Small Talk

I'm an introvert. I have no personality, And I'm not impressed with yours.
by Bangkok Mouth

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I’ve often been accused of acting unfriendly or simply not speaking when I’m in the company of Thais. I have nothing against them, but the truth is I’ve never been fond of small talk and labored conversation whether I’m in Thailand, Tongo or Tanzania - it’s simply just not my scene. I don’t really mean to appear rude.

 

 

As a farang living in Thailand, you are constantly bombarded with small talk and over the years, you learn the best ways to deal with it. Before I go further into this topic, I’d like to dispel a few guidebook/urban myths. Firstly, that Thais love the chance to practice their English with foreigners. What a load of rubbish that is. Thais must be among the shyest nationality on earth when it comes to communicating in a foreign tongue. I’m not bemoaning the fact – it’s just the way they are. If you don’t believe me, try starting a conversation at a bus stop and watch as the other person’s face distorts with some incomprehensible fear that borders on blind panic.

Other myths are that Thais will ask a foreigner frank questions such as “what is your salary?” and “what religion are you?” I have never been asked either of those questions in 12 years. Sure, people have asked me if I make good money in Thailand but that’s not the same as asking for an exact figure. As for religion, the younger generation of Thais giggle with embarrassment when questioned about their temple-going activities. In fact, unless they weren’t dragged along by a well-meaning granny during certain religious festivals, they wouldn’t go at all.

One thing that amazed me about the Thais when I first arrived here is that no-one talks about the weather. It is simply unworthy of being classified as a conversation topic. I mentioned to someone that the weather was particularly hot on that day, and they just looked at me with a puzzled frown “but it’s hot every day”. And yes indeed I suppose it is. It’s just that coming from a country where the weather is invariably always the opening conversational gambit, I found the lack of interest in the weather mildly unsettling. Thais will still complain if they are too hot or too cold however, but they’re not looking for a response or agreement.

Even stranger than the marked absence of chat about the climate is the way Thais never ever ask how are you are. It’s not that they don’t care, but they just never ask you. Thais are far more likely to ask you where you’ve been or the incredibly annoying “have you eaten yet?” Over the years I’ve developed a technique of nodding my head in a way that can neither be construed as yay or nay, and there endeth the exchange.

One question that the expat is commonly asked is “why have you come to live in Thailand?” as though we are in dire need of certifying to choose to settle in a place that is so polluted, corrupt, and damn hot. And yet we all know Thailand has some wonderful attributes. Believe it or not I think that Thais sometimes refuse to recognize them and be proud of them. They are fiercely proud of the monarchy of course, then again to think negatively about it makes you an outcast.

Thais love hearing about members of your family – wherever those people are and whatever they are doing. But only positive things. If a Thai asked you about your mother and you replied with “I haven’t spoken to that old crone for years” they would cross the street to avoid you in future. They might feel the same way about certain members of their family but the dirty laundry is never aired in public.

I’ve become fascinated by topics of conversation that positively die on their arse when used in the company a Thai. I defy you to get anything more than a puzzled shrug of the shoulders in answer to the question “what are you doing at the weekend?” Why is it that Thais feel embarrassed to discuss future plans? I’ve never been able to work it out. Another conversation prodder that always goes down in flames is “tell me about your trip to……..?”. If you receive an answer of “it was nice”, you’re doing well. If you receive a reply of “It was marvellous, superb, wonderful” oh boy have you met a chatterbox. This Thai reluctance to discuss the experience of one’s travels abroad has intrigued me for a long time and it’s only a theory, but I think they feel slightly ashamed that they never really travel and embrace a foreign culture. How many times have I heard stories of Thai tour groups going to European cities and seeking out the familiarity of Chinese restaurants and karoake lounges. Strange. But equally when many of the foreigners visit Thailand, they head for the nearest British Dog and Bollocks pub.

Q: What do you chat about with your Thai chums?

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