Why I will Never Marry a Thai: Intellectual Curiosity
My Thai experience started in 2009 and will come to an end in the next few days as I leave to start again in South Korea. Over the past 6 years I have learnt a tremendous amount from my time in Thailand and have nothing but praise for Thai people and their country. However, after six years I am also sure I will never have a long time relationship or marry with a Thai girl.
To set the context I would like to give a bit of background information before explaining the reasoning behind my statement. I am a 29-year old Englishman and first came to Thailand for a two-week holiday when I was 24. I immediately fell in love with the country, culture and people and was sure I wanted to return. At that time I was working in London as an oil trader and started to travel to Thailand in my vacations. After a couple of years of holidays and against all advice from family and friends I decided that it was worth quitting my job and pursuing a full-time life in Thailand. I moved to live in Bangkok in 2012, studied to become a teacher and have been living here ever since.
I’m not sure how I came across the Stickman website but I have often searched the readers' submissions to find answers to my many Thai cultural questions and now feel I can impart some of my own thoughts to others who may be wondering why they are finding it difficult to maintain a long-term relationship with a girl who seems perfect on paper.
I have read a few other posts about why a foreigner wouldn’t marry a Thai girl and I would like to separate my reasons from theirs so as not to avoid confusion. Some of the reasons listed in other posts are; paying a dowry, being second to a girlfriend’s family, being cheated on, only speaking English together and not being given an opportunity to use Thai, lack of honesty, jealousy, minimal sex after 40, face issues, family monetary responsibility and maturity levels. All of these issues I believe are not shown by all girls or even the majority of modern Thai girls and can also be dealt with over time and are NOT reasons why I wouldn’t marry a Thai girl they are also not important at all in my personal overall conclusion.
The only fundamental reason I would not marry a Thai girl is something that I would term, a lack of intellectual curiosity. This is something that has been exhibited by almost every single Thai girl I have met in the last 6 years. Intellectual curiosity in its most basic I believe is the ambition to find out more than just surface data and question why something happens or what information you are receiving. It is the essential western idea that knowledge is imparted through anecdotes and stories and that sharing of this information is positive and leads to a better understanding of one another as partners to build a strong long-term relationship. It is not the same as intelligence and I would hasten to add that I have met many very smart Thai people who have huge amounts of knowledge in their field. The problem is this interest and knowledge usually begins and ends at that one particular topic. To illustrate this significant difference in practice I would draw on a common problem that has teachers banging their heads against the walls. This is the concept of follow up questions.
A typical western conversation may go something like this:
A: Hi, What is your name?
B: My name is Simon.
A: Ok, Where are you working?
B: I’m working in Thailand now.
A: Wow, what is living in Thailand like?
B: It is very interesting, the weather, the culture and food.
A: Tell me more about the Thai culture.
B: Sure I would love to (conversation continues about Thai culture).
A typical Thai student conversation may go something like this,
A: Hi, What is your name?
B: My name is Simon?
A: Where are you working?
B: I’m working on the moon right now.
A: Hmm, what is your hobby?
B: My hobby is curing cancer; I just made an incredible new breakthrough.
A: I see, what is your favourite food?
B: Err, my favourite food is human flesh, have you tried?
A: No, Do you like Thai movies (conversation continues in random abstract direction).
Although this is an extreme example, I like many teachers saw this as a language problem rather than a cultural problem and tried to help students to overcome the issue by teaching question structures or other discourse strategies. What I have come to realize is that it isn’t a problem with language but rather a difference in intellectual curiosity that Thai and Farang people seem to have. I feel that in Thai culture no real benefit is placed on inquiring into the who, what and why once you have found out the answer to a basic question and as such people rarely learn the depths of their partner's personalities and interests or share experiences.
I have dated many girls over the past 6 years and have experienced almost all the problems and benefits from dating Thai women. I have met many great girls who are kind, considerate, caring, smart, wealthy, independent, well-travelled, loyal and honest. I have never met a girl who is intellectually curious.
Intellectual curiosity can be broken down into issues affecting work life, family life and general life but I think the key part that affects relationships is being able to have a conversation, listening to another person’s words and being able to respond in an appropriate manner drawing on your own life experiences to engage the other person and share knowledge. An example could be if I mention that I would like to visit China, you could mention your own experiences of China or how you read something that discussed the current benefits of travelling to China which would then further lead to a sharing of knowledge and a mutual benefit for both parties in the conversation. We can share anecdotes about our own or friends’ experiences and through these tales learn more about each other and the topic. Unfortunately this seems to almost never happen in Thai conversations with opportunities rarely taken to further knowledge on a topic, deepen existing understanding or impart past knowledge without it being expressly asked for.
If you are questioning this difference of culture think about the last time your girlfriend told you a funny story from her past in response to a topic or conversation that had come up on a date. I look back on my dating experience and can’t really think of one memorable story or anecdote told to me by a Thai date which was based on her own experiences or a friend's. I believe this also relates to a difference in perception of time between foreigners and Thais. Most foreigners use past experiences to influence future choices and are constantly referring back to the past to make educated choices about the present, while most Thai people feel that looking back into the past is a waste of time and that anything that happened more than two months ago is not worth discussing or thinking about.
