Dowry Money – An Average Thai Girl’s View
Dear Mr. Stickman,
I stumbled upon your website when I was inquiring about how Thai girls look in the eyes of foreigners. It was meant to be something fun to do to kill time, but some articles are so interesting that I got hooked. Upon realising that there are a lot of horror stories about Thai women circulating around, I couldn't help but wish to contribute my knowledge regarding the topic as well just so foreigners get an understanding of another spectrum of Thai society.
Note from author: This article is subjective. I am not a know-it-all about Thai girls and would not show myself to be. I come from a protective family and have only been exposed to a limited group of people; so just to be on the safe side, I am only going to talk about women whose socio-economic backgrounds are similar to me. I am an only child raised from what I consider a middle-class family. (What is middle class, anyways?) My family is not wealthy but they value education and are aware of the limits of the Thai educational system so all my cousins and I studied abroad at some point in our lives. It is noteworthy that my family is a bit on the conservative side. Let me clarify one of they most hotly debated issues…the dowry money.
The Dowry Money
A bit of background: In the past, Thailand was an agricultural society. When girls marry, they move in with their husband’s family and become a member of her husband’s family instead. This means that her parents lose labour. The husband (and his family) would pay her parents money to compensate for their loss. The situation is different today, but the tradition still stands.
The Custom: Dowry is often paid in the form of cash, gold, land and jewellery. In most cases, the groom would also provide the house the newlyweds are going to live in. (Note: The house is not a must. It is not uncommon for the bride to move in with the groom’s family. Sometimes, the bride’s family would ask the groom to move in with them instead. My aunt and uncle for instance, insisted that my cousin’s husband move in with them.)
An article I read said that most middle-class families don’t expect dowry money nowadays. You would be mistaken if you think so. I would say that most of my girlfriends’ family, my family included expect dowry money to be given in the wedding ceremony. However, the bride’s parent will almost always double the amount and give it back to the couple so they can use it to start their new lives. Say… the dowry money of 5 million baht is given to the bride’s family. The bride’s parents would add another 5 million, giving 10 million back to the couple. (Note: It does not have to be cash. The 5 million baht they add might be a car worth 3 million plus 2 million cash or a house or a piece of land – anything valuable, really.)
Purpose: An ‘appropriate’ amount of dowry money shows the bride’s parents that their son-in-law-to-be is financially stable, that you are capable of taking care of their daughter. In the eyes of Thai people, this also implies how much you honour your bride and her family. Please note that it has nothing to do with how much your bride is worth. Most families would not trade their daughter for anything in the world. There is much wisdom behind this, but it would take too long to list them all, so I would settle for these two reasons.
According to my parents, the bride’s parents would double the money and give it back to the couple to show the groom and his family that her parents are also capable of taking care of their own daughter, that she also comes from a sound socio-economical background and should be treated as such. If anyone hurts her, they have no problem bringing her back home and taking care of her themselves.
The ‘Appropriate’ amount: A good family would not demand you to pay a specific amount of dowry money. They would tell you that whatever you think is ‘appropriate’ is fine. This brings a tough question. How much money is appropriate? Offer too much money and you might be viewed by others as weird or pretentious. Offer too little and the bride’s family would think that you don’t honour them and their daughter. Not to mention the fact that both you and them would lose ‘face.’ So how do you know how much is ‘appropriate?’ The appropriate amount varies according to your and your girlfriend’s socio-economical backgrounds. However, most of the girls’ families have their own rates. It would be wise to get some reference by asking your girlfriend’s sisters or cousins the amount given in their weddings. If you are not close with her siblings and cousins, ask her. Your girlfriend wouldn’t want to answer this type of questions, but she would make an exception, because we understand that gasping the concept is hard enough for foreigners.
The downside: Humans are essentially made of greed. There are people who would manipulate the situation just to get the money. I would advise foreigners to be wary if your bride’s family demand a specific amount of money and say they would not let their daughter marry you otherwise.
Please note that while you can expect all Thai-Chinese families and most Thai families to return the dowry money and even add some more, you cannot expect Isaan families to do the same. I would not write anything specific about the tradition in Isaan, because I do not know it very well. However, according to my father, they have a different mindset: something about rewarding the parents for raising their girls well. I strongly encourage you to trust your common sense regarding this matter. If anything seems fishy, ask your Thai friends. They would be able to clarify the issues for you somewhat.
Negotiation: If the bride’s family ask for what you consider to be too much, you can negotiate the amount. It would be best to ask your girlfriend to do the talk. Most families – good families would understand your reasoning. If you do not feel comfortable with the whole dowry concept, you can consult with your girlfriend and ask her to talk to her parents in your stead. If the family is more modern and westernised, they would not mind and you would not be expected to pay anything. If the family is more conservative, they would not like the fact that you do not bend to the Thai tradition. That is why I advise you to talk to the girlfriend first. She would know where her family stands in this matter and the best way to handle the situation.
Note: The author does not intend to justify the dowry money. I do not think that the tradition is bad, but that doesn't mean it is good though. I understand that this tradition might not make sense to you. It makes sense to me, because I am Thai. You aren’t Thai, so I don't expect you to fully understand or miraculously change your attitude towards this subject with a single essay. As for me, I know what my parents think and it’s not like the money is going anywhere, anyways so I don’t really mind. I would give my parents more if they ever ask. (My family has been on both sides of this custom, so trust me when I say I understand. My male cousin just got married last month and my family was so happy to pay. We felt a little intimidated when his bride’s parents returned all the money and gave the couple the same amount of money plus a house, though. The only thing that worried us was that his bride would not be able to stand him, really. :P)
Last, but not least, I would like to emphasise that Thai families value their daughter greatly. It is common for parents to be overprotective of the girls. (This is the same everywhere, but Thais really take being overprotective to a whole new level.) Most girls from middle class families would be shielded from the ‘bad’ parts of the world. You would not find these girls in Soi Cowboy, Patpong or any online dating sites… you know what I mean. Parents would only let their daughter marry the guy whom they can trust to take good care of her. So long as you prove yourself to be worthy of that trust, you should do fine.
There are many more topics I would like to write about, but I’ve been writing this for like an hour now so the rest would have to wait for another time. Please forgive my typos too.~
I really like your website, Mr. Stickman. It is fun to find out how foreigners view Thai people. I wonder if my foreign friends think of Thai girls the way most foreigners do. One of my friends even brought up the dowry money topic with me once. (It was followed by a 2-hour long discussion.)
I know I would get a review on this… If someone finds this article useful, you can expect more from me.
An Average Thai Girl
It's great to get the thoughts on this most contentious issue from a middle class Thai lady.
Personally, I am simply unable to rationalise the concept of paying a dowry. That's my personal feeling. I know other Western men who feel the same, just as I know others who are willing to pay – and have paid.
Your thoughts on other issues in relationships between Thai women and Western men would be very welcome!