Appearances of Acceptance and Respect
Many visitors to Thailand have been overwhelmed by the initial appearance of a beautiful and exotic tropical locale, with friendly locals and an exciting lifestyle. Once they decide to move to Thailand and settle down, closer scrutiny shows that all is not what it appears to be. People react in different ways.
Some people settle into a bubble, living a western lifestyle in Thailand – barely acknowledging the change in locale. They don't learn Thai, don't live like Thai people, and send their kids to school with other ex-patriates. Others settle into a purely Thai lifestyle, moving out to the villages and adopting Thai ways and mannerisms.
Then there are those who get frustrated and decide that Thailand is a better place to visit than to live.
The difference, in my view, is whether that person keeps trying to look under the public facade which Thai people present to the world. Anyone who peeks behind the curtain will be as inevitably disappointed as Dorothy finding out the truth about the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz.
In this context, the question of acceptance and respect which Y Fever put forward can be seen as just another case of culture shock. He persists in thinking that behavior can create genuine respect or acceptance. That's just not true. Power and money is all it requires – good acts are just fluff.
How many stories have been published of a guy who did everything for his girlfriend/wife, her family, and the village – only to realize that past generosity has no bearing on the future? What matters is now and the future.
Imagine if someone were to show up at the village with millions and spends it by handing out thousands of dollars to every villager – leaving himself penniless. A second person shows up with the same amount but instead spends it on a big house, expensive import car, and spends his money only on his family/friends while giving the other residents nothing.
Which of them have more respect and acceptance? The guy who impoverished himself with acts of generosity or the guy who did nothing for the village but remains wealthy and an object of envy.
Faulty perception would lead someone to claim that the generosity leads to respect, but that's just wrong.
Taking that point of view further it is not uncommon for a criminal who has a lot of money from drugs, gambling, etc to be shown public respect and to be wai'd. So are we saying that Thai society respects all criminals? Of course not, but it is not unheard of for a criminal to treat his village with such generosity and do so much good that the people there will in fact turn their heads as to where the money comes from.
The above is a great example of faulty perception. The criminal in question does NOT have to treat the village with generosity to be shown public respect and to be wai'ed. The fact that he's wealthy and powerful is enough because people will show him respect out of fear. <VERY valid point this, respect out of fear, so common in these parts – Stick>
Movies about criminals ranging from gang members to Italian mobsters have been popular in America for decades. For Italian examples, think back to the Godfather, Goodfellas, or the HBO series the Sopranos. Does it matter whether the gangster in question had the veneer of good manners or slicks up his hair in the stereotypical fashion?
No. He's still a gangster. A gangster dressed up in a nice suit doesn't have any more acceptance or respect than a gangster in a track suit. He does engender similar levels of fear, and thus similar levels of public respect.
That's true in the west and it's true in Thailand.
People don't "accept" them but they will still show the criminals public "respect" out of fear. In the movies, the criminals are seen as hankering for "true acceptance", just like Y Fever thinks it matters to the bargirls (or the villagers) that "true acceptance" matters.
It doesn't. Only people who think there's such a thing as intrinsic value to the person (rather than the current location in the spectrum of power/money) would care about that. It's that western point of view again.
Again false respect is the same as no respect
Until you realize that this statement is completely foreign to the Thai mindset – you just don't get it.
Thai people just don't think that way, or else we wouldn't have the situation which has been well documented where obvious failures are ignored and ridiculous mistakes promulgated because it's unthinkable to make the person in superior position to lose face. When in Thailand, the appearance is all that matters. The boss must be "right" no matter how wrong and mistaken he is.
That bargirls and/or monger who moves to a village, lives quietly, and acts graciously to the rest of the village – they remain an ex-bargirl and monger. The locals won't ever make the mistake of forgetting what they are, and they will be polite enough not to mention it in your face (once they realize you understand Thai). But when they're in private – it's still going to be "Noi the ex-whore and John the monger". That's true no matter the behavior.
Be an extrovert or try to blend in – the locals know who you were and what you did. Whether they show you "acceptance" or "respect" is not contingent on your behavior. After all, that street vendor who has never been anything except ethical, morally upright, etc… is still considered the social inferior and less acceptable than a white collar Thai person who got to his position by cheating in school, lying to his employer, cheating on his wife, etc…
And I am very much in agreement with you.