Do the Thais Really Avoid Conflict?
Thailand is purported to have two very admirable attributes: 1. The Land of Smiles and 2. Thais avoid direct conflict and go out of their way to avoid arguments and unpleasantness. However, an email featured in Stick's August 31, 2009 column suggests
that some Thais are in fact eager to challenge foreigners even to the point of abuse and threats.
The complete email can be read at this link, under the heading “Get out You Dirty Foreigner!” To summarize, the author states that while watching a movie the Thais seated immediately next to him continued to answer and yap away on their mobile phones. He asks once very politely for them to be quiet but they continue. He then tells them to shut up and that’s when it hits the fan. The girl screams out that the ‘farang” has touched her in a vulgar manner and within seconds the Thai audience begins to scream “Get out dirty foreigner, etc.”
I have lived in Thailand for over six years and frequently observed how the Thais interact with each other and also with foreigners. If an older Thai male had politely requested that the girl not answer her phone, I believe that there is a high possibility that she would have immediately apologized or simply not replied. I do however believe that she would have stopped answering her phone and the chances of the Thai audience verbally abusing the guy would have been more that one in million or higher. But in Thai – foreigner disputes, in 99.9% of the incidents, there is ZERO downside for a Thai that decides to be the aggressor and a very good possibility that the Thai(s) involved will receive some financial compensation for their being “wronged.”
I personally witnessed a disturbing incident between an aggressive Thai and a foreigner; both were female, on the bus from Bangkok to Pattaya. In brief, the foreign girl reclines her seat and the Thai girl took offence, she immediately begins to scream “I can’t sit here now!” The situation was almost comical because the Thai girl was extremely petit and was sitting with her short legs crossed and up on her seat, so it wasn’t about leg room. The foreign girl ignores her, puts on her earphones and chills out. Refusing to allow the incident to deescalate, the Thai girl gets up, stands in front of the foreign girl and verbally abuses her. The lady bus conductor walks over slowly with that deer in the head lights look and asks the Thai girl what the problem is. Of course the problem is the “farang girl disrespecting her and making her uncomfortable” screams the little monster that is clearly aching for a scrap. The conductor hangs her head like a whipped dog and shuffles back to the front of the bus, never offering in any way to mediate the situation. The foreign girl is actually with a Thai guy, but he wants no part in this and he suddenly becomes fascinated with the stunning scenery, looks out his window and never utters one single word in his friend’s defense. It gets even more ugly with the Thai girl stomping her foot and pointing her finger in the foreign girl's face, resembling a scene right out of a Thai TV series. Finally the foreign girl puts her seat fully upright, but her tormentor has worked herself up to such a rage that she continues to hurl abuse for a couple of minutes before returning to her seat. But it ain’t over yet. When the bus arrives at the Pattaya station, the Thai girl leaps out of her seat, blocks the foreign girl’s way and screams some more insults at her before triumphantly walking down the aisle and exiting the bus. When the foreign girl stood up, she had a good 12 to 14 inches in height advantage and an athletic build – she could have defended herself, no problem <Against one Thai, yes, but not against those who surely would have joined in – Stick>. But the Thai girl had no fear and was clearly seeking a physical confrontation.
I could offer more examples from personal experience, one being a Thai paying for a relatively cheap meal with a 1,000 baht note at one of those impromptu side walk restaurants. The Thai vendor may jokingly say “There is a 7-11 right over there, or just silently accept it and ask nearby vendors for change. I saw one older foreign gentleman ask if it was ok to pay his bill with a 1,000 baht note as he had just come from the ATM. The Thai vendor went ballistic. His face became apoplectic and he screamed “Do you think I am a bank? What is wrong with you? Idiot!” Even a few of the other Thai dinners looked uncomfortable upon hearing this unnecessary outburst; however, most continued eating as if nothing had happened.
Yes, I do see foreigners behaving unacceptably in Thailand and I abhor their lack of manners and the damage it does to our overall reputation. Yes just because we are foreigners does not entitle us to preferential treatment and privileges. But if, as I often hear, “We are guests in this country” I am no longer sure what that means. If I am a guest, do I not deserve to be treated as one? If I am invited to someone's home, does the host have the right to abuse and mistreat me for no valid reason? And if I am allowed to live in Thailand long term, at what point will I no longer be considered as a guest and actually become a resident and not singled out for abuse simply because there is no downside for mistreating a foreigner?
Ah, mai pen rai. What I really need is a good slap and for someone to remind me that if I don’t like it here in The Land of Smiles I can leave.
That scene on the bus is quite disgusting. Sadly, events like this are proving more and more common these days. Some days I don't want to venture behind my usual haunts because I just don't know what hassles I will meet. Really.