Readers' Submissions

Truth: A Relative Concept




As I get older I find myself getting more contemplative, especially after a beer or two. And living here, meeting people of different nationalities and from different backgrounds with whom I would never have had this level of interaction back home, I have plenty to contemplate.

Like many Westerners (I suspect) I have a fairly well developed concept of ‘truth’ but realise that the delivery of the ‘truth’ often has to be tempered to suit the situation. An example is the common question by a wife or girlfriend ‘Does my ass look big in this?’ and no, I never did find the right answer to that question.

I worked for thirty years in a profession where it was often in someone’s best interests to avoid the truth, so I am not naive (rather perhaps too cynical), but as I contemplate now (yes, after a couple of beers) I realise that the behaviour of many people I have met here has been an eye-opener. And here I am not talking about the ex-pat fantasists, but my Asian friends. What has surprised me has been the total acceptance of untruths (lies) as just another way to get the business done. At least if I lie (and we all do) I recognise it as such and usually feel some degree of guilt – which is sometimes minimised or vanquished by rationalisation.

Someone far cleverer than me once said ‘A lie is a sin in the sight of the Lord – and an ever-present friend in times of need’. Quite. But maybe (wild generalisation here) at least many Westerners realise that they have lied and rationalise it away to a greater or lesser degree. In my limited experience some Asians can lie and pay it no thought whatsoever.

Some examples:

– I have a Bangladeshi friend who has lived and worked here for several years. He is a barman, and a really nice guy. A practising and observant Muslim. I was surprised when one day last year, at 8 am, he knocked on my door. He was wearing a suit, and needed my help to tie his necktie. (I didn’t know he owned a suit, and perhaps he doesn’t.) He really was spruce and shining. We talked, and he told me that he was going to the capital to get married that morning. Wow! I didn’t even know he had a girlfriend! He didn’t have a girlfriend, or rather he did, but this wasn’t the girl he was marrying. No, he had carefully saved up from his (not generous) wages and tips and had found – through the underground grapevine here – a winning combination of a ‘specialist’ lawyer and a temporarily unmarried British woman. She is, I understand, substantially older than him but luckily for him was short of money. So he met her once, paid her ‘sin sot’ (ha ha) and is now the lawful spouse of a UK/EU citizen. He has not seen her since the wedding, but is now working and saving for the necessary visas/passport. Importantly, he can stay here ad infinitum (they won’t deport the spouse of an EU citizen) and his ‘real’ British girlfriend has moved here to join him.

He is thoughtful, intelligent and articulate, and we have discussed this situation. To him it was merely a necessity, a business transaction, that he needed to do to ensure that he could stay here rather than move back to reduced circumstances in his home country. And yes, of course, he supports parents back home.

– I have a Filipina friend. A nice, hard-working woman with entrepreneurial spirit and a long-term resident here. She now has, I understand, ‘refugee’ status (she may have used the same lawyer as my Bangladeshi friend). She is honest and fairly open. For many years she has been in love with a Bangladeshi guy (coincidence) she met here and lived with. But he was over his visa, got caught, deported and ‘blacklisted’. She has a plan, and has so far carried it out with precision and determination. First, she earned, saved and borrowed money until she had the required capital (I understand that it was about €3,000, including a last minute price hike). I was asked to contribute to the fund but declined. Then she found a young (10 years+ younger than her) Eastern European guy short of money but with an EU passport. She already had the lawyer, and married the love of her life late last year. They don’t live together, of course, but she keeps some old clothes in his flat and he keeps some old clothes in her flat. They both have lots of wedding photos on display, so if Immigration comes knocking at the door everything looks kosher. She is now safe here as the spouse of an EU citizen and is working on visa/passport. When that is achieved, they will divorce and she can marry her Bangladeshi boyfriend. Who will then, of course, be the spouse of an EU passport-holder …

When I looked askance at all this and tried to discuss it with my Filipina friends (and when I refused to donate to the fund) it seemed as if I was the crazy one. What couldn’t I understand about the necessity of all this to achieve the objective?

– Another Filipina friend. She is on her third visit here. Twice before, she has been caught by Immigration because of visa problems (the rules here can be brutal), deported and ‘blacklisted’. No problem, she is on her third name and third set of passport and papers. It is just an economic necessity …

– A Thai friend. She has worked at a Chinese/Thai restaurant here for 20 years continuously. Not bad going when the maximum visa/work permit is 4 years. And she is not even Thai, she’s from Laos (but the Cypriot owners don’t know this and she has seen no reason to tell them). She is married to a Cypriot BUFF (big ugly fat f****er) bigamously (him not her) who treats her as a source of money, food and casual sex. (And he tried to hit on her daughter, but that’s another story and he won’t do it again as long as he values his testicles.) Recently she’s put pressure on him so she can obtain an EU passport but he is very reluctant. I am not surprised, because this is a small town and last time they went to Immigration they found that the clerk was a distant cousin. She was a little disconcerted, being good friends with BUFF’s Cypriot wife and adult son and more than a little surprised to find that BUFF also had a Thai ‘wife’ of several years standing. ‘Mia Noi’ has no legal standing here …

But as far as my Thai friend is concerned, there’s nothing wrong, except that maybe she should have chosen a better BUFF who could have facilitated the visa/passport process better. (In the meantime life for her continues as ever. Immigration call the restaurant before they call for an ‘unannounced spot check’ and she gets an unplanned day off).

– A former Filipina girlfriend (28 going on 13) has met the new love of her life. They are to be married next week (about three weeks after they met). He is an EU citizen. I wish her well, she really is a nice girl but needs someone (a father figure?) to look after her. We spoke on the phone and a thought occurred to me. She is illegal here, and as part of the marriage process she has to go to Immigration and the court and be certified as a legal resident. No problem, she told me, she has a good lawyer (see above) and all is now sorted. I asked her if she wasn’t worried because it was all based on lies. The question (to quote another poster here) ‘did not compute’.

What prompted this submission? Two issues really.

One, I have (or may not have) a Thai ‘girlfriend’ I met here (she’s currently back in Thailand). I have no idea what the future may hold, but I would really like to take her to the UK (to meet my family) and to France and Spain (to see some of her family and friends) and of course for her to come here (meet her friends) and back and forward to Thailand. The visa problems are daunting and expensive. I have got used (as a Brit passport holder) to being able to travel fairly freely and I find it demeaning and annoying to have to justify why I would want to take my girlfriend to the UK to meet my family. I can understand why my friends in the examples above decide to ‘play the system’ to get around the crap.

Two, and this worries me more. I am generally honest and straightforward, although no saint. Certainly in any relationship I believe that it can only succeed if there is honesty, trust and a willingness to discuss and sort out problems. But even allowing for Thai ‘saving face’ and ‘mai pen rai’ (and I can understand and allow for those concepts) could I deal with what (in my experience anyway) can be a total disregard for the truth?

Stickman's thoughts:

Some say that to make a relationship work in these parts you have to overlook certain things – translation: you have to accept untruths. In certain circumstances I can understand why people lie such as when they were put in a very awkward or embarrassing situation, but when they lie to cover deceit it becomes a different situation. So much of it goes back to face, reputation and a real unwillingness to take responsibility for one's own actions.