One of the interesting questions to ask Thai people to see this theory in practice is, what is your favourite movie? 90% of the time the answer given is the name of a movie currently showing in the cinema. Ask a foreigner the same question and you would almost never be given a current movie.
This phenomenon is what I think leads to the consistent complaints by many foreigners about the basic level of conversation they have with their Thai partners since almost all conversation will be based in the here and now. This is usually no problem for a short term relationship since you are sharing lots of experiences for the first time or for a holiday girlfriend as again you are having lots of present based experiences that can bring about conversation. However, go to your local coffee shop after dating for more than a couple of weeks after you have already learnt the basic information about each other and this is when conversation starts to break down and becomes heavily one way and repetitive.
A friend of mine was upset with his Thai girlfriend’s choice of Christmas present to him. He had thought long and hard about her Christmas present using all the knowledge he has built up about what she liked and her interests and found a gift that he was sure she would love. My friend has a wide range of interests too including watches, trainers, hip hop and video games and had been dropping subtle hints about what he would like for a present. Christmas Day came and his girlfriend was delighted with her present, he was less delighted with his present of a plain, black work bag and blue tie which although very practical in the present didn’t really show much of an understanding of what he actually is interested in or on the hints he had dropped over the past months. Although a random example I believe this shows a fundamental difference in how foreigners and Thai analyze information. He believed he had spoken countless times with her about his interests and that it should be very obvious what he would like as a present, from her perspective by not engaging curiously with the subject matter and absorbing the information about what her boyfriend was interested in anything other than the present it was a complete mystery to her about what to buy him as a Christmas present.
A recent experience finally consolidated this issue in my mind and was the closest thing I can draw upon as a controlled experiment to highlight this single difference in cultures. As I am leaving Thailand I have been meeting different groups of friends to say goodbye over the last few weeks. On this particular day I had arranged a lunch date with a few former Japanese female students and a dinner date with some previous Thai students. Lunch was fantastic, we spent an hour chatting about Korea, sharing experiences related to travel and differences we felt between Japanese, English, Thai and Korea culture. I fielded a barrage of questions relating to how I felt about the upcoming trip and my plans. The time flew and after lunch we extended and got coffee together and talked for another couple of hours. One of the Japanese students mentioned she had taken the TOEIC test and got 695 which I congratulated her on. Dinner was also very pleasant but rather than sharing experiences and stories, (all of the Thai students are middle class and have visited Korea before), it felt far more like I was asking questions and getting responses rather than actually engaging in any meaningful way. The topic of Korea briefly came up before we moved on to discuss many other topics like current movies, music and partying in Bangkok. The dinner lasted about an hour and once we had paid I made my excuses and left. Studying English also came up and one of the women mentioned she recently scored 730 on her TOEIC test.
I mention the TOEIC scores as too often I think foreigners excuse their girlfriend's lack of conversational skills or curiosity down to language. I’m sure many people can relate to the experience of bringing a Thai girlfriend to an event which is mostly farang and apologizing for her lack of interest in the conversation or in finding out any information about other guests due to her poor English skills. Anyway, when I arrived home I received messages from both groups saying that it was a pleasure hanging out and wishing me luck in Korea and that they would come and visit once I was settled.
I would also like to mention that I am not saying a natural intellectual curiosity is necessary fundamental for a happy successful life, I know many Thai couples that are happily married and neither is curious and this is no problem.
However, the vast majorities of foreigners have been brought up as curious and are maybe wondering what seems off in their relationship after the initial getting to know you phase. The successful long term Foreign-Thai relationships I have seen in Thailand have often been due to a suppressing of intellectual curiosity within a relationship and just a general acceptance that this is the way life is. This is absolutely fine but not something I am currently willing to accept.
On the positive for foreigners, I do believe that there are a minority of Thai women who do have the intellectual curiosity that is sufficient for a successful Thai-Farang relationship but I think that it is very difficult to find and probably only comes if your parents or grandparents can speak English well and have had a good deal of exposure to Western culture and education. I have a few friends here that have different deal breakers for a relationship but one of the smartest I have found is to ask, do your parents speak English well.
In summary, I love Thailand and would definitely like to live here again. Ironically it is the people and culture that make it a wonderful place to live and work but also the people that are driving me away. Many foreigners in Thailand talk about only having two dating options in Thailand, a Thai girl or a foreigner. However, I think there is a third option. In a perfect situation I currently feel that marrying a Japanese or Korean girl who has an affinity to Thailand and coming back to live here with her is a great alternative.
So although it is good bye for now, I am sure I will be back in the future, if it is with a Korean or Japanese wife is not certain but I am almost certain it won’t be with a Thai.
You've managed to articulate this point very, very well!