Thailand Is The France Of Asia
I have been living and working in Thailand for nearly 5 years now. Having worked for an English, an Australian, an American and a Singaporean company, I’ve had the chance to experience different working styles and cultures. I’ve also traveled
in the region and throughout Northern Europe. I am originally from the USA, having lived all around the country before moving to Thailand.
It has struck me more than once that Thailand is to Asia as France is to Europe. It does strike me a bit ironic to make that comparison because Thais refer to foreigners as Farang and the French are known as Farang Sed. I think there are three reasons Thailand can be compared to France. Let’s start with the strongest comparison: food.
Like the French, the Thais take their food seriously. In France it is not uncommon to have a long, social sit down dinner with many courses for dinner. This may be true in many European countries but the French are stereotyped as being a ‘foodie,’ with tastes for delicacies. I believe Thais are serious foodies as well with very demanding palates. Thai people are always surprised and happy when they see foreigners eat Thai food… maybe that’s a little different than the French but the food connection remains strong. The French have their cheeses, the Thais have their different curries and dipping sauces, the pla ra and chili pastes… Even though the Thais were never colonized by the French, one can argue that they are more food obsessed than the Cambodians and the Vietnamese. Thais take eating very seriously, and one way to incur the wrath of a Thai person is to keep them waiting too long for a meal. My wife has an expression for this, mohor hew, which translates to “Angry hungry”!
A second comparison to the French is the labor law and practices in Thailand. It is my experience that the labor laws in Thailand are generally very employee protective. Taking into account items like mandatory severance payments, Thailand is much more generous than neighboring countries. If there is any challenge between employees and employer, the former can go to the Labor Court and generally there will be a settlement worked out to create a compromise. Employee benefits are well known in France: the 36 hour work week, 30 days of vacation per year, retiring at 58 years while all of France’s neighbors have more strict employment terms. I could also draw the comparison of working culture and working styles, it has been my impression that in both France and Thailand there is an easygoing work attitude – that is not to say that people are not working hard or even long hours – but the level of stress in the office is generally low. Even under high pressure situations, I find that in the Thai office people make time so that everybody can take lunch together and regularly celebrate birthdays for other co-workers.
Another aspect to culture between the French and the Thais is the propensity to protest, at least in recent times. During the past 2 years in Thailand there have been the Yellow Shirts shutting down the airport, and the Red Shirts at Central World, Sanam Luang, and Rajprasong. The disruptions impeded road traffic as well as the skytrain and subway lines. In France, there have been public transportation strikes, truck delivery strikes and fuel delivery strikes. This was over proposals to change the terms and conditions of employment including raising the age of retirement.
There is also the issue of language. The French are well known of preferring to speak their own language even in spite of knowing other European languages. Part of this may be due to better comfort and proficiency in their first language but another part comes from national pride. I believe the same issues are at play within Thailand. I have attended several meetings where the meeting is held in Thai even though all participants are very strong English speakers. They don’t mind switching into English but certainly strongly prefer speaking Thai.
National pride for the mother language comes through in some of the local laws. In France there are requirements by law on the percentage of broadcast communications (radio, TV, newsprint) that must be in French. Similarly in Thailand business must display their sign in Thai script as well as in English or they will be charged a much higher business license rate (this was told to me by a bar owner, I am not 100% sure if it is accurate.) <Yes, this is true – Stick> It wouldn’t surprise me if Thailand had policies on the minimum percentage of broadcast communications that are to be in Thai.
I think it would be safe to say that both the French and the Thais have a very large sense of national pride and are fairly national centric in their thinking. France does have an extended sphere of influence through the former colonies so there are French traveling and residing around the world. Thai people tend to me more nation centric and most of the journeys taken abroad follow those of very influential Thais, whether business people or royals. When I casually ask my Thai colleagues if they would like to travel to Myanmar, Cambodia or Laos I get some strange looks. Most want to go to Europe (Switzerland or Paris), or Hong Kong for shopping, or the USA (Niagara Falls, New York City, San Francisco).
Perhaps the reason for being more nation-centric is due to the fact that Thailand was never colonized, and that France was threatened by two of her neighbors (England and Germany) so a “stick together as a country” attitude was born.
Whatever the reason, I think it is safe to refer to Thailand as the France of Asia!
Interesting. I always thought Thailand was sort of like Italy is in Europe, but you make a good case that it is perhaps more like France.