Readers' Submissions

Kowtow To Thais

  • Written by Titus
  • September 21st, 2011
  • 9 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I read with grat sadness Stickman's latest column, which I felt offered disastrously wrong advice on how to get along with Thais, and I wanted to offer a different perspective.

Basically, Stickman is saying that you have to placate Thais in order to avoid getting into serious trouble. What fear mongering! Basically, standing up for yourself or even *being yourself* can put you in danger, and the only way to avoid this is to kowtow to Thais (*not trying to be alarmist*, says Stickman).

Stupendoiusly, stupendously, disastrous advice. Words cannot even express just how disastrous this advice is (sorry Stickman).

I cringe when I read this stuff – words like placate, appease. The words of somone with low self-esteem. I think there are two points to be made here. One, if Thailand really were like this, then no self-respecting human being would choose to live there. Period. If you have to give up this much to live in Thailand, and must kowtow to your *hosts* in this grovelling manner, then you owe it to yourself to choose somehwere else to live (of course, Thailans is not like this at all, or we wouldnt be here).

But even worse, in a wonderfully ironic way, it is precisely THIS attitude that makes Thais think they can take advantage of you to being with! In other words, you are bringing on yourself the bad treatment of Thais by your grovelling demeanor (and lets finally stop pretending its all or even most Thais, its just a rather smallihs bad element of Thais)! No one respects those who dont respect themselves. If you constantly sginal that you are weak, you will naturally attract predators. If you make clear you lack self-resepct, others will treat like you like dirt. It's normal, and its hardly limited to Thailand.

And thats maybe the bigger point. By being grovelling you bring on yourself almost all the bad stuff you read about in Thailand. By the simple expedient of having self-respect you would make about 80% of this stuff go away.

I found the example of HD particularly amusing. Now, Ive never had trouble at that place, and Ive been there dozens of times. I find its reputation for danger to be just so much sensationalism, but whatever. Lets say your expreience is different and you keep on running into trouble there. Well, let me say two things 1) You are FAR more likely to get into trouble by grovelling, like Stickmans pathetic friend who has no self-respect, and 2) If people just keep messing with you even when you are in the right, the solution is to STOP GOING to HD, not to start grovelling!

There is just something grotesque about people advising you to start grovelling in order to go to HD, or even to stay in Thailand.

Is it a conincidence that Stickman regularly advises people to kowtow to Thais, and that his submissions column is replete with submissins of people who were taken advantage and generally treated like shit by Thais? Do you think there might be a connection here?

The problem is larger than just Stickman and is a major theme of the ex-pat literature on Thailand. The basic message of the majority of *how to live in Thailand* guides is in one war or another, its up to you to appease the Thais, and yet this is disastrous advice that will bring on you the bad treatment you read about – it this vicious cycle, lol!

One big reason for this is the PC guilt culture of the West. The West has a guilt complex towards the rest of the world and one of the messages is that we have to apologize to them. This mindset is huge and infects so much of the writing on Thailand. The intention is to smooth relations between the races, but the effect is the opposite – it creates bitterness on our part (witness the submissions section of Stickman) and actually INVITES ill-treatment by the Thais (as who respects someone who does not respect himself?).

The second main incentive for thinking that the burden is on us to appease the Thais is that it appeals to our desire to be able to control our lives here. In other words, were in a strange unknown land, and we feel vulnurable – we feel out of control. By telling us its up to us to do everything to make things right we restore a feeling of control, but in reality, its up to the Thais as well. It takes two to tango, and if the Thais dont like you, *appeasing* them might make you feel like you have the sole power to control how Thais interact with you, but it will actually makes things worse.

Believing the Thais are *out to get you* is disastrous in another way, too. It makes you approach Thais with a *chip on your shoulder* attitude that will, again, CREATE the ill-will on the part of the Thais that you think is *already there*. You will then *see* this ill-will and think, oh, I knew it all along! Thais hate us! But they dont, they just saw your atttiude of suspicion, dislike, and defensiveness, and responded with dislike. Its this vicious cycle again.

Isnt it just better to say something like, I will treat Thais with respect and consideration but demand the same in return? If the relationship is so lop-sided that you have to give everything and deman yourself continually, isnt it better to go home and get out of Thailand? Do you really think youde be happy under these circumstances? Do you really think giving up self-resepct and living in fear is something that will contribute to your long term happiness? And again, do you really think that giving up self-resepct and *placating* and *appeasing* Thais is the best way to get them to treat you with respect?

The reality is, of course, that we all know on some level, that Thailand is NOT like that, that we dont really have to give up our self-respect to live here. Thats really why most of us are still here – because we know its a pretty pleasent place with mostly friendly locals. But how do I know what your experience is? If you keep on having to give up your self-respect, its probably time to get out.

For my part, I find Thailand to be much less violent than the West. <Statistics show that there is more violent crime in Thailand than most Western countriesStick> I have been here on and off for 11 years, lived here straight for 3 years, and have spent countless nights in partying, sometimes for several weeks straight, and the number of violent incidents that I have seen I can count on the number of one hand. Not only that, but I find bouncers here to be infinitely more gentle than bouncers back home and to use much less violence. But hey, how do I know what YOU experienced? Maybe your stay in Thailand has been awash in blood. Fine. But if you think you can only get by in Thailand by grovelling, maybe its time to get out?

For myself, my life in Thailand only got better when I ceased kowtowking to Thais. Its pretty obvious why this should be so. As long as I was sending out signals that I was weak and insecure (like Stickman and most of the liteartue says you should) it was natural for Thais to treat me with contempt and try to take advantage of me. Nothing could be more natural, this would happen anywhere at all in the world. Its well known that no one will respect you if you dont respect yourself. The moment I made it clear that I had self-resepct, magically, things got much better! Duh.

I really think most of the shitty stuff that happens to SOME foreigners here is because they come to Thailand with low self-esteem, and then they are told by *authorities* that they have to surrender their self-respect in order to live here. Of course, when they interact with the locals from the basis of having no self-respect, they get shafted, and then complain about the horrible locals.

If it was really true that you have to surrender your pride and dignity as a human being to live in Thailand than you should go home now. Only a really pathetic human being would think its OK to live in a country where he has to apologize for his existence just to be left alone by the locals. There is something grotesque about writing an advice column advising people to grovel.

Do yourself a favor and start treating yourself with self-resepct – whatever the consequences – and see how you feel, and notice how much better Thais treat you! I promise you Thais will start treating you better.



Stickman's thoughts:

You have completely misinterpreted the original article to which you refer which was about how Thais can be quite envious or even jealous of others (be they Westerners *or* Thais), how to overcome this and how it also pays to be aware of the local propensity for revenge when feeling slighted, along with possible strategies to deal with that.

Your examples to support your arguments are poor. Talk of "gentle bouncers" and suggesting this is representative of Thais in general is ridiculous. Many bouncers are cops or soldiers off duty and while they may appear more "gentle" than the Western equivalent, they can and sometimes do become violent – and much faster than your average bouncer in a Western country would. And those are the good guys! Bouncers who are not cops or soldiers are often hired thugs itching for a fight! Ask any frequent visitor of Soi Cowboy where bouncers have assaulted patrons numerous times in recent years and even got involved in fights with bouncers from other venues!

I never said nor suggested one should surrender their pride or grovel and to suggest I did so is misquoting and demeans your article. Don't mistake politeness and a willingness to walk away from a situation that could explode as weakness or insecurity. Politeness and respecting the local customers goes a long way in Thailand and pretty much every long-term expat I know – and every expat I respect – will walk away from certain situations. We're not all tough guys like you who talks as if he would roll his sleeves up and be willing to fight. That's a recipe for disaster in Thailand.

Your final paragraph, specifically the words "whatever the consequences", is bold (and that is being polite) in a country where the consequences could mean serious harm to yourself. Suggesting that anyone responds to heated situations or disputes in Thailand as you would in the West can be a recipe for disaster.