Readers' Submissions

What To Wear and Where To Walk

  • Written by Anonymous
  • February 12th, 2010
  • 12 min read


What to wear, it is not a problem I have usually had in my life, but upon marriage and thereafter it did matter.

Going out to visit a friend of my wife, family friends of father, the local agricultural field day, village sports, school open / sports / fundraising days, local health centre fundraising days, elections for the or bat tor, trips to town and of course the multitude of relatives, these functions require a certain level of attire.

Of course some readers will denounce my acquiescing to these standards, the inevitable reply “why should I worry or bother” would be the mantra, “I am a farang”. But it does matter if you are not to cause a loss of face to the family, if your in-laws or partner are not worried about this, that is their standard.

Stick has written before about the stick he sometimes gets for his interpretation on things in Thai society, if you are with a girl from outside the p4p, he is spot on regarding these matters, I have found.

It took me a while to realize the importance of what to wear, but where to walk is common sense. My wife certainly would never walk down a street with bars aimed at farangs! WHY? Because it devalues her in others' eyes. Is she being a snob? Yes she is but it is her belief and seriously in most societies, as most would admit, a girl from a certain background sitting with prostitutes is not going to happen.

Yes I visit some bars aimed at farangs hoping for some good conversation but always alone. What would my wife talk at a farang bar about? What would she have to talk to bargirls about? Nothing is the answer of course.

Of course when she worked in a shopping centre, a prostitute’s earnings were far in excess of hers.

In the early stages of marriage it seems a never ending list of “show off” the son in law seems to take place.

When the action starts around the house, a trip is being planned, the car is being checked over or it went in to the service centre the day before, an impromptu visit to one of father’s friends is to take place, ok, I watch to see the level of dress that is being prepared. It's important. No jeans today – it's slacks, good sandals, collared shirt. Should I just give up and buy a bloody safari suit? I am starting to understand why middle-aged and old Thai men always seem to have one or two in the cupboard.

The Agricultural Open Day

Festive feeling around the place. It's so exciting it’s off to the water board’s land, it’s the agricultural open day, chicken catching, som tam making competitions and of course, the speed plowing of the rice field.

What is the dress for such a day I wonder, surely not slacks, the nai amphur’s number 2 and the heads of the agricultural mob and irrigation mob will be there, watch father in law’s preparation, yessss it's older trousers for him, so it's jeans for me, collared shirt of course, and number 3 sandals.

Where will we be sitting? It will not be in the first 2 marquee shelters I think, because otherwise it would be slacks and safari suit. Yes, it's marquee 3, lower level types, middle management only, some easy wais there, no losing face there. I should have met most of them before, no surprises.

Happily I sit in the fourth row in the marquee 3 and it seems I am miles away from the official party. The gossip siren starts and it’s a recently returned bargirl with her visiting farang. Oh, he has her son on his shoulders as he walks around. Where is the bargirl’s ex-husband and father of the child? Oh there he is!, standing less than 30 metres away. Has the child been briefed not to acknowledge his father?! The child is doing well, because he lives with the father most of the time!

That’s brightened up the day for those not really interested in the new rice planting machine. It's nice and white and obviously very good but I don’t understand how it works.

Classless, Thai society is definitely not, and even at such a day aimed at farmers, people know where they have to sit, the masses sit on the opposite side of the open central field, no marquees there, no girls bringing the drinks of iced water and iced tea that is happening in marquee 1, lounge chairs placed on carpet in the middle of a field, plastic chairs down my way.

I lay odds in my head as the farmers prepare for the speed plowing. It's got be one of the older boys, wiry experienced sun browned faces. Father in law disagrees, saying it will be the younger lad on the end, the old boys let me down. It's young lads first and second.

The som tam cooking starts, 4 teams, with 2 cooks, some helpers and their own dancing team. There is not only a prize for the som tam but their team of dancers as well. Each team dances to song about som tam, then the cook off starts, its on, oops there is khun Pap, drunk already, attired in his safari suit (he wears that to all functions it seems). Oh shit he is on his way over to me, beauty cut off at the pass by the mother in law. Now to make my escape to look at the chickens for the next event.

Chicken catching time, oh what is happening, I have heard my name mentioned by someone from the or bat tor to my wife, “the gum nun wants you to go in the chicken catching”. What! is my angry reply, “Oh they would really love it.” Oh, bloody hell a surreptitious husband farang competition is it, “nooo that farang is not invited”.

But I have my jeans on, and my number 3 sandals I say, no problem she says “we can buy new ones and you don’t wear your sandals.” Now I know she really wants me to go in the contest, I will be barefoot in public, something I would never be allowed to do, the Thai boys who are to compete look like they have been on whiskey for two days and they are definitely not in their number 3 sandals.

What is the protocol I ask. “Just your normal polite way” she says. Ok so it’s a beautiful wai to the organizer, a wai to the audience outside of each quadrant of the cage, ooohs from them, perfect manners win the day. Ok I will not really try to catch one of the chickens. I am up against farm boys and they look hungry and no way do I want to fall over in that dirty straw. Luck is on my side as a chicken is chased and it comes straight past me. It's going to get trapped in the corner, a collision and a Thai boy runs into my side, 65 kilos hits 92, one result only, cheers and ooohs from the crowd as he hits the straw, chicken in my hands, roars from the crowd, single handed wai (watch the police do a wai salute and it's easy to do) with chicken under one arm to the crowd, face maintained, and not a mark on my jeans.

One of my wife’s innumerable cousins brings water to wash my feet. Number 3s back where they should be and a chicken to give away. No the poor little b*stard was served up for my evening meal.

Farang’s chicken catching exploits, and the bargirl’s latest farang visitor were the topics around the local market the next day apparently. I know which I would prefer to be talked about for.

What to wear becomes easy after a while, a traditional girl’s primer will now follow.

Former boss of father in law / lots of brass or power = number 1 trousers, number 1 shirt, shoes and socks.

School principals / one or two star police / gum nun = number 1 of all, sandals not shoes.

Elections = number 2 until the count then it could be number 1s depending on where you must sit or stand.

Relatives / trips to town = jeans, shirt and sandals.

The rest of required appearances would be covered by shorts, shirt and sandals, never unshaven, never half boozed.

Farangs walking about the place without shirts, no shoes on, obviously boozed, no it's not {attaya but a provincial town, no manners, or is it their partners not caring about what their farang does, and showing their social status?

What do your actions say about your Thai partner?

What I write below will of course offend some people. It is not meant to do that but people will of course have their own opinions.

Sitting in a farang bar with your partner denotes to most Thais where you met her. Watch their interactions. The local police come past the bars and there is your non bargirl wife sitting there. Well she is relegated straight to that level of Thai society where no traditional girl wants to be. The police will wonder why they do not recognize her as a bargirl, but maybe think she is new on the game. If the policeman is a friend of the family, or a former subordinate of the father in law, all horrors would be let loose, some non p4p girls want to look at the scene, but to my experience that is very few.

You're sitting in the bar, and the beer delivery boy comes in with the new order. Yes, it is a friend of your wife’s little brother. You know his face and he goes on the classic motorcycle runs with the little brother, so if he sees a bargirl sitting next to you he is duty bound to tell his friend as they have been friends since the year they started school then technical college and now as lads about town.

Yes that beer delivery boy knows all the bargirls and the money they can earn, but I know his girlfriend works at Makro. Even a lad of his menial work makes his standards known.

The Thai owner / manager of the bar, once she realizes you can converse a little bit in Thai will try to ascertain information about you. She will ask where your wife is. Will she come to meet you here? The reply from me must be “she does not like farang bars” which ends the questions. Never again will she ask about your wife for it is pointless. The owner / manager was only trying to ascertain what p4p area your wife hails from.

Sitting outside the airport, having a cigarette with the some of the relatives, one of the relatives starts a conversation with a policeman, airport security or Thai airman. Suddenly you're not just a farang but a member of a good family. When you go out later for another cigarette it is smiles from that man, so your manners must be impeccable to him, and even start a small conversation about the weather, just to show you're happy to know him, even for a period of a few minutes.

What would his view of you be if the next time you walked outside, you did not wai a monk or were slightly boozed, “Oh that nice family why do they have such an ignorant b*stard for a son in law”. You don’t care what that man thinks? Well it shows nothing but pure ignorance on your behalf.

Outside of the p4p areas, mor lams, night clubs, most Thais you meet would really like to interact with you. Can you finish your sentence in Thai with krap? “If you do not, Thais would think “why would such a nice girl not teach her husband to speak politely” would be their thoughts, and of course your wife would admonish you with a reminder about good manners. It is her losing face, not you. If your wife does not care, well it tells Thais many things real and imagined about her.

You are sitting in any government department / bank and a farang or his partner sitting close to you uses some lovely Thaiglish, do not look at them. Look at the staff’s reaction if you can. It tells some wonderful things, even if the Thaiglish speaking girl is covered in gold or is making a large business transaction the staff will never respect her. What would your traditional girl’s reaction be to you using awful Thai language or Thaiglish be in that place? The loss of face would be immeasurable to her and she would want to beat a very hasty retreat.

To those who are happy with the “I am a farang” mantra, the “I do not care” mantra, the above views would be wasted or irrelevant to you and if you have a Thai partner you have set your standards, but remember that it does reflect on those who do care.

Stickman's thoughts:

There is a lot of truth in what you say and I agree with most of it in general. The one thing I will say is that Thais are generally quite forgiving, initially at least. If you're marked as someone new to Thailand you will be given some leeway but once it's known you've been around for a while the expectation from them is that you will make a degree of effort not just to fit in, but dare I say, conform. And conformity is not a word a lot of Westerners who havesought out a new life in Thailand like.