. His parents asked him for money to buy a block of land and he sent it, several hundred thousand baht. He considered the purchase of land to be a sensible investment, and a way to make more money through farming. Months later he went to visit his parents. They hadn't bought the block of land, but a shiny new pickup truck! He was seriously pissed